Warning: This work has been rated 18+ for language, violence, and mature content.
Viggo, a former cop, has just escaped from prison after seven years of abuse. Nyssa, an old friend, is running from her abusive fiancé.
To know more, read Chapter 11.2.
Nyssa was asleep. Viggo felt it when she let go. She nuzzled against his neck one last time, and she went completely slack. Her respiration slowed down, deepened. Her body became warmer, softer. Curious of the changes in her, he pried her fingers from his sleeve and held them in his hand. She was so small all over – not just her hand, but also her tiny little ears and her delicate features. He was a giant holding an elf.
He wasn’t surprised that she had crashed: he had put her through an emotional wreck. He had been lashing out in the basest way. It wasn’t her fault that he was choking on frustrated lust. Shit, he was such a bastard…
She never meant to hurt him. She loved him – and wasn’t that the clincher? There was only one person in the entire world who loved him and, even when he was furious with her, he shouldn’t turn on her. He should have been taking care of her. It felt right to hold her like that, like a purpose other than death and destruction. He wasn’t stupid, he had tried to find one, to start over. But all his dreams had been gone.
He wouldn’t ever be a cop again. It wasn’t materially possible, and he had lost his faith in the justice system. He couldn’t ever trust a buddy at his back again. He couldn’t have cared less about his family. Angie was gone too – married and pumping out babies. And he wouldn’t ever want her back. She had betrayed him. Save for a few erotic dreams he’d had no control over, he hadn’t even longed for her in years.
Except for cooking and Wood, prison had brought him exactly nothing. He couldn’t forever seek shelter in the kitchen, and he had lost Wood – God, that hurt…How could anything still hurt him? But he was grieving for the kid. Maybe Woodman Baker hadn’t been much of a human being, but he had been a good friend in hard times.
So really, Nyssa was all he had left.
He dropped a kiss on top of her head, breathing her in and out. He carried her upstairs. She weighed next to nothing, and that tugged at his heartstrings. How could he leave her? Ever? He wasn’t even sure that she would eat without his constant prodding.
He pushed the door to her bedroom open and glanced around. He had never been in there. The decoration had a colonial look to it, dark woods and sturdy furniture. Dozens of pillows piled up on the huge canopy bed of white net and varnished mahogany. It wasn’t blatantly feminine but there was something, there, that was undeniably Nyssa.
He tucked her in the crook of one arm and used the other one to open the bed for her. He tucked her in, sat beside her and stroked her hair. She blinked, mewed sleepily, “Viggo?”
“Yeah. It’s me. Sleep, Nys. You’re exhausted.”
“Mm.” Her hands closed on the lapel of his shirt. “Don’t leave.”
“I’m not leaving.”
Maybe she took that at face value because she immediately relaxed her death grip on his shirt to burrow deeper under the cover, mumbling something about the dog and her car. He retrieved the mutt from her backseat. The beast bolted for its water.
Too late, Viggo realized that he hadn’t picked a name yet. A few possibilities presented themselves. Max, Buddy, Buster, Duke, Harley, Bear, Lucky, Bandit, Hunter. He poured himself a cup of coffee and he studied the dog. None of the names fitted.
The mutt wasn’t playful enough to be a Max. It wasn’t companionable enough to be a Buddy. It wasn’t tough enough to be a Buster. It wasn’t pedigreed enough to be a Duke. It wasn’t mean enough to be a Harley. It wasn’t dumb enough to be a Bear. It wasn’t goofy enough to be a Lucky. It wasn’t sneaky enough to be a Bandit. It wasn’t homicidal enough to be a Hunter.
Sipping his coffee slowly while the mutt rolled around on the white tile, obviously happy and sated, Viggo tried to call other names to mind. A few words came: lame, mutt, mongrel, scruffy.
“Scruffy.” The mutt looked up and wagged its tail. “Scruffy? Really?”
The mutt pressed his bony body to Viggo’s legs. Scruffy, hm? Shit, Nyssa was going to be pissed: the name was lame as hell, but he liked it and Scruffy did too. Scruffy wasn’t too scruffy now, of course, he had been scrubbed until he didn’t stink anymore. His hair was silky, a warm shade of brown, reddish in places and dull as gray in others. His electric blue leg cast contrasted sharply on it.
