This assumes everything spans a much greater time than canon allows, but whatever. Y’all can deal.
Amanda didn’t like pretty things. Ballet flats, charm bracelets, sundresses—all things Emily Thorne needed to armor herself with to pull this off. Emily Thorne, this Emily Thorne, did like those things. It was as natural to her as breathing. It had taken time to learn how to wear it all, she knew back then she must have looked like a cactus festooned with Christmas ornaments.
Daniel gave her a Tiffany bracelet and a hardback for Christmas. While it’s not what she wanted, she couldn’t fault him. When she met up with him for lunch in Bookhampton some time over the summer, she had been lingering over a copy of a Jane Greene book. He was paying attention, she had to grant him that. Too bad she’d been looking at the dust jacket in order to look busy than out of any real interest. She couldn’t blame him because he didn’t actually know her—nobody really did.
Daniel and his family went to Paris for Christmas—trying to mend broken fences, he’d claimed. But everybody knew it was keeping up appearances—trying to pretend they could actually spend time together. He’d been apologetic, self-consciously aware of the fact that she had nobody to spend the holiday with. It had taken all of her willpower to play the disappointed but supportive girlfriend, when all she wanted was to tell him to just go already.
She was enjoying the time by herself, going to the gym, supporting the library branch close to her SoHo loft, volunteering at the New York Humane Society, although it did leave her strangely directionless. She wondered what she was going to do with herself when all this was over—if she managed to avoid getting herself thrown back into prison.
It was freezing out, but she found herself outside, every day, picking her way through slushy piles of snow, walking the paths in parks that had been helpfully plowed. She just kept going until she found an inviting café or a cab to take her home. It was the only time she managed to avoid the thoughts of the Graysons tumbling over and over in her head.
This time she’d managed to walk all the way across the Manhattan Bridge into DUMBO, almost without noticing.
“Shit,” she said to herself, aware at last of how far she’d come. Breath clouded in front of her face. She couldn’t feel her feet and her fingers were burning with cold inside her pockets. She spotted an unlikely vintage shop on Plymouth with a flickering sign. It was the only shop front on the entire street—maybe she could call a car service and wait inside until it arrived.
The door was heavy, almost wedged shut and it slammed unexpectedly behind her, nearly catching her coat.
“Sorry about that,” a voice floated from the rear of the shop. “We’re in a kind of wind tunnel out here.”
Emily, unimpressed by the dusty shop’s contents, ceded control to Amanda. “Don’t worry about it,” she called back, looking around in wonder. The room was packed with film lights—gobols and barn doors. There were pristine steamer trunks and industrial era shelving. Several Singers were laid about on scarred wooden tables, along with old bottles and curio cases. A set of tumblers she’d willingly bet all her stock were older than the building itself lay ranged about an old coke crate filled with vinyl records. She nearly walked into an antique model ship suspended from the ceiling. It was Amanda’s heaven.
“You look a little overwhelmed,” the voice came from right behind her. She jumped and spun around to face a heavily tattooed pregnant lady.
“Oh! Er—hi,” she said, pressing a hand to her racing heart. She hadn’t let anybody sneak up on her like that in years. “Yes, I’m…a little overwhelmed.”
The woman smiled, brows raised. “Would you like to see The Revenge?”
Amanda stared at her, blinking dully. “What?”
“The ship—it was modeled after the HMS Revenge.”
Amanda breathed in and laughed, thinking of her double infinity tattoo. There was a certain symmetry to life.
Amanda did not like to be scrutinized, she did not like to be helped in stores, and she did not want people peering at her purchases. “I think I’ll just browse.” The pregnant woman shrugged and left her alone.
She sifted through boxes full of old buttons and jewelry, smiling at truly outrageous pieces or ones that she was certain were priced above their value. There were baskets full of photographs and piles of tarnished frames to go with them, and she spent nearly thirty minutes thumbing through people’s lives, their happy moments and special occasions.
She found rack upon rack of clothes, hidden behind three heavy art deco armoires. Hung among three shabby drop-waist dresses, there was a beautiful men’s bomber jacket that looked like it had seen action in WWII. The man who wore it must have been small, for when she shrugged her heavy pea coat off, it fit nearly perfectly in the shoulders.
