Sex with Will had always felt demeaning. He had a type of manic energy about him in those moments that suggested his violence was bubbling right beneath the surface. He restrained himself somewhat because she could not withstand all of his aggressiveness unleashed. But what he did let out… she didn't like.

Layla accepted that there were women who were turned on by being called "you fucking bitch" during sex – she just wasn't one of them.

Sitting at the dinner table with Will and his parents, the Strongholds a vision of squeaky cleanliness, Layla shuddered at the thought that proper Mr. Stronghold called his wife a "fucking bitch" in bed. He and Will were so similar it was hard not to think of the inevitable parallels.

It explained the chemistry Will had had with Gwen. Although they had never gotten very intimate, Layla was certain that Gwen would have been the type to get off of Will's particular brand of roughness. Gwen would probably be able to take it all, unleashed.

Layla was not jealous.

She was no prude but S&M… didn't fall into her category of 'having a good time'.

It wasn't long before she broke up with Will. Before he pushed it too far for her. Before he went elsewhere for the pleasure-pain he sought.

Layla had realised that her heart was not as devoted to Will Stronghold as she had thought it would be when they got together. Something had chipped away at it.

Will had been upset when she told him they'd be better off as friends. But not even her feminine ego could mask the suspicion that Will was making a fuss simply because he was the one being dumped. The superhero mentality seemed to fit him like a glove; Layla wasn't sure she had anything in common with him anymore.

It didn't take him long to get over it and although their friendship was restored, it was considerably colder and more distant.


Sex with Warren was so good it made her teeth ache in the exact fashion as when she'd have an extra sugary sweet – the endorphin rush was unstoppable and addictive on your tongue, made you crave more.

Will had taken her virginity but it was Warren who gave her her first orgasm.

His quiet but intense and meaningful presence had been like a balm after the peculiar fakeness she had lived in with Will and the Strongholds. Knowing or suspecting how they were behind closed door, their picture-perfect smiles seemed like big fat lies. Unnatural.

Layla submerged herself in tending her mother's garden for the summer after her break-up with Will. She needed the plants and the warm, moist earth to take the strange chill caused by the artificial feel of the Strongholds. Lost in her world of greenery, she did not realise it had been weeks since she'd stopped by the Paper Lantern until one night Warren showed up with take-out.

The familiarity and then the heat in his coal eyes had made her feel safe, womanly, desirable and desiring.

Laying on the grass during a balmy summer night, in the garden she'd tended to an unprecedented richness, Layla and Warren had almost kissed. Almost but not quite.

It seemed like they had come to a silent agreement to take things slowly.

So Warren had said goodnight and left.

Only to return a minute later, lay her out on the grass and make love to her under the coverage of the dense trees.

That night, Layla realised Warren was an integral part of Nature, just like her. He was fire; necessary for things to grow, for life.

For her to come alive under his touch.