She stared straight ahead, not meeting his gaze, her spine straight. The lies were thick, coating her tongue, sliding off and sounding totally believable. “You were supposed to be my first.”
Laughing coldly, he stood and looked down, “I would have been your last.” For a moment, he only stared at her. The beauty that made the girl what she was, the luster of her skin, the haunted expression in her eyes—all of it was hidden by make-up and the costume of a seductress. Eric tried to understand the girl. She was young. Maybe this was to play out some fantasy, but when he looked at her face he didn’t see the eyes of a naïve child. Shaking his head, he said, “I can’t fathom why you’re here. This isn’t about money. It’s not about sex. It’s something else.” From the look on his face, he could tell he was on the right track, but he couldn’t put his finger on the reason. Golden eyes locking on her face, he demanded, “Tell me.”
Natalia squirmed as he gazed at her, insanity clutching at her throat. The desire to tell him filled her until she couldn’t stand it. Like Eric, she’d been alone for so long. They had so much in common, they were so alike, but she couldn’t reveal herself. There was no forgiveness for what he’d done. No, she couldn’t tell him. She couldn’t tell anyone. She knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that she was still safe with him. He didn’t realize who she was, or what she was. If he did understand, he wouldn’t be asking.
She relaxed a little, dodging the question, replying, “Eric, I could have handled you.” Her voice was cold. If he wasn’t the man who destroyed her life, she would have liked to handle him. There was no one she ever met who was as infatuated with pain as Eric. It peeked her curiosity several times, but he wouldn’t discuss it. She thought he tormented people because he enjoyed it. For Eric, admitting he needed to was even worse, but it would have made a difference to Natalia. She tried not to be cruel, and cruelty lined every inch of Eric’s body.
He walked over to her, gripped her wrists and yanked her off the bed. “No, you couldn’t. If that charm Carina gave you worked, you would have died.” His eyes burned a hole in hers. Natalia didn’t back down. Eric’s hands slid under her robe, his fingers tracing the steel bars inside her corset.
Why wasn’t she afraid of him? Even here, now. She should realize what he would have done to her, but she just stood there with those cool blue eyes like they were at the park.
Eric wanted to shake her up and make her realize what he would have done. “I would have left you chained to the wall, and ripped this off of you so I could get at the metal in the corset. Carina banned me from having anything bigger than a push pin. After what happened with Jocelyn, I couldn’t blame her.” Natalia blanched, her skin whitening when he said the other girl’s name. “So, I’m finally getting through to you?” He tugged on her corset hem when she didn’t answer, his fingers grazing her thigh.
Natalia felt sick. She knew what happened to Jocelyn, in all the gory detail. Eric had done that and he was here tonight to do it again. She swallowed hard, too stunned to move. “Message received,” she said softly. “You’re completely fucked up.” Apprehension and compassion were colliding. What made him this way? No! She scolded herself. This is Eric, at his core, this is what he is. Saying he was a good man was a lie. This thing, this monster, was the one that dominated him.
Satisfied that he finally got through to her, Eric nodded, releasing her.
Natalia’s eyes slid over his bare chest. She was fighting her instincts so hard, but his skin was so smooth, and he was so close. Eric’s scent filled her head, and she couldn’t help herself. Stepping closer to him, she slowly raised her hand, and pressed the pads of her fingers to Eric’s chest. She watched him as she did it, his eyes locked on hers the whole time. He didn’t swat her away. He didn’t throw her like she expected. He remained perfectly still. Natalia had to see, she had to know if her touch had any effect on him, if she could feel his power draining from his body and filling hers—but she didn’t. There was no transfer of power.
“What are you doing?” he breathed. Every muscle in his body was corded tight. She traced her finger over his pecs, feeling the smooth curve of his skin.
Her gaze was no longer on his, but slid lower, following the path of her finger like she was mesmerized. And she was. Her body didn’t care that it wasn’t absorbing his power, it was still fixated on touch—on sensation. It didn’t matter how loudly her subconscious screamed at her, Natalia could not withdraw her hand. The succubus part of her wanted him, and she didn’t like to be denied. It was something that drove her crazy. This immortal part of her being made it hard for her to act logically, to think. It only seemed to happen when she had the most to lose, like now.
Eric breathed deeply, feeling her finger trail over his flesh. His lips burned, wanting to press against her skin. The aching in his groin could be eased if he slid inside of her, but he didn’t touch her. He didn’t move. Trying to control himself, Eric kept his hands at his sides, otherwise he was afraid of what he’d do. Of how he felt.
“She’ll notice that you didn’t hurt me.” Those words were a bomb that shattered whatever was happening between them. Eric’s hand shot out and grabbed her wrist, stopping her caress.
“What are you asking me to do?” He blinked at her, stunned.
She glanced at her wrist in his hand and then back up at his eyes, “I think you know.”
