The thing people don’t understand about Lydia is that the sex came second.
First she slipped into the apartment where those asshole Alphas were keeping Laura, and so quietly that they still haven’t found all the bodies, police or gangs. She got that bitch Kali on her knees and had her begging around a knife blade in her mouth, blood running down her chin whenever she cried too hard, and all that before she even untied Laura from the bed.
Yeah, so they didn’t fuck then either. Lydia was in a hurry, and Laura, well, she loves Derek but she’s not her brother. Not that she can’t see the merits in a good death scene, but it just doesn’t hit her like that.
What they did was, Lydia got Laura in front of her. Cuffs still on Laura’s wrists, icy cold for all that she’d been wearing them for days and days. Knife in her hand, sticky-warm from Kali’s blood, and Lydia’s hands on her. One lacing over hers on the knife hilt, pushing her fingers up and her thumb down, snippy little instructions about how to hold it and not cut off her fingertips or get her knuckles broken pattering into her ear. The other flat against her stomach, swooped low under her bellybutton, long, perfectly-taloned nails digging through her jeans till she could feel the blood pricking under them.
Lydia got Laura in front of her like that, and Laura was a good half-head taller, was a hell of a lot more motivated, what with being a hostage for months to a bunch of sick smugglers after having nearly her whole family killed by a different set of sick smugglers, and just hearing that her last couple relatives (that she cares about, that know she’s alive) are probably dead. She was all that and still her knees were shaking so badly that she needed Lydia to hold her up. To tell her what to do, to make her arms move and her legs bend, to puppet her through killing Kali.
Laura had killed people before. In a rush, in desperation and anger and fear, so quick that mostly she hadn’t known for sure they were dead till days afterward, when she’d had the time to follow up. She hadn’t killed people like that, their blood bubbling slower and slower over her hands, bits of them clinging to the knife and then to them, because Lydia was having her wipe off the blade right under Kali’s wide, tearful eyes. She hadn’t been that close, hadn’t breathed in right as they breathed out, for the very last time.
They didn’t fuck but they might as well have, for all that Laura was any good afterward. Lydia got her out of there, God knows how, and with no traces, hell knows how, because Laura was a fucking mess.
Next thing Laura knew, they were in some hotel bathroom and Lydia was soaping her over. Brisk and efficient, like a nurse, with pinches and slaps when Laura didn’t cooperate quick enough.
“Who the hell are you?” Laura had asked.
And Lydia had sighed, mouth pursed like a perfect disapproving rose, and then had turned the showerhead full into Laura’s face.
“Lydia,” she’d said, while Laura was still coughing up water. “Like I told you. Now, try and listen better, Laura Hale, because Stiles might like his impulse picks but I’m still reserving judgment where your family’s concerned.”
“What the hell do you know about us?” Laura had snarled, even as her blood had gone cold.
Lydia had told her. In that prissy, tight little voice, nails scratching at Laura’s thighs till they bled. Tying Laura to the bed, hands over her head, legs spread wide, on her back so Lydia could peck at a laptop balanced on her belly while telling her. Telling her all about her own family, about how the Argents had fucked them over and over, breath warm against those bleeding lines down her thighs. About the Argents, about how Gerard had gotten into it with the Alphas and had fought himself to a draw, just in time get fucked himself with a home invasion and some tranquilizers, and an antique cane.
About what he’d sounded like as he’d died, what he’d said, what he’d looked like. Fingers dancing higher and higher up Laura’s legs, till they were just edging around her cunt, just teasing the hairline there. Wet mouth on her belly, between her breasts, still tight and prissy but God, what Lydia had said. Kate dying, and now the Alphas, starting with Kali. And she’d told Laura all about Kali, about watching Laura’s hands slicing the life out of that bitch, and Laura had been there, was still trembling from it but the way Lydia told it to her had had her screaming before Lydia even had a finger inside her.
So Laura’s not her brother, but how Lydia talks to her, shows her, she gets him a lot better these days.
