Skin of the Night

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Chapter 68: Powerful Magic

Later the same evening, I entered through the front door of William’s flat, and was startled by the sound of rather loud music drifting through his surround system. It was my first encounter with his taste in music, and I was positively surprised by it. I recognised the band as Kaleo and it left a smile on my mouth as I kicked off my shoes to search for him, as well as his younger brother.

In the living area, among the many bouquets he had received the past few days from friends and acquaintances, I found them lounging on each their sofa. The view amused me terribly. Large as they were, the two men were resting on their back with their hands folded atop their chest. The lights were dimmed down, candles were lit on the wooden table between them, and I took note of the fact that their eyes were closed. Obviously, they were listening intently to the music, even if it was a collective activity.

“Well,” I called out, “this is romantic. Should I be worried?”

The instant William heard my voice, his lips moved into a complacent smile. “There she is.”

“Who’s the DJ?” I asked and rounded the sofa to join my boyfriend while my eyes darted toward Jason.

“Twat over there,” the younger brother responded while pointing a lazy finger in William’s direction. Neither had opened their eyes yet. “My idea, though. Only way I knew how to shut him up. It was either this, or staple his mouth together.”

“Kaleo. Good choice, Will,” I complimented and lifted his legs to have a seat beneath them.

“You know them?” he asked, audibly pleased, and opened his healthy eye to steal a curious peek at me.

With a smile on my face, I nodded my head and grabbed around his feet to massage them.

My reply appeared to have piqued his curiosity, since he asked, “What’s your favourite tune?”

“That’s tough. I quite like this one, though. ‘I Can’t Go On Without You’, is it?”

He smirked and closed his eyes again. “Yeah. We’re doing the full album. I bloody love the vocalist, and just the band’s instrumental skill in general.”

“Agreed.”

“Did you know I play the guitar?” he then asked. Both impressed and surprised, I stiffened beneath him. Perhaps it shouldn’t have surprised me, when considering the fact that I knew Jason had played the piano since he was only four, but William had never struck me as musically inclined. Jason had, however.

“You can?”

“He’s quite good,” Jason claimed.

“No need to tell her that, J. She knows I’m good with my fingers.”

Jason and I groaned in perfect unison, equally despaired by his dirty mind.

“Speaking of that,” William continued through a frown, “I’m getting homesick, Cara.”

Perplexed, both Jason and I fixed our gaze on him.

“What?” I queried bewildered, but then Jason burst out laughing, seeming to have caught onto something I hadn’t. What did he mean? He was already home, wasn’t he?

“Homesick!” Jason roared with laughter. “Man, you’re something else!”

William’s smirk turned into a broad grin, but still, his eyes remained shut. It took me a few more seconds to process his insinuation, but when I did, I watched him disbelievingly.

“Did you just refer to my vagina as your ‘home’?”

“Absolutely,” he replied without a trace of shame. “Warmest and most welcoming home on earth.”

Nonplussed, I looked away from him. “I have no words.”

Sitting, Jason chuckled and shook his head to himself. “You’re the dirtiest poet, Will. I’m leaving before your inspiration escalates.”

“You won’t be missed,” William bantered through a crooked smile. To chastise his rude comment, I pinched his big toe, earning me a, “Ow!”

“Oh, you drama queen.” I snorted. “You barely cried after being assaulted, but you can’t handle a small pinch?”

His eyes finally opened to glare at me. “Sod off.”

“Be nice to your brother,” I retorted.

Sulkily, he gazed over at his brother to find him smiling smugly back at him.

“You heard your lady,” Jason said. “Be nice to me, or you shall never return ‘home’.”

His reference made me laugh. Their witty sense of humour appeared to run by blood. Upon the thought, my rapid mind travelled to the idea of having children with William, and I instantly dreaded the little demons they would be. I knew I had a sharp tongue myself, and their father would be equally brutal. What sort of monsters, they would be. I feared for humanity, and frankly, myself. As products of our combined forces, what if they outdid even William and I?

“Has anyone ever told you that your face looks like a stew, Jason? Get that cheap dish the fuck out of my flat,” William grumbled.

I gasped at his ruthless insult. “William!”

“And yet I’m still more handsome than you’ll ever be. What does that say about your face?” Jason countered amused.

“As long as my face appeals to Cara, I’m alright,” he answered, unperturbed. “You, on the other hand... Good luck seducing any women with that rubbish you call a face. If a cow had a shit on it, it would be an upgrade.”