The pregnant lady poked her head around one of the armoires and gave her an up and down. “Looks good! There’s a mirror by the register.”
Amanda left her purse and jacket behind, laid out over the back of an ancient barstool and followed the woman to the register. The jacket did look good, hitting just right at her natural waist. It was slightly incongruous over her skinny jeans and Burberry riding boots, but she liked it. She liked it an awful lot.
But Emily wouldn’t wear such a thing and it would sit dusty and unused at the back of her closet, one more reminder of the life she had given up. She took it off and carefully hung it back up, gathering her stuff up and slinging her coat over her shoulders. She bought an 8x10 black and white of Brighton Beach in the twenties to apologize for rummaging through the store’s entire contents for so long, and called a cab while the woman rang it up.
“Have a good one,” she called when Amanda spotted her cab at the curb. Amanda did her best to smile. When the door slammed shut behind her, she was Emily again.
The next two days she had business to attend to, meetings, fetes she was required to attend or suffer losing her shaky position in society. Even Emily was bored by the whole thing. When she got back to the loft she was ready for a bath and an Elizabeth George Spear novel.
But there was a parcel in her bed, lying in the rumpled mess of covers that she didn’t bother to make when she wasn’t having people over. Her instinct was to reach for the gun she kept in the nightstand, but she forced herself to open the box on the bed first.
The leather bomber jacket was inside, a note pinned to the chest with a messy signature scrawled across it.
“Nolan,” she huffed. He never behaved like he was supposed to. Of course he was having her watched. She growled and pushed the box off the bed. Why couldn’t he leave well enough alone?
It wasn’t until New Years that she saw him. They were both attending the same high society party.
“What was that about?” she asked when she ran into him at the open bar.
“A vodka tonic and a whiskey straight up please?” he asked the bartender, ignoring her. She was surprised when he handed her the harsh whiskey rather than the tamer vodka tonic, tipping the bartender generously. “Merry Christmas,” he told her and swanned off.
She spent the rest of the night irritably tracking him out of the corner of her eye. At midnight, he kissed a chestnut haired brunette who giggled and curled her fingers in his lapel. The brunette didn’t drop her hand when they separated. Emily didn’t care. Amanda found herself strangely bereft.
She considered returning the jacket, but the shop was in Vinegar Hill, possibly the worst neighborhood for such an enterprise as a vintage shop, and the lady was pregnant, and she wanted to support small business. How on earth would the lady take it if she returned the expensive bomber jacket? There were a million and five reasons not to return it, so she gave up and decided to go back to the shop just to have another peek at their inventory.
She looked at a dozen neat things: a Kodak camera from the sixties, a genuine Czapek & Cie pocket watch with a hunter cover, a case filled with film reels, a Sholes and Glidden typewriter with the original table. She bought another photograph, this one taken somewhere in the Rhineland at the turn of the century, and left. When she left, she kept an eye out for her tail, but she never spotted them.
Daniel came back from Paris, looking stressed out and exhausted. She didn’t ask questions. She wouldn’t have had the energy for the answers anyway. Sometimes it seemed he thought love was being somebody’s therapist. Emily had never been in love, but she assumed there was more to it than that. They watched an action movie and then had sex on the handy bench installed in her shower. It was nice, but she still faked an orgasm. It would have been—would have been giving him too much of herself. But it was easily done and Daniel, like the typical frat boy business school legacy he was, didn’t investigate too deeply.
The doorbell rang while she was changing into her pajamas. It was 10:52, she wasn’t close to anybody who would show up unannounced like this and Nolan would just break in. This time it was Daniel’s presence that kept her from going for the gun. She opened the door and found an enormous crate sitting in the hallway.
“What the hell?” Daniel said, walking up behind her. Emily didn’t respond, going instead to shove the crate into the apartment. He watched her, perplexed. It took the claw end of a hammer to open it up and when she did she found the Sholes & Glidden, complete with table.
“What is this, Emily?” Daniel asked, peering into the box, mystified.