Distractedly, Viggo petted it, then started kneading the knotted muscles of his nape. It didn’t help. He couldn’t seem to relax. Nyssa’s open computer drew his attention like a magnet. He couldn’t help wondering. Curiosity was human, wasn’t it? It was, but he also reminded himself that it had killed the cat. When it failed to deter him, he also called this particular brand of curiosity sick. And it was.
The buts were killing him. Amongst the buts was uneasiness at the sliver of jealousy he felt. He had never been possessive. Not even toward Angela. He couldn’t love a woman, and not trust her. He trusted Nyssa – or did he? He trusted her more than he did anyone else. Was that enough? Obviously not, because he felt murderous at the thought of Russ and her. Together. Because he felt threatened by the small ways she kept surprising him.
“Enough is enough,” he muttered.
Furiously, he strode to the computer. He fumbled a little to launch the search engine – eight years’ worth of technologic progress, uh…Finding her was easy enough. This Remember Nyssa crap was all over the internet. How could they have even a prayer of disappearing?
He clicked on one of the links she had visited earlier. She felt uneasy about the diary, but he knew that he would find some answers there. He scrolled down quickly, looking at the pictures. They were stark. Those weren’t art. They were practical, one of the rare means a scared woman had found to document the horrors she had been facing every day. She hadn’t had modesty to spare – she hadn’t expected to end up plastered everywhere in her underwear.
The cop in Viggo reared his head, analyzed each bruise. Here, a belt. There, fists. Here, a razor-blade. There…Oh, fuck!
He turned away from the photo of two purple hand-shaped bruises on a woman’s soft thighs. He heaved on an empty stomach. He couldn’t…He shook his head, dazed. He felt like he had just been sucker-punched.
Enough with the pictures. He had to…He couldn’t look at them. He focused on a random line of text, “…finally broke me, this time. I knew he was up to no good when he drove me home from work. He was acting charming and playful like he did in the beginning. Made me sick. I knew something was up. He told me to dress up. Pretty, he said, but tarty. It took me three tries before he thought I was tarty enough. I felt like a whore, and exposed, very exposed. He dropped me at a dive bar near a truck stop, saying I was to give the cold shoulder to the men inside, that he was going to watch me and text me instructions. He…”
Viggo stopped reading. He didn’t want to know what had happened in that bar. He chose a short entry, a long way down from there.
“I went to the beach today. I’m still avoiding the colleagues. Being around people just makes me sad. But I didn’t want to work through my lunch-break, so I went down to the beach and I ate an ice-cream. It was a cold day. Nobody around. The ice-cream truck. A guy walking his dog. A mother and her kids. An old lady in an oilskin. The wind bit my skin. Felt good.
“Death has to be kind of like that. Russ has been threatening my life for so long that I’m used to the idea of death. Today, I sat down in the sand, I closed my eyes and I imagined I was dead and floating in the ocean, rolled around and rocked in the waves.
“When it’s too horrible out there, I tell myself, You can still kill yourself. Oh, I don’t want to, not really. Whenever I think I’m truly ready to let go, I think about Peter Carlsen…”
Reading his name jolted Viggo.
“When it’s too horrible out there, I tell myself, You can still kill yourself. I don’t want to, not really. Whenever I think I’m truly ready to let go, I think about Peter Carlsen. We stripped him of everything, but he persists. He pretends that he doesn’t, that he has given up, but I know better. He’s like a shark. When they stop swimming, sharks die.
“I’ve got to keep going but I can still kill myself. It’s still mychoice, whether to live or die. It’s my last little bit of power. When it’s too hard, I close my eyes and I imagine myself floating in peaceful oblivion.”
It was worse than the truck stop. Viggo didn’t want to read anymore. He didn’t want to know what she thought of him. He was gulping great mouthfuls of air. His hands were trembling. His stomach did somersaults.
In that instant, if Russel Pierce had stood before him, he would have damned his immortal soul to make the bastard pay. And as for the scumbag who had leaked Nyssa’s diary to the press, he would skin him alive. Only by a slow death could the little shit atone for exposing her that way. Viggo felt like she had been laid out there naked for everyone to see. He felt a puritan urge to cover up the computer. If he could have erased those words from the internet…It was fucked-up. Her descriptions were candid, stark, graphic and intensely private. They broke his heart, but he could imagine how they would go over with some.
People were sick. They were vultures, peeping toms, all of them. They sometimes made a show of being disgusted by anything bloody and gruesome, but he didn’t know a living soul who didn’t get a cheap thrill from other people’s ordeals. Her slow death had been recorded for posterity and Viggo knew – he knew with bone-deep certainty that, somewhere, some psycho was getting off on it like it was their monthly Fifty shades shot.