They had surely had enough of each other today. I groaned in despair of them. “Okay, that’s enough. You’re both blessed with remarkably comely faces, alright?”

“At least my face is real. You’re the devil in disguise.”

William arched a brow and closed his eyes again, and it amused me that he looked entirely at peace. “Wow. I’ve never heard that line before,” he responded sarcastically. “If you’re going to try roasting me, at least be original. Your lack of creativity is embarrassing.”

My eyes flickered in Jason’s direction to observe his response, and then glued to him upon what I saw. Resolutely, he moved around the table and grabbed one of the vases on his way. What happened next seemed to be in slow motion. Since William had closed his eyes, he failed to see what was coming for him, but I caught it all. My eyebrows shot upward when Jason – while wearing the smile of the devil himself – turned the vase and spilled the content all over his brother’s face.

Though his reaction was not extreme, William did stiffen. Very slowly, he opened his eyes and blew the white petal of a rose away from his mouth while he scowled up at his brother.

“You needed a wash,” Jason declared and placed the empty vase back onto the table, visibly satisfied. “Your mouth in particular.”

“Happy?” William grumbled.

“I am fucking reeling.”

“Then you may very well reel your way out of here.”

“You won’t have to tell me twice. And Cara? You’re welcome. Your boyfriend now smells of roses, though anything would be an upgrade, garbage that he is.”

I pursed my lips and nodded up at him, scared to speak. After granting me a reassuring wink, he sauntered toward the hall, and William called, “See you tomorrow, then.”

“Yes, indeed! And do you know what we’re having for breakfast, lunch and dinner? Ketchup! Ketchup, ketchup, and then some more ketchup!”

“I’d rather starve.”

“That’s what I’m going for!”

Though he tried to fight it, a wide smile claimed control of William’s mouth. “I love him,” he mumbled to me and dried his face off with the hand of his healthy arm.

“Good luck caring for our pet, Cara,” Jason yelled from the hall. “We might need to put him down if you don’t set him straight by the morning!”

“I’ll manage,” I promised through a snicker. “By the morning, he’ll be exemplary.”

“Hear that, Will? That’s wife material, which is more than you deserve!”

“You don’t joke about marriage with couples that aren’t married, you dimwit,” William retorted, now sincerely agitated, and looked anywhere but at me. It was blatant that the idea of marriage unsettled him, as he was visibly awkward, and it intrigued me, even if I felt the same way. “Even I know that, and my social skills are questionable.”

At least he was keenly self-aware. However, that inspired me to think that he was quite aware of his flaws, but consciously decided not to do anything about them. I wondered how he rationalised this particular process. Whenever his mouth ran wild, was it a deliberate thing? It would appear that way. Clearly, he just couldn’t be bothered to respect people’s comfort zones, because he didn’t consider them a priority. Maintaining harmony was not something he was inclined toward, but that wasn’t a surprise. Evidently, he considered full transparency more important than anything else, however unrefined and unflattering the truth might be.

“Oh, I live to make you feel awkward, and I know exactly how to do it,” Jason retorted and started cackling. “Bye, then. Enjoy being awkward with Cara. White does suit her, doesn’t it?”

William’s eyebrows drew toward the middle of his face, and in the dim lights, I saw his jaw clench. Hard.

“Just ignore him,” I murmured. “He’s only teasing you. He’s clearly had it up to his eyeballs with you today.”

“Yeah,” he responded, almost inaudibly, and dragged his legs off my lap to sit upright. Reaching for the remote on the table, he lowered the volume of the music just as we heard Jason shut the door after himself.

A few seconds of awkward silence lapsed, and he spent them rubbing his neck while he faced away from me. Hesitant, I played with my fingers and stole glances at him, curious as to his thoughts. Sometimes, he could be quite puzzling, and even mysterious.

Desperate to remove the current awkwardness, I asked, “Have you two ever had a real fight?”

A chuckle slipped out of him while he folded his large hands together between his thighs and stared absentmindedly at them. “No.”

“Never?”

He shook his head and fixed his gaze out the window. “Jason’s incapable of staying angry for more than a few minutes at a time. He’s explosively angry, not a slow-burn version. When it comes to myself, I’ve never been able to get seriously angry with him. He’s too... sweet. He always means well, so I just don’t have it in me to get cross with him, because I know that his intentions are always pure. Whenever he does do something questionable, I know it’s my own fault; that I’ve provoked him.”

“You’re very fortunate to have your best mate be your brother.”

“I know. I don’t take it for granted. Best part is, Andy and Alex adore him as well. He’s always been part of our... group. They took him under their wing like an adopted brother the second he was old enough to play football with us. Because of it, he spent most of his childhood with us rather than the mates he had in school.

“Things changed when I moved away for university, though. Since then, I’ve had very little spare time, so we haven’t been able to hang out as often as I’d like.”

My head tilted. “Makes sense. Otherwise, I would have bumped into you sooner than I did, seeing as Jason’s my best mate.”

He smiled to himself. “Yeah. Suppose we would’ve encountered each other one way or another, wouldn’t we? Was only a question of time.”

“Would seem that way.”

“Well, it wouldn’t have been half as entertaining had it happened any other way.”

I chuckled. “The odds speak in your favour. Can’t imagine it being more shocking than it was.”

He was still facing away from me when he murmured, “I’d like to think we would have ended up together either way.”

Charmed, I only smiled.

“How was visiting your parents?” he eventually asked, but still, he didn’t face me. Since he didn’t seem about to make contact with my eyes anytime soon, I took the liberty to study my hands in my lap.

“It was lovely. I’d missed them more than I was aware of. I scolded myself on several occasions while I was there, for not visiting them more often. I feel it’s a bit... ungrateful of me not to see them more frequently. They’re always so happy when I’m there, and you know, if I were to imagine myself in the role of a parent, I get it. Obviously their children are their greatest joy, so I feel bad for being so distant. It’s the downside to my independent nature.”

Again, he smiled to himself and vaguely nodded his head. “They know you, Cara; presumably better than anyone else. I’m sure they don’t take it to heart. You’re an ambitious lady with a lot of things on your plate, and especially in recent months. These years might not be your formative years, but they are the most formative in the sense of settling into the life you want for yourself. The fact that you’re independent is something I’m sure they regard as an achievement. It means they’ve raised you well; that they’ve succeeded. A parent’s job, after all, is to teach their child to manage on their own, because they won’t always be there to help you.”

Moved by his sympathy and profound reflections, I reached for his jaw and forced him to face me. As I stared into the spellbinding depths of his eyes, I also fell deeper in love with him. Adding to that, what he’d said had provided me with a glimpse into the future of what he’d be like as a father, and I adored what I saw there. Wise as he was, he would make for an excellent father. “I know you’re right, but I still feel ungrateful. I’m going to try and get better, because they deserve it. The least I can do, to express gratitude toward the wonderful life they’ve given me, is to visit them more often.”

“And for that, you’re a wonderful daughter. You’d be surprised how many children there are that fail to recognise the value of their parents’ efforts.”

While smiling, I nuzzled my nose to his larger one. “They wish you well with your recovery, and would like to meet you when you’re in better shape.”

“I’d love to meet them, but that does sound wise. I don’t want to meet them before my head has returned to normal. First impressions are important, and especially with parents, and I don’t trust myself to make the best impression as things are now.”

“You’ll do fine, Will.”

“I’ll do my best, at least. Can’t do any more than that.”

“Does the idea of meeting them make you nervous?”

He chuckled. “Not really. I’d be lying if I said not at all, since you’re obviously important to me, so therefore, they are as well, but it’s not enough to deserve a mention. Anything I ought to be careful with, though?”

“Aside from your vulgar mouth?”

His lips formed a flat line, as if he found that self-explanatory. “I won’t be vulgar. Not with them.”

“Then you’re good to go. Dad did make a funny joke, though. He said, ‘Please don’t tell me he’s some posh, conceited solicitor’, and all I could think was, ‘But he is’.”

His hypnotising eyes crinkled at the corners while he grinned at what I’d said. “Don’t be silly. I’m neither one of those.”

“You so are, sometimes.”

He leaned away while he struggled not to laugh, presumably because of the pain it would cause him. “That’s absolute rubbish. We had Chinese street food on our first date, Cara. I might come from a posh background, but my character is not posh at all. Materialism is overrated, and frankly, useless. When I’m old, the relationships I will have built, and the memories I’ve got, are going to matter infinitely much more to me than how much money I’ve made, or how many exclusive events I’ve attended.

“As for whether I’m conceited, that’s not true, either. My ego is not inflated, like you seem to insist. I’m merely aware of what is, and what isn’t. I’m not saying I’m humble, because I’m not, but I’m certainly not conceited, either. I have a healthy understanding of my capabilities and my limits. I’m not in the habit of lying to myself, or anyone else.

“And, personally, I think it’s a terrible thing that complimenting yourself, commending yourself, and rewarding yourself for your strengths is frowned upon in society, and labelled as ‘conceited’ or even ‘arrogant’. No wonder people struggle with self-esteem. We’re only taught to criticise and judge ourselves. That’s not healthy, for anyone, and I refuse to submit to such a destructive frame of mind.”

When he put it like that, I found myself agreeing with him. “No, you’re right.”

His eyes narrowed, leaving him to look rather shrewd. “I digress, but this is something I quite love about you, Cara. You’re never hung up on being right just for the sake of being right. It’s an admirable quality. When you hear arguments you find to be more reasonable, you’re quick to change your mind, because you care more about what’s right, than who’s right. That can’t be said for everyone, and I’m sure we’ll avoid plenty of fights we otherwise would have had, if it weren’t for that quality of yours.”

Sceptical, I frowned at him. “Aren’t you the same?”

He cocked his head from side to side. “I like to think so, but I believe you transcend me in that, even if it’s only by a small margin. In any case, it’s a quality I aspire to have.”

Placing my index finger to his soft lower lip, I absentmindedly pushed it downward while I contemplated what he’d said. “That’s one of the sweetest compliments I think you’ve given me.”

My finger lost rule of his lip when it stretched with his grin. While grabbing around my wrist, he said, “It’s dawned on me that you’re more welcoming to compliments being paid with respects to your mind rather than your body.”

My eyes smiled at his. “You’ve read me well.”

“But,” he chuckled, “I still find your body sexy as hell, and am dying to see you naked again. What colour knickers are you wearing?”

I groaned long and loud while I tossed my head back. “I’m wearing Nan’s old knickers with a shit-stain in them.”

“You go hard, but I go harder, Cara. I’m not fazed,” he challenged and, using his grip of my wrist, pulled me toward him. Fearing his intentions, I recoiled out of the sofa and onto my legs.

“William. You are in no shape to be having sex,” I reminded him as I went, but was shocked when his hand liberated my wrist only to grab the hem of my skirt. Lifting it, the bloody pervert stole a peek.

“Royal blue, Cara. Lovely choice,” he purred and glanced up at me through his long lashes. Astounded, I gaped at him.

“Did you truly just peek under my skirt?”

“I’m your boyfriend, and it’s nothing I haven’t seen before. If you want, you can peek in my trousers.”

“You are unbelievable. You need help.”

“Down here, absolutely,” he countered and pointed to his crotch.

At a loss, I moaned in frustration and rubbed my face with my hands. “William, stop trying to seduce me. I’ll never forgive myself if I cause you more pain than you’re already enduring.”

“My cock’s in more pain than anything else right now,” he sheepishly argued. “Blue balls should not be underestimated, Cara.”

“William Night, did you ever stop to think about how I’m feeling about all this? You’re not the only one missing sex! The fact that you don’t relent is increasing my sexual frustration as well.”

“Which is precisely the point. Give in. Sit on my lap.”

When he tried to tug me toward him by his grip of my skirt, I slapped his hand away and glowered at him. “You primitive pig. You’re an idiot!”

“Come on, Cara. Let me ease your suffering. I’ll make you feel good, I promise. And I swear I’ll be fine,” he replied, and his voice was alarmingly seductive. “Take me home, darling,” he continued to tease and reached for my skirt again. I jumped a metre away.

“There is no hope for you. I’m going to bed,” I declared and whirled around to head for the bedroom. One day soon, I’d have to treat him to a blowjob to relieve his frustration, but since I was sincerely worried about his lungs expanding against his broken ribs when they were in the process of healing, I didn’t dare to do it just yet. I didn’t want to take that risk, and especially so soon. He would have to last another few days. I, on the other hand, would probably have to last another few weeks. As he was now, he was in no shape to have actual sex.

However, aside from wanting to tend to his needs, there was a bonus to it. If I gave him a blowjob, his sexual frustration was likely to diminish, which in turn would aid me in surviving my own. The less he tried to seduce me, the better my chances were at enduring this tormenting wait without losing my mind. Because we hadn’t yet had sex as an official couple, I could hardly wait to do it, this time as his girlfriend.

“No, wait. I’ll stop,” he called after me. If it hadn’t been for the fact that I heard the actual extent of his pain from his ensuing whimpers, I wouldn’t have halted in my tracks. However, since such wasn’t the case, I stalled my journey to observe what he was doing. At a speed that was not ideal, when taking his battered state into account, he was rushing out of the sofa to chase after me.

“Will, be careful,” I scolded worriedly and turned to approach him again.

“Broken bones will never be enough to prevent me from chasing you,” he argued amorously when he’d stretched to full height. “If my legs don’t work, I’ll use my arms, and if my arms don’t work, I’ll use my bloody teeth.”

I chuckled in despair of him and, when I reached him, reached for the collar of his – now wet and therefore transparent – plain white t-shirt to play with it. This close, the familiar scent of him blessed my nose, even if the smell of roses offered it a more feminine touch.

“How about a different sort of dance?” he proposed and slowly bent for the remote of his surround system to increase the volume of the music.

“You want to dance?” I probed, nonplussed.

“This tune beckons a dance,” he insisted and dropped the remote onto the sofa to wrap his healthy arm around me. The hand of his injured one he guided to mine and entwined our fingers.

Struck by the intensely romantic moment, my heart skipped a beat before it accelerated rather dramatically. When he brought me closer, so that our fronts rubbed together, I stared susceptibly up at him, overwhelmed by my feelings for him. Myriad butterflies wreaked havoc in my chest as I stared into the eyes of the only man I’d ever been in love with. It was nothing short of novel.

Months ago, I would never have thought myself capable of experiencing feelings like these. They’d been an alien concept entirely, but how I relished them now. They served as a beautiful reminder that, even though we’d had our ups and downs, it was all going to be worth it in the end. This man was worth the battles that had been, and those to come.

So here I stood, a novice in the world of love, dancing with my boyfriend in the living room of his flat. I hadn’t even thought I harboured the potential of doing something like this. He was changing me, but I welcomed my new skin.

“Would you look at that,” he teased as he swayed us gently from side to side, “Cara Jane Darby, dancing. Not grinding, but dancing.”

“You wield some powerful magic, William Night.”

“Oh, you’ve hardly seen a thing, my lady,” he purred and lowered his head to plant a soft kiss to my mouth. “Gentle, rough – I’ll be whatever you need, when you need it.”

Elated, I laughed against his mouth and pulled away to grin at him. “You’re a much better boyfriend than you are a pursuer.”

He tilted his head, incredulous. “Interesting way to look at it, seeing as I did manage my objective by pursuing you in precisely the manner that I did. I would argue that I’m a terrific pursuer. I mean, shouldn’t the result of pursuit decide its quality? So yes, my tactics were a bit aggressive and controversial, but they worked, did they not?”

“That’s all true, but I’m happier now.”

“That’s because you decided to listen to your feelings.”

“That’s part of it, sure, but you do treat me better now.”

His eyes flickered around the room for a moment while he pondered over my words. “Perhaps I do, but then you’ve also given me what I want, so why shouldn’t I reward your decision?”

“Yes. It just goes to show that giving you a chance was the right choice.”

He blinked. “Did you ever wonder?”

“To a certain extent, yes, but it’s nice to be reassured either way. Everything’s fine and dandy now, and it’s not something I take for granted. I couldn’t possibly know that it was going to turn out this well beforehand.”

“Hm,” he hummed and released me to twirl me around under his arm. “I could.”

I rolled my eyes at him. “You’re not psychic, Will.”

“No, but my intuition isn’t far from it.”

I placed my hand on his broad shoulder and smirked up at him. “So there was never any doubt in you? You were always certain that if I just submitted to your wishes, we’d make for a thriving couple?”

“Well, there isn’t any doubt in my mind that you’re the sole woman for me, and that we’ll be the happiest when we’re together.”

My heart was about to combust, so I decided to declare it, “Sometimes, you say things that makes it feel like my heart’s about to explode.”

Nuzzling his nose to mine, he grinned. “Good.”

As we continued to dance, I surrendered my mind to the melody and the intimate moment. “Is this ‘Save Yourself’?” I enquired when it had nearly reached the end.

“Yeah.”

“It’s one of my favourites. What other bands are you into? What’s your favourite genre?”

He looked to struggle to formulate an answer. “Like Jason, my taste is eclectic. Classical, progressive rock, electronic music... The list is endless. As for bands, you’ll find out soon enough, but my favourite band of all time is Pink Floyd. Their lyrics are timeless and supremely socially critical, which you know I’ve got a weak spot for. But I’m also into Muse and Kings of Leon, and Coldplay’s earlier albums, too. Honestly, Cara, don’t get me started on this subject. However, the genre I listen most frequently to is probably classical music. Soothes my mind.”

“We’re the same, but then that doesn’t surprise me if your taste is similar to Jason’s, because he and I bonded over music when we first met.”

His eyebrows lifted. “Did you?”

“Yeah.”

“How did you meet Jason?”

I grinned at the fond memory. “He hasn’t told you?”

“No, he didn’t.”

“Well, quite lost, I was wandering through the halls at UCL during one of my first days on campus. Perceptive as he is, Jason picked up on that fact and approached to help me out. He saw what I was listening to on my iPhone – Arctic Monkeys, on that particular day – and he told me he’d just been to a concert of theirs that summer.

“While he guided me to the lecture I was supposed to be in, we talked about music, and decided that we’d have to meet up to pick up where we left off. So we met for a pint the following Friday, and that’s turned into the friendship we have today.”

His eyes conveyed that he found our story charming, but a hint of conflict soon interfered with their colour. “Was he into you in the beginning, do you think?” From his tone, I detected that he was sincerely curious this time around, and not motivated by jealousy or possessiveness.

I shook my head. “No. Jason has never once flirted with me.”

He nodded to himself. “I guessed as much. You’re not his type. He’s into softer women. But I had to ask, because I don’t think he would’ve told me himself. And, I don’t want to find myself in the situation where I feel like I’ve taken something he wanted.”

My eyebrows furrowed. “I’m intrigued. Could you elaborate?”

He sighed. “I’m very relieved you two never,” he paused, “had any sexual or romantic interest in each other, because I would never be able to help my feelings for you. I would have fallen in love with you regardless of whether you were with him or not, because you’d still be you. So if Jason had fancied you, I’d be paralysed in an agonising situation. A dilemma, to say the least. Had he harboured feelings for you, I don’t think I would have pursued you, out of respect for him. Sure, it might have cost me the love of my life, but in that specific scenario, I’d rather keep my brother and live a lonely life romantically, while hoping that someone out there might be able to replace you, or at least make me feel half of how I feel about you.”

Because I found it perfectly rational, I adored that he would have placed Jason over the prospect of being with me. In that hypothetical twist, there was no way that he could have been certain we’d make it till the end, and if we didn’t, he would have sacrificed his brother for a relationship that wasn’t worth it. He couldn’t choose his brother, but he could choose his lovers.

“Good thing Jason and I never fancied each other, then.”

He released a loud breath of relief. “Tell me about it.”

I giggled. “Let’s not worry about things that won’t happen.”

“Agreed. There is something that might happen that warrants a mention, though.”

Apprehensive, I froze in my tracks. “Oh?”

“Yeah. I’ve been meaning to run it by you.”

“Out with it, Will.”

He held my gaze while his jaw clenched. “Violet phoned me today.”

Uncertain of where this might lead, I frowned. “Okay?”

“She said she’d already asked if you were alright with it, and that you said you were, but I reckoned I should ask you myself, since it’s possible you only said you were alright with it because she’s now your boss and you don’t want to get off on the wrong foot with her. Anyway, she’d like to come over one day, to see how I’m doing and have a chat. Now, I know you’re not a jealous person and all that, but if you’re not alright with it, Cara, I’ll tell her – without throwing you under the bus – that it’s not going to happen.”

I studied him incredulously. “Will, I appreciate where this is coming from – excellent communication, by the way – but you know I like her. And, at the end of the day, it’s you that I trust. I do trust Violet as well, in which I truly believe that she sincerely means to be your friend, and only that, but even if I’m wrong to do that, I trust you. I want you to be able to stay friends with her.

“And just to remove any room for potential misunderstandings, I’m not saying this to make you feel bad about your opinion with regards to Robby and I. This is sincerely how I feel about you and Violet, and I’m not expecting you to change your mind about Robby just because I’m giving you the green light in this instance. I know we’re different people with different needs.

“Regardless, I don’t want to stand in the way of your friendship, and especially when I can tell how genuine and earnest it is. Your sexual endeavours with Violet were solely convenient, and I know that.”

His eyes were scorching in their intensity as he scrutinised me. “Honest?”

“Completely. Why would I lie? I want this to work as much as you do.”

“Okay.” He nodded. “Then I’ll tell her I’d like to meet her.”

“Good. Keep me updated, yeah? So that I can give you privacy.”

His eyes narrowed. “Sure.”

With that settled, I gazed around. “Do you want to keep dancing?”

“I wouldn’t mind going to bed. Teasing Jason all day has drained me.”

I turned around to drag him with me toward his bedroom. “Then let’s go to bed. I’m honestly knackered as well. It’s been a long day. And you have yet to tell me about your appointment with Dr Fielder.”

“There’s not much to say this early on. It was productive and constructive. When I left, I felt I had a better understanding of my own feelings and thoughts regarding the assault, but we have plenty more appointments to go. At this point, it’s all very tentative.”

I stole a glance at him across my shoulder. “You’ve been in an unsually good mood today, though.”

He smiled lopsided. “Yes, he kept commending my healthy take on the incident. It made me feel good about myself – like I’m on the right track. He asked if I had experienced any blame, or if I’d felt like this was somehow my fault, as if I should’ve seen it coming, but I haven’t – not really. None of this was my fault, and I truly believe that. He got a bit professional at certain points, using terminology like primary and secondary emotions revolving the assault, but he’s quite positive about my response to this.

“He did ask me about whether I’ve experienced any anger, or desire for revenge, and I couldn’t quite answer that yet, since I haven’t made up my mind. Part of me wants Oliver to burn in hell, while the other wants to put this entire ordeal behind me. I feel like I’ll be giving him power over me if I don’t move on, and I hate the idea of that. That would mean he’s won, and I’m not about to let that happen. It’s all very complicated. I’m a bit confused, if I’m to be entirely honest with you.”

“Will, that’s understandable to say the least.”

As we entered the bathroom, I fixed my gaze on his figure through the mirror. I wasn’t quite sure what to make of all this, but one thing was for certain; I absolutely hated Oliver Flander. The actual depth of that emotion wasn’t something I’d experienced before. It ran far deeper than I’d initially thought. I’d heard about hatred, read about it, and I had thought I had hated quite a few notorious villains throughout time. Before Oliver attacked William, I had truly thought I had a decent understanding of the dark emotion.

However, this incident had made it real for me. It had changed my entire notion the ferocious emotion, because this sat much closer to home. It had affected me personally, and consequentially, was far more acute and brutal in its force. My hatred for Oliver Flander wasn’t based on a difference in philosophies. It was based on pure, raw emotion. He had nearly bereaved me of the sole man I’d ever loved, and for that, I would experience satisfaction if he suffered. Death would be merciful compared to what I thought he deserved. It was an ugly, destructive thing to think, as the idealist in me reminded me of, but I’d be lying to myself if I claimed anything else.

I hated him, absolutely. There mere thought of him made my blood boil with fury and hatred.

However, I wasn’t about to tell William that. If it were true what he’d said, and he hadn’t yet made up his mind about whether he desired revenge or not, I didn’t imagine that declaring that I hated Oliver would do him any good. In fact, it might stall his progress and inspire him to join me in entertaining the dark emotion. Therefore, I kept my opinions to myself, regardless of how tempting it was to scream and shout that I would hate Oliver for eternity and beyond. For William, I would gladly suffer in silence.

“I can hear the gears of your mind turning,” he commented when I reached for my toothbrush.

“I like what I’m hearing, is all,” I said and started brushing my teeth.

“You don’t look like you do.”

I turned toward him and shrugged my shoulders. “But I do.”

He eyed me suspiciously while he reached for the toothpaste.

To change the subject, I teased, “How’s brushing your teeth with your left hand going for you?”

He chuckled. “Surprisingly well. By the end of this, you won’t notice a difference if I’m fingering you with my left or right.”

“How are you able to make everything sexual?”

“Should speak volumes as to how sexually frustrated I am at the moment.”

I laughed. “Pity not stirred,” I declared.

“You evil witch. Have you no heart?”

“Nope. You stole it.” I winked at him.

He pointed his toothbrush at me. “I’m going to let this slide because I loved that comeback.”

With white foam all around my mouth, I grinned at him. “Thought you might.”

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