“Just—just, something I ordered,” she lied.
“I didn’t know you liked antiques…” he said, expression amused—like she was quaint, adorable, like he’d finally found her hidden weird hobby. It made her grit her teeth. How had Nolan even known she’d wanted the typewriter out of everything she’d looked at? He didn’t know her any better than Daniel. The apartment was all wrong for it anyway. But then, Amanda was all wrong for the apartment.
She avoided Brooklyn and the little shop like the plague after that. Not that she had much cause to leave Manhattan anyway. The set that Emily was required to associate with lived in SoHo, TriBeCa, and the Village, with few exceptions for Brooklyn Heights and the Upper East Side.
She confined her walks for the immediate radius around the apartment and determinedly did not think about the typewriter sitting in her apartment. But she found herself casing Room & Board for furniture and decoration that went with the damn thing despite herself.
“What am I doing?” she asked herself, mulling over the price tag of an industrial-style bookcase with dark stained wood. There was no room for Amanda in her life and she resented Nolan for trying to force her in. It was making her sloppy. She’d nearly told the Koch brothers they were militant overblown sociopaths at a gala for the Museum of Natural History they’d held last week. She felt like The Prince and The Pauper in one body, except the only moral of this fable was failure.
She was starting to think Nolan was deliberately unsettling her—trying to sabotage her efforts. But that was paranoia speaking. Nobody except Nolan knew what he was up to, but he probably had better ways to unsettle people than expensive antique typewriters and military-issue jackets. That was more her line, anyway.
It continued like this. The wine shop was out of her favorite zinfandel and a crate showed up on the doorstep. She couldn’t make the book signing of her favorite author and then a personally inscribed copy to Amanda turned up in her bookshelf. She changed the locks, but four days later she came home to find a sleek computer laid out on the desk. It was NolCorp tech. The best. Emily didn’t know what to do about it. It was incomprehensible. She had money, lots of it—all of it due to Nolan. So she really didn’t understand this whole gift-giving thing, considering she owed pretty much her entire lifestyle to him.
Daniel took her to a mind-numbing Pina Bausch ballet that people like Emily all claimed to enjoy. She hadn’t enjoyed it though. Not even the tiniest shred of it. She’d rather be watching bad 3D action movies and throwing popcorn at the other members of the audience. It was wearing. Being Emily was tiring. And then, suddenly it came to her—why Nolan was doing all this. He was trying to transform or to convert her back into Amanda.
She seethed all through the post-concert dinner at Aureole and when Daniel made to wave her into his cab before him, she begged off claiming exhaustion. And then she had to reassure him that she was perfectly fine, she was not overdoing it as the little rich philanthropist, all she needed was a good eight hours of sleep. And then, as soon as the cab was through the light, she turned around and descended into the deep belly of the subway. It amused her to think of Daniel navigating the 42nd street-Port Authority stop. He’d probably taken the subway all of twice in his entire life, and the tunnel and the smell and the crush would probably overwhelm the hell out of him.
She stepped off the C train at 66th, only blocks from Nolan’s upper west side apartment. And got even angrier when his doorman waved her up like her presence was an every day occurrence. He answered the door in running shoes and exercise clothing, hair sweaty and face flushed.
It was a surprise, but she wasn’t going to ask (Nolan working out?), because she had other pressing concerns. Get in, give him hell, and get out. She shoved him back into his apartment and stepped through the door, the click of her heels punctuating her anger.
“Hello, Ems,” Nolan said, rubbing at his chest where she’d pushed him. “What diabolical schemes may I assist you with today?”
“You don’t know me!” she raged at him. “You don’t get to know me.”
He looked at her through narrowed eyes.
“So just stay out of my life! No more gifts, nothing. It’s not your right.”
“Christ! Stop it,” he said, moving in close and thrusting her back against a wall. It was times like these that she suddenly remembered how tall he was and just how tall she was not.
She wasn’t afraid of him. Just like she knew the color of her eyes and where her nose was on her face, she knew he wouldn’t hurt her. All for the memory of her father. Nevertheless, she didn’t expect his lips crashing down over hers, and even more surprising was the effect it had on her. Shivery desire running down her spine made her breath come quick and her hands tremble before she fisted them in her sleeves.