Couldn’t they forget her?! Why keep her torture going? Nyssa would never want to be remembered as a victim. Didn’t they care? Didn’t anyone else know her at all?
“It’s over,” Viggo told himself, and it was – he would make sure it was.
He clicked off the diary and went upstairs, needing to see her. Nyssa. She was still in bed, awake, eyes huge and bruised. They pinned him where he stood, in the doorway.
She was waking up, and he didn’t want her to finish coming to. He sat down next to her. His weight made an indentation in the mattress and drew her body against his. He didn’t mind. And when she made her pillow in his lap, the feeling of rightness surged again. He started stroking her hair.
She blinked again, then her eyes narrowed. “What’s wrong?”
She couldn’t possibly read what he had done on his face.
“Nothing. I just missed you. I missed how it feels to hold you so close.”
A happy spark lit those green eyes, dispelling her suspicions. “I missed you too.”
He liked that, but he didn’t know exactly how much he trusted her words. She was still half-asleep. His fingers fell to his shoulders, trailed on a skin that was warm velvet. God, she was so soft…It was both a wonder and a worry. He wanted to delve in it, he had to protect it.
But her thoughts were running in a very different direction. “Tell me about your time in jail.”
It startled him. “There isn’t much to tell.”
“Please. I want to…” She sighed. “I want to think about something else. Were there good times?”
“Of course. There are always good times.” A grim look passed on her face. Imagining where her mind was going, he forced himself to talk, “I took classes whenever I could. I had to see people, or I’d have gone crazy.”
“What did you learn?”
“Cooking. But you know that, already. Everything was pre-cut because they didn’t trust us with knives. Can’t blame them,” he snorted. “Fucking animals.”
She kept looking for light in the darkest part of his life, “What else?”
“Uh, I took a writing workshop – wrote sucky slam poetry. I learned embroidery.”
She stifled a giggle against his thigh. “You’re kidding, right?”
“Why? Not manly enough?”
She grinned, batting lazy eyes at him and certainly not biting. “What else?”
“Hm…Auto repair class.”
“Embroidery was better.”
She laughed. “You’re so full of it.”
“No, I’m not. The embroidery teacher was cute.”
She frowned a little and he almost told her that little Miss Lopez had been a cute seventy-year-old. Nothing there, Malik. But he didn’t tell her because he liked that she cared.
“It was the best part? Classes?”
“No. I read a lot.”
“You never liked to read…You know, before?”
Now, her frown was paired with a little pouting and he knew that her displeasure had nothing to do with Miss Lopez and everything to do with the changes in him.
“Well…I used to love crime fiction in college but, once it became my everyday life, it was kind of boring, you know, like work all over again once work should have been over.”
“So, you picked up your love-affair with Sherlock Holmes in jail?”
“Not quite. Once again, it was too close to home. I…” His face heated with embarrassment. “Don’t laugh, okay?”
“At you? Never.”
“I’ve got a thing for fantasy.”
He had surprised her. “The Harry Potter kind, you mean?”
“The Lord of the Rings kind, rather.”
She flashed him a dimply smile. “Elves, dwarfs and fair princesses?”
“Chivalric codes of honor. Old-fashioned fidelity. Courtly love. Lame, isn’t it? I just…It was nothing like my real life. I liked that. It took me someplace else.”
She couldn’t, though, could she? But he wanted her to. “I had those vivid dreams too. Maybe because everything was so drab, my daydreams were so lifelike. Things. People. Strange and beautiful. Intense. They were as real to me as that concrete box. Sometimes, I…I could almost lose myself in that.”
She lifted herself on her elbows, bringing her face much too close to his. “I’m glad you didn’t lose yourself. I’m glad you were there for me to find again.”
He cupped her cheek in his palm. So soft. Always. It was screaming within him, but he couldn’t promise her that. “How did you, Nys? How did you hold on, all those years? How did you keep looking for a way out?” How did you withstand the lure of death?
She smiled. “Because of you. I would talk to you all the time. Not you, but to you, you know.”
“I do know.”
“I went to my AA meetings. That helped. But it was you mostly.” She sighed again. “I mean that, you know?” she said, her voice so very sweet and tender. “I’ll understand if you’ve got to leave, but I need you to choose.”