* * *
Kali was an aberration. Lydia and Stiles both work clean, they wouldn’t command the kind of rates they do, wouldn’t get away with the hobbies they’ve got, if they weren’t spic-and-span to the point of OCD. But Lydia’s even more so, preferring to handle the backend and rarely getting her hands into a kill. And when she does, she works with things like rewritten prescriptions and hacked door locks on saunas and virus uploads into car computers, like some kind of technological Borgia. The messiest she’ll get, normally, is a bomb or two. Remote-control, of course, and usually on a timer; she doesn’t like using her own hands.
“You’re fidgety,” Lydia says, clucking. “I told you, when we get there you can get your hands out, not before then.”
They’re driving through the French countryside. Derek and Peter are back in Paris, probably tied up and getting fucked senseless by Stiles in the antique cake of a townhouse they’re staying at. Laura’s driving, actually, so Lydia can get some work done on her phone. With hands firmly strapped into elbow-length gloves that match Laura’s sleek A-line dress, like some old Audrey Hepburn flick.
Except those gloves, they’re mitts with no fingers, and they’re tied to the wheel. And under that dress Laura’s got a hard plastic plug stretching her out, and a little torturing nub of a vibrator buzzing periodically at her clit. Lydia hates messes on her own hands but she loves them on others. Laura thinks sometimes that that was what kept her alive, even more than whatever weird symbiosis Lydia and Stiles have going on—that when Lydia offered her the chance at Kali, she reached up and she pushed into it, elbow-deep.
“How much farther is this place?” Laura asks, and then fights with the wheel. The road’s been getting increasingly rough, jouncing and rattling even their massive luxury towncar, and then there goes the vibrator again. Laura bites down to keep her vision from blurring out entirely, and just avoids a tree trunk growing into the road. “I’m just saying, we’ve been driving for hours and I can’t remember the last time I saw a building. Does anybody even live out here?”
“There’s a road, isn’t there?” Lydia mutters. She turns off the vibrator, and then turns off her phone. “The turn up there, take a left, and you’ll see it.”
Laura glances over, then sighs and takes the turn. They go around and up a hill, and suddenly they’re looking down at some kind of castle-chateau. It’s big, anyway, all massive stones with a round tower in the center, like a set out of a movie. Maybe the musketeers, Laura thinks, and then presses her lips together before she laughs and gives herself away.
“It is a little medieval, isn’t it?” Lydia says, sighing. She runs her fingers through her hair, then pulls down the shade and checks her make-up in the mirror on the back. “You’re lucky we’re stopping by in the summer. The insulation’s nonexistent and you might as well be in Siberia.”
“Then why are we staying here?” Laura says. “Doesn’t seem like your taste at all.”
Lydia likes things sleek and modern. Not minimalist, neither her nor Stiles—who does have preferences, even if he’s a little strange about expressing them—go for that, but she wants every convenience not only there, but also coming with at least three settings and round-the-clock support. She can, and will, function without them, but she will damn well make sure she’s paid for it. And as far as Laura knows, they don’t have another job lined up yet, so nobody’s footing the bill for this little side-trip.
“It’s a debt,” Lydia says. She sleeks her hair back behind her ear as the car crunches into the long, winding gravel driveway. Then she checks her phone again and Laura catches her own reflection in the screen glass, and realizes Lydia’s checking her.
“A debt?” Laura says.
Sometimes Lydia will answer those. Sometimes not. Today, Lydia’s eyes narrow and she looks up at the massive front doors. Then she reaches over. She puts her hand on the back of Laura’s neck, casual, assured, like all kinds of men that Laura’s fucked and dropped (and sometimes worse) over the years.
They never made Laura shiver like she does now, shiver and squeeze her thighs together, chewing her lip like her panties haven’t been wetted to her cunt for the past thirty-something kilometers. And that’s before Lydia runs her thumb over the chip in Laura’s skin.
Laura pulls the car over. They’ve just reached the bottom of the hill and it’s a last elegant curve to the front of the chateau. The sky is clear, it’s sunny, and she thinks she can see somebody standing on the steps, right next to the doors. They look like they’re wearing black and white, and she wonders for a second if it’s some Downton Abbey thing, full of fancy-ass servants to bring Lydia her nipple clamps and riding crops on silver platters.