Nolan chuckled against her mouth like he could see right into her head. He tipped her head back, deepened the kiss, as fevered and hot as she hadn’t even known she wanted. God, she hated the way he did this to her. Always getting in the way, doing things unasked. She wanted to be alone. She was better that way. But…
But here he was, pressing a thigh between her legs, pulling her in tight with a hand at the small of her back. And she didn’t want to let go. She meant to push him away, but she found herself hesitating, waiting it out. He was rough, clearly angry with her, but even his anger had an edge of restraint that suggested care, and she never wanted to stop. Daniel had touched her like this only hours ago and it hadn’t moved her in the slightest.
His mouth dipped to her neck, kissing up and down over her hard beating pulse. The tender press of his lips was followed by a hard nip that made her cry out and jerk her hips against his. He hoisted her up by her thighs, keeping her up with the hard press of his body so that his hands were free. Obligingly, she tightened her legs around his waist, dress riding up enough to be completely useless. The eighty dollar panty hose she was wearing were laddered with runs, she could hear them ripping further. She nearly sobbed when the hot hard length of him slotted against her, grinding against her pubic bone, so close to her clit. She wasn’t wearing panties, because Emily found they ruined the line of the dress, and she could feel the outline of him in nearly faultless detail through the imperfect barrier of the expensive tights and his nylon shorts.
He was bigger than Daniel. Of course he was. It made her inexplicably angry and she bit his lip hard enough to draw a pained gasp from him. He responded by twisting her nipple almost viciously and when she shuddered, thigh muscles clenching, he chuckled, triumphant.
“Shut up,” she replied. “Would you…would you just…do it.”
It was a vague plea, but Nolan’s muttered refusal was explicitly clear. A desperate sob spilled out of her mouth before she could stop it.
“If you want this, we’re doing it my way,” Nolan whispered against her throat, and set her on her feet, lingering over her mouth for one frustrating moment. He walked away from her then with one last parting nip at the lobe of her ear. She leaned against the wall, breathing hard, trying to gather her thoughts together. Her cheeks were blazing with color, she was sure if she held her palms over them they would be hot to the touch. She closed her eyes and drew herself up.
The door was right there. She could easily take off, leave him high and dry, show him not to play with her. Or she could just give in. Emily would never sleep with Nolan, but Amanda wanted to, almost desperately.
He took her apart slowly, pinning her wrists to the bed when she tried to hurry him along. The first time he didn’t even take her clothes off, just ground his knuckles against her clitoris, through her mangled tights until all she could do was breathe into his mouth.
“It’s not going to stop until I hear you scream,” he told her, after he’d stripped of her dress. She lay on the bed, arm thrown across her eyes, inexplicably ashamed and embarrassed. But Nolan wouldn’t have it. He made her watch his long fingers disappearing inside her, curving up so effortlessly to press on her g-spot. She was nearly insensible by the time he put his mouth on her, drawing it out and backing off every single time she got close. She didn’t know how he knew, because she remained resolutely silent, doing her best to still even her breathing.
Finally, the third time, she couldn’t take it anymore and she cried out his name, tightening on the emptiness inside her. She wanted him inside, the delicious stretch of being filled, to be able to clamp her legs about his waist and feel his body moving above her. She was trapped, forced to accept what he gave her, until she felt like she was going to burn alive. That was all he needed.
He had a condom on between blinks of an eye, but he was slow pushing inside her. She didn’t want slow or gentle or steady. But he made her take it, knocking her hand away when she went to reach between them.
“You’re so sensitive right now, I bet you could come just from this,” he told her, drawing out and then pushing all the way back in, unhurried. The hitch in his breath was the only sign that he was affected. She supposed dimly there was something she could do about that, take over, get on top, ride him until his eyes crossed. He wouldn’t give up the reins though, seeming to delight in her rough short gasps, the way she shook when he twisted his hips. It took her long moments to realize the voice begging desperately for more, harder, right there was her own.