He pressed his forehead to hers and, in a whisper, admitted, “I can’t. I can’t leave you, but I can’t swear that I’ll stay with you either.”
“Because I hate him too much. Because I love you too much.” He caught her shoulders, not shaking her, just holding her steadily in one place where she would have to listen to his reasoning, “You know what I mean. He’ll never stop looking. You’re wrecking everything the man holds dear. He betrayed his badge for money and you took it all. You did your level best to ruin his career – his life. Plus, I…I suspect that he hates me. He couldn’t have put me through that hell if he didn’t – and you ruined that fun for him. Sooner or later, honey, he’s coming after you, and I can’t let that happen.”
At odds with the gravity of his warning, she gave him her best morning-after-Christmas grin. “It’s all about protecting me, then?”
“Not all of it, but, yes, that’s…”
“Then stay. Stay. Have my back. That’s the only protection I require from you.”
Her eyes were so alive, so luminous. Her full lips were trembling. He reached deep inside for a denial, the damnedest, simplest thing in the world, one word, two letters: No. N. O. How hard could it be?
Very hard as it turned out. He sighed. “Okay. Okay, you win. I’m going to try.”
He felt a twinge of despair as the resolution settled on him like a concrete screed, but she was so happy, so brilliantly happy. Then, her face shifted abruptly from dawn to dust. And as night fell, she showed a predatory trait the glare of those green skies had hidden. “If you’re willing to try, I guess…Hm…” She tilted her head, watching him under the cover of her long dark lashes, and he knew he was in trouble. “I guess I can too.”
She pressed a finger to the corner of his mouth. She knelt beside him, touching him only there, with that index finger tracing her lips. Then she took it away and she cupped his face in her hands. His throat couldn’t work around the words of his denial. She was daring, he was reduced to silence. Up close, her eyes blazed. They were the bright color of afternoon sunlight pouring through foliage. Their crystal-clear depths held him trapped, he couldn’t have twitched if his life had depended on it.
Maybe it did.
Her lips were petal soft against his, brushed them very lightly, once and twice and thrice. She drew away. Her eyes were half-closed. His were wide open. She took a deep breath, then sighed, then smiled nervously. Lust shot through him until it was all he could do to impersonate a statue.
“Okay,” she breathed out. “That was okay. Let’s try again.”
Oh, hell, yeah.
This time, when she leaned toward him, he closed his eyes. Brush. Brush. Barely there. Then just a sweep of her tongue. Lick. Taste. Once again, so soft and tentative. She opened up to him, and she tasted of Nyssa, of magic, of memories, of the dozens of desserts they had shared.
He hadn’t had the opportunity to explore her, before, he had been too desperate. Now, he could do nothing but feel. He could do nothing but enjoy and keep completely still. He clutched the bedding in his fists, so tight that his knuckles ached. She moaned in his mouth and he grunted in answer.
He was breathing hard when she drew back again. She was too. Her face was flushed. Her body vibrated with the same tension he felt. He started reaching for her, to pull her back in his arms. But, once again, her face went pale and grave. A sad little girl. And you didn’t kiss sad little girls.
“That’s about as far as I can go,” she said, almost like an apology.
He felt like he had been run over by a car. She was…It was…If a kiss had that kind of effect on him, the sex might be well worth six years of abstinence. Then, it struck him that she wasn’t kissing him because she wanted to. She was doing it to keep him there, because she thought that he needed her to. He was a disgusting SOB, because he was of half a mind to take whatever he could anyway.
His mouth finally unfroze, “You don’t have to go anywhere – to do anything, I mean. I’m not asking. I don’t need…”
A slow smile curved her lips. Her eyes sparkled. “Yes, you do, and maybe it’s for the best.” She clearly saw that he didn’t understand because she explained, “I think I need this too.”
She let him see it again, right then, just a fleeting glimpse of what was haunting her. It made him sick. He would have done anything not to know. “You really think it will make things better?”
“Maybe.” She stretched out like a lazy cat, rubbing herself against him in the process. He gulped loudly, abruptly brought back to very earthy thoughts. “I know I like the way it makes me feel.” She laid her head against his shoulder. “I was thinking, you know, when I saw the picture of your birthday party, it’s the last time I was happy. You make me happy. You always did.”
Her words had the force of a blow. He didn’t deserve any of it.
He didn’t know how to say it, so he hugged her as tightly as he could.
To see more of those two, read Chapter 12.2.