“It’s the Argent ancestral estate,” Lydia says.
Her nails dig in at the same time, bright hot points that have Laura opening her mouth and spreading her legs. The car rocks forward as Laura’s foot slips off the brake and Lydia leans over, smiling, eyes dipping coyly as she forces the gearshift out of drive and into park. As the car shudders, Lydia’s tongue flicks over the diamond drop earring she put on Laura this morning, and then her teeth close very gently, as gently as a snake stealing an egg, over Laura’s earlobe.
“There’s a reason we took so long to get around to Gerard,” she tells Laura. “We certainly weren’t going to have the rest of them coming after us.”
Laura lets out a shaky, hot breath. She can feel her shoulders jumping, nerves coiling up the way they have every time one of that damned family’s crossed her path since the fire. Peter’s told her about Kate’s corpse a hundred something times by now, in person and via text and over the phone and in a hundred other mediums, and sometimes Laura still wakes up thinking those bastards are after them.
Lydia bites her ear, because the woman can tell. Always can, always wraps another loop of rope or adds a fresh clamp or something like that, something that’ll bring her back down. Make her hurt, make her moan and know who really has her. Laura shudders. Squirms in her seat, tugging at the mitts strapped to the wheel, pushing her nape back into those nails.
“So it was the Argent place,” she says.
“No, it still is,” Lydia says. She rises up so she’s over Laura, red hair aflame around her face with the sunlight coming in from behind, like some archaic goddess of blood. She’s smiling, sharper than any knife, and her eyes are cool like glass, letting Laura look right through without seeing a damn thing, and Laura doesn’t know where her other hand is. “French real estate laws. Taxes. Cultural heritage protection. Things like that. Makes it easier if it actually stays with an Argent.”
“An Argent?” Laura repeats, stupidly. She understands. Even with Lydia dragging her head back, climbing over her arm and into her lap, kneeing her skirts into the growing dampness between her legs, she gets what the woman is saying.
She thinks she should be angry, or afraid, or something, but the strange thing is, she isn’t. She knows what Lydia’s doing, she’s not so fucked-up that she thinks this is love. Laura doesn’t think she gets immunity out of this deal, or any kind of special call on Lydia. That chip in her, that’s in her because Lydia felt like having it in her, and not because the other woman owes her anything in return. Not because she gave Lydia anything in return for that.
And it’s hot. It’s making Laura even more wet, looking up at her, waiting for Lydia to decide this time whether Laura’s worth it. It’s hot and she’s panting, she can feel the sweat beading behind her ears and under her jaw, and rolling down between her breasts.
Lydia looks at Laura. Not a hair out of place on her, not a speck of sweat. Her fingers are ice cool on the back of Laura’s neck.
Then she smiles. She brings her other hand up and it’s empty, and her smile just widens when Laura sighs in relief. She puts her palm against the side of Laura’s face, cups Laura’s head in her hands and kisses Laura with soft, warm lips. Long, deep kisses, stealing all the breath from Laura’s lungs, so when Lydia turns the vibrator back on, Laura can’t even gasp.
“It’s Chris Argent,” Lydia says. She settles back, her knee pushed forward into Laura’s groin, pinning Laura on the vibrator. Her grip tightens around Laura’s jaw as enough air finally gets in for whining. “He knows about you, and your brother and uncle. He’s still around. Looks like he wants to meet you.”
Somehow, even though she can barely keep her head up, Laura chokes out a laugh. She’s grinding down onto the dildo, her knees slammed out to either side of the seat, trying to rub through her skirts into the gearshift and the door, respectively. “You’re kidding me,” she rasps.
Annoyance flicks the slightest creases over Lydia’s face. Around her eyes, running from either side of her nose down to the corners of her mouth. Laura braces for it, but Lydia doesn’t scratch it out of her. Instead she just pulls Laura’s head in, lets Laura bury her moaning, groping mouth deep between creamy plump breasts as that damned vibrator kicks up a notch, sends Laura’s orgasm shattering out through her pelvis.