She came, nails biting deep into his back. Relief suffused her and it made her relax. It seemed to spur something inside him, hips pistoning into her. She held on, the half of her brain that never turned off cataloguing and admiring the act of will it must have taken to hold off for so long. It was too intimate to meet his eyes, so she kept her gaze trained firmly on the ceiling. It was with mixed emotions she discovered that she was hoping Nolan would last, just a little bit longer, just a little bit further. That she didn’t want this to ever end.
When he finally came, he said her name. Her real name. And the shock of it caused her to meet his eyes, briefly, only the barest millisecond, but there was years worth of thoughts communicated in that gaze.
By the time he disentangled their bodies she was completely exhausted, almost entirely unable to move. Nolan, in contrast, looked energized.
“You’re very proud of yourself aren’t you?” she said snidely, now that sanity had returned.
He just smiled and brushed an unsought kiss across her forehead before she could avoid it. She groaned and pushed him away weakly with a hand on his forehead. He seemed more amused than put out. It was utterly infuriating. She was so tired, suffused with a deep unshakeable languor, and the bed was so comfortable, but she’d be damned if she was going to spend the night.
“Yes you will,” Nolan responded, tugging the covers over her. “If you try to get up I will strap you down.”
Her snotty ‘with what?’ reply died on her lips as she fell asleep.
When she woke up the next morning, the bedroom was empty and the covers on Nolan’s side of the bed were smoothed down like he’d never actually slept beside her. Neat freak. The room was full of light, which seemed to be a thing of Nolan’s, but it was nice—soothing, rather than that gaudy palace he had in the Hamptons. She stretched and took stock of herself. Surprisingly well rested for how sticky and sweaty she was. The thought of how she got that way made her blush and decisively think of something else. She’d had the brief impression some time in the night of Nolan spooned up behind her, but she figured even his garbled sense of self-preservation had to kick in at some point.
The door to bathroom was open and the extravagant shower it revealed was tantalizingly inviting. Her body warred with her mind over whether she wanted to be in there when Nolan came back from wherever he’d gone. It was in everybody’s best interests to get out and put this whole thing behind them. There were things that needed doing. She glanced at her cellphone and purse carelessly tossed in a chair—that life, Emily’s life, was calling. But after a night of escalating bad decisions, she got into the shower anyway.
She toweled off in the warm sunlight of his bedroom, marveling that she could probably just air dry if she waited a couple of moments. The room was very clean and white and modern, except for one thing. The HMS Revenge, the 91 gun second rate ship that was in her little vintage shop. It sat upon his dresser in pride of place, sunlight falling over it. How she’d missed it last night, she had no idea.
“It was renamed the Empress in 1891,” a voice came from behind her. “It seemed appropriate.”
She whirled, nearly dropping her towel in her haste, to find Nolan standing in the doorway. He was in pajamas, plaid pants and a ratty MIT shirt, and something about it was so incongruous, so un-Nolan who took extreme pride in his attire, that she couldn’t help bursting into laughter.
He raised a brow. “Do tell?”
She shook her head. “I’m sorry, it’s just, pajamas?”
“You’re acting like I’m wearing a onesie with the feet sewn on.”
She sobered when she realized it was broad daylight, Nolan had his ridiculous pajamas, and she only had a towel, an extremely expensive towel she suspected was from Frette, but a towel nevertheless. She had really had sex with him, a man who offended nearly everybody in his immediate radius. A man who’d managed to give her four orgasms in a single night. Her knees trembled, just recalling it.
The look on his face said he could tell exactly what she was remembering. Her face flared up in a blush. She was doing that a lot lately. Turning back towards the model ship, she busied herself retying the towel around her torso.
“Why’d you buy it?” she asked, aware of his gaze heavy on her back. Water was still beading off her wet hair and when she shivered she hoped he realized that was why.
He’d come up close behind her, fingertips skimming across her bared shoulder blades. Her heart pounded harder in her chest just from the fragile whisper of contact. His voice dropped to a whisper. “I told you, it seemed appropriate.”
And that was as much of a declaration as she was going to get from him, probably because that was the only declaration she would allow.