Silence passed between them. A million scenarios played out in Eric’s mind, each one sexier than the last, but he couldn’t allow any of them to happen. Releasing her arm, he nodded, and headed toward the nightstand. “Then, this will work,” he looked up at her, not saying what he was thinking or what he planned to do. What was wrong with her? Why wasn’t she afraid of him? He pressed the pin to her arm, pulling it down, slowly scratching her skin without cutting her. The wake of the pin’s path left a white line on her arm. There was no trace of fear in her eyes.
Natalia’s stomach twisted, sending off multiple warnings to her brain. There was no way she should be with Eric. At best she would kill him, and it was too soon. She needed something else, something she couldn’t remember. Something that didn’t seem as important as showing him that she could handle whatever he wanted to do to her. The tight clenching in her belly made her lips part and her eyes grow dark. She shifted her weight and leaned forward. The pin pierced her skin, sinking in and drawing blood.
Eric watched her do it, move into the point so that she bled. She swallowed hard looking at him, waiting for him. Wanting him. Her voice was cold, “Do it. I can take anything you can do.” Her pale face remained fixed, watching him respond to her.
Eric held the pin still. He could feel the sharp burst of pain from pushing it into her skin, but the sensation ebbed. Everything ebbed. He didn’t understand. Before she could say another word, he dropped the pin. It fell to the floor and he grabbed her. Scooping her up, he threw her body onto the bed. Eric jumped on top of her and quickly pinned her between his thighs. Reaching for her wrists, he held her down as she struggled to get up. A leg collided with the side of his head, but he was too quick. He’d already chained her wrist. Hitting him with the leg just made it easier to grab her.
Natalia swatted at him, twisting, trying to free herself. She came back to herself even though she was drowning in lust. It was that look, the expression on his face. It spoke worlds to her, and it meant he decided to do something stupid—and she knew exactly what it was. Pleading with him, she said, “Eric! I’ve seen that look on your face before! You’re going to leave me here. Don’t you…!” she swung at him again, her fist colliding with his side. Both feet were chained.
Eric pressed his body over hers, smashing her into the bed. “I can do whatever the fuck I want.” He already had her free hand bound by the time he stopped speaking. He looked down at the girl chained to the bed. Before he slid off of her, he pressed a kiss to her temple. If he was going to be with her, it wasn’t going to have anything to do with easing her fear of Carina. If he was going to have her, it was going to be because she wanted to. He laughed lightly as fire filled her eyes.
Natalia, snapped at him, “Eric, don’t. This isn’t fair! Don’t leave me here like this. I can’t defend myself.” Finally, the girl was afraid. It took her long enough. She writhed on the bed, trying to get loose from the cuffs. The corset bodice was getting twisted, threatening to reveal her snowy white skin. Eric’s gaze lingered. He couldn’t help himself.
He laughed at her words, “If you’re not afraid of me, you have nothing to worry about with, Carina.” He turned his back on her and walked toward the door with a smile on his face.
“Eric! You demented bastard! This isn’t funny! She’ll kill me!” Every ounce of her body pulled against the restraints, but nothing happened. She was trapped. Eric still wasn’t certain if this was an awkward coincidence or something more. This was his chance to find out. And he planned on taking it.
“Good-bye, Natalia. Give Carina my best.” With Natalia spewing nasty words behind him, Eric slid the key into the lock, pulled the door open, and passed through. After closing it behind him, he leaned against the dark wood, listening to her struggle. Hoarse cries called after him begging him to come back, but he wouldn’t help her.
Pushing off the door, Eric walked down the hallway with a grin on his face. If he was right, she wouldn’t be there when he got back. If he was wrong, well, he warned her off enough times that she might actually listen to him after this.
Eric passed the guards, shaking his head that he didn’t want his things yet. “Not done,” he grinned. He passed them, moving into the room wearing only a pair of dark jeans.
Waiting at the bar, he had a few drinks, watching the hour pass. The best customers appeared to be mostly men and were shirtless, like him. A corseted woman slid onto Eric’s lap almost as soon as he sat down. When a patron here bought a girl, it was for the entire night. They were permitted, expected, to leave the room and sit at the bar during the evening.
There were several reasons for it, some of which included making the woman chained in the room fill with terror as she waited for his return. There were too many corseted women to count. He wondered where Carina found them, and how many were Valefar. From what Natalia said, it sounded like several women were punished by having their soul removed. Whether or not Carina turned them was beyond him. While he could sense Valefar, he couldn’t be certain until he saw their mark. And like his golden mark, theirs were also hidden.
The warm woman on his lap slid into Eric, and he held her there, feeling her bare thigh beneath his palm. She chattered about things that didn’t matter to him, things that piqued the interest of the man sitting to his right, but Eric wasn’t listening. He was thinking about Natalia. If she was gone, what would that mean? What was she? In all the time he’d known her, he never suspected she was anything but mortal. Now he wasn’t certain anymore.