She strokes Laura’s hair during the comedown. Gently. “I wish,” Lydia mutters. Then she pulls Laura’s head back and she smiles again, smooth and cool. “Well, he did ask for it, didn’t he? So we might as well.”
* * *
Laura remembers Chris Argent. Poker-faced, stiff man with a wife just as hard, and both of them too terrified of Gerard to do much except get dragged in for the occasional deposition. There was a kid somewhere, a daughter, and if you mentioned her they’d freeze you dead. Sure, they made a point of their mundane lives, their complete ignorance of whatever Gerard Argent was up to, but they never let you forget that they were related. She thinks maybe they got stuck in an elevator together once, with their lawyers, and he let her and her family go out first, scowling the whole time, and that’s about it.
She was fucking Peter for a lot of that, so really, Laura doesn’t think she should be blamed for a shoddy memory. The Argents were her mom’s problem back then.
The man that’s waiting for them on the chateau steps is younger than Laura is expecting. More handsome. He’s got that lean, faintly rough thing working for him, for all that his blond hair is neatly brushed and his suit is slim and perfectly-cut as anything Lydia owns. His grey eyes don’t even blink as they take her in, with her faint damp streaks soaking through her skirt, her disheveled hair, her smeared lipstick, and then they slip to Lydia and drop just as they reach her.
All the way down to the ground, he’s looking. His hands are loose at his sides, fingers slightly curled. He’s got diamonds on his cufflinks and they’re faintly pink. Odd color for a man to wear, but also, they match the earrings Laura’s wearing.
“You didn’t give me a lot of notice,” he says. He steps back as Lydia walks up the steps, timing just right to push open the doors for her.
They have to be on pulleys, or something like that, Laura thinks, watching the huge things sweep almost soundlessly out of the way. Big, thick doors, planks thicker than her head, and bound in metal bands that look like somebody forged them for a siege. Chris’ shoulderblades push out against his suitcoat for a second, his clothes are that closely-tailored, but he doesn’t have to work too hard to make them open.
“Do I ever?” Lydia says. She walks by them like they don’t even exist. She’s got her sunglasses on, solid black lenses, and her head doesn’t move as she waves her right hand. “You had the bathroom fixed.”
Chris swings in behind, two beats behind Lydia. He hesitates now, watching Laura watch him, but his face doesn’t change. In the end he steps in abreast of Laura, the two of them just a little short of Lydia’s belled skirts, with enough space in between that neither of them are going to touch by accident.
“Yeah,” he says.
The doors stay open. Somebody’s got to get the luggage. Usually it’s Laura, but Lydia lifts her hand, fingers curled pointedly, and Laura walks up till that curl is fitted snugly about her neck.
“If Stiles is coming down too, you should know that Interpol has a couple agents in the neighborhood,” Chris adds. He talks slowly, softly, strangely casual. It’s not the curt man of Laura’s memories, and it’s not the sneering, sarcastic off-handedness of Lydia and Stiles, either. It’s like where everybody else has it pulled taut, he’s got it slack, drooping so Laura keeps glancing down to see whether he’s tripped yet. “Looking for the Fox, not for you. But.”
“Yes, yes, we heard. That second-rate incompetent, the sooner he’s out of business, the better,” Lydia murmurs. Tipping Laura towards her, all half-closed eyes, beautiful flower of a mouth, and then they kiss and she sinks her teeth deep into Laura’s lower lip.
When Lydia’s done, she pushes Laura back. Flings the shawl she hasn’t even used over a nearby table and then keeps walking down the hall, heels clicking impatiently over the stone.
“Get the bags in, offer Laura something to eat,” she says, not even looking back. Her voice echoes off the walls like each echo knocks off a bit but leaves a fresh razor edge behind. “And then tell me what you’re doing about those agents.”
It’s a little more modern inside, Laura notes, catching her breath. She rubs at her mouth and chin as she looks around; blood and lipstick mix together till she just gives up and starts to dig in her purse for a tissue.
