That first time had taken hours. But, as always, I was practical, and unavoidably I was soon to become more efficient at human butchery than I'd ever been at anything in my life. Even if it hadn't seemed so then.
I dragged myself into my room afterwards, clawed frantically at the dress sodden and diseased with congealing blood that still hung from my frame. God, I needed to get it off. I wanted to tear it, burn it, erase every indication that the thing had witnessed the deeds it had, and I'd barely managed to fling the hideous fabric away from me before I felt eyes on my back. I froze.
"Is it done?" rasped the husky voice behind me, smouldering with power and intent and a violent eagerness that set me hot and cold at once. Horror and a perverse anticipation raised gooseflesh on my back.
No, no no no no no—!
I was afraid. I'd felt his razor at my throat, torn the flesh from human bones, proposed to make a business out of murder, and not once had I felt the fear that then raked like nails down my spine. The man behind me was the furthest creature I could ever have imagined from the Ben he'd used to be, dark and brooding like a nightmare I couldn't seem to wake from and somehow, perversely, didn't want to.
His voice grew sharper, deeper, hot against my neck. "Dammit, woman! Is it done?"
You want this.
A steady sound, a voice that sounded like but couldn't have been mine, gave him his yes.
Over the course of the night numbness had seeped into every inch of me not spattered by darkening red splotches, and the places that were burned as if dipped into the fire behind his eyes. But this—every nerve sang and flinched as ungentle hands found my skin. White teeth bared in a predatory grin and before I could even think to pull away his mouth was crushed to mine. The kiss was vicious, hungry, and everything I should have run from poured out and splashed like acid over me.
Delicious, exquisite, excruciating pain.
He's using you.
I knew it was true. He didn't love me and probably never would, said the pieces of my brain that still held some semblance of sanity. I existed to put a roof over his head and cover his tracks. And I would do. I knew that.
But I would take what little he gave, even if he took more of me than I'd ever get in return. I was no more above him than the rats in the street, after what I'd done. And so long as I was going to hell, I was going to go on my own terms. The drying blood on my hands left dusty red streaks across his white shirt, and as he clawed at the ties of my shift I grabbed at his collar, pulling him closer. His kisses were powerful, as engulfing as the fire still burning behind his black eyes, a fire that cleansed even as it branded the blood into my skin.
This was why I did what I would, not for love, not for approval, but him. Raw and acrid, metallic against my tongue. I would please him howsoever I could, make his violent life just a little easier to lead. I needed nothing in return. Silver roses bloomed behind my eyelids as his nails left thin red vines down my arms, across my collarbone, along my shoulder blades and spine. And I gave back everything he left me, kiss for kiss, bruise for bruise. A few of his scratches drew blood, but I was not so bold as to do the same myself. If this was what he wanted, then I would give him what I could, but so long as he was giving, I'd take whatever he saw fit to give and then some.
He near shoved me back against my bed, hands brushing lower, testing my throat with his teeth, murmuring against me, My pet, my love, my life—
I froze, and every inch of me he'd just made flame ran cold. God, I don't think anything had ever hurt so much. Like my heart suddenly insisted on forcing shards of ice through my veins. But I didn't pull away. I could fight his fire with fire, the blaze that flared all over again when her name turned over and over in my brain. I waited for him to bring his mouth back up to mine, kissed him slowly with the same consuming need he'd left against my lips, and bit down.
I smiled when I tasted his blood in my mouth, licked it from my lips. Cruelly smiled at the rage in his face as he lurched back from me. He knew as well as I that he couldn't yell, lest he wake Toby sleeping in the parlor. I'd never seen an intensity of hate like that which burned through every inch of him then, nor would I again, as he wiped the blood from his lips. I stared back into eyes that looked as if to kill me right then and there, but couldn't flinch. If he was to live here, if I was to watch his sorry back like he expected, he would do well to know I wouldn't follow like a child in his shadow. I would do just about anything he wanted of me, but I refused to stand as a substitute for Lucy. I would not be used for such a fantasy.
"Devil's bitch," he hissed, raising a hand as if to strike my face, but when I wouldn't cringe from him he turned and swept from the room, hands clenched into fists. The ice drained from my veins and left a numb hollowness in its wake, and all I could do was lie there and breathe for the longest minutes of my life. A part of me died that night.
But if he wasn't, then at least the moment, that one small triumph, was mine.