One’s offered to her. She looks up and Chris is looking at her with those steady grey eyes like they’re just people. Like his father didn’t gut Laura’s family in fire and betrayal, like she hasn’t cried in joy at every death in his. He’s good-looking, all right, in his elegant funeral suit, standing in the middle of his fortress of a family estate. And she turns heads, she knows that, had that even before Lydia started dressing her like an oligarch’s mistress.
Laura takes the tissue. Wipes off her mouth, tastes a fresh drop of blood on her lip and sucks it off. She looks right back at Chris. “So they got to you too, huh.”
And finally a little crack shows. Chris shifts his shoulders, lifts his chin slightly. His eyes glint as he half-turns, giving her first step back to the car, and it’s the glint of granite after a new break.
“I don’t think they see it that way, but we can keep things simple and say yes,” he says to her. He turns as they draw level, his hands slipping into his pockets. And then out as he watches her, sees the slight tense of her muscles. “I’m not going to kill you.”
Laura flicks her skirt, shifting away the thin wire snaking through the side seam. “And what if I want to kill you?”
Chris shrugs. He steps into the sun and she can see a few silver hairs sprinkled here and there in the blond, a couple crows’ feet around his eyes. He’s smooth-shaven and the light touches on a hairline scar down the edge of his jaw, and then another one, across the back of his neck.
“Sure,” he says, like she’s just asked whether she can borrow his car. He pulls up one leg a little short as he goes down the steps. It’s not quite a limp, and he’s as agile as a man her brother’s age.
He takes all the bags except for Lydia’s jewelry case, which he leaves for Laura without her even having to say. They carry them inside, and he leads her up a few staircases and through some halls till they get to a bedroom. Lydia’s not there, though both of them look around.
Once the bags are dropped off—Lydia unpacks them, always, and the one time Laura tried, Lydia didn’t touch her for twenty-four hours and Laura was a terrified wreck by the end—Chris takes her back downstairs, into a kitchen that could easily fit a whole roasted cow and then some. The architecture’s all ancient, the appliances are all new. Someone, she supposes him, obviously uses it regularly; the text on the coffee machine buttons is almost worn off, and the cutting board hanging on the wall is dulled with countless scrapes and scratches.
When he reaches for the fridge, Laura braces one hand against the island and then hikes up her skirt. Chris pauses, eyes flicking under her hem, and then he steps over to a cabinet. He takes out a saucer and puts it in front of her, and then he gets out the fixings for a salad and a couple sandwiches. Whips the dressing by hand, leaving his cufflinks on the saucer next to the dildo and vibrator, suitcoat and tie draped over the stool next to Laura and sleeves rolled up to show another scar on his forearm, a bullet graze.
“Your sister’s dead,” Laura says.
“They told me,” Chris says. He doesn’t touch the salad, though he absently licks some dressing off his fingertip. When he picks up his sandwich, he looks just at it as he bites into it. He has a couple mouthfuls and then wipes off his mouth on a napkin, and then he looks at her. “Everyone’s dead except me.”
Laura props her elbow on the island, and her chin on her hand. She’s sore between her legs, driving for nearly the whole damn day while sitting on that dildo, and when she rocks her hips forward, the edge of the stool presses up and turns that soreness tight and almost white-hot, almost real pain again. She eases back, then does it again, and smiles at him.
“So how’s the wife and kid?” she says.
Chris takes another bite of his sandwich. He chews methodically, slowly, and then washes it down with a swig of the beer he’s also gotten out for them. “Everyone else is dead,” he says, in the same plainspoken tone.
“Derek and Peter aren’t,” Laura says. She picks a slice of meat out of her sandwich and eats it, then forks up a little salad. They’re both good. “You know. Three to one.”
“So you came out ahead,” Chris says dryly. He’s still unnervingly calm but at least he’s showing a sense of humor. Or something close enough to it. A lot of people wouldn’t like that hard, dark tint to his eyes, but for Laura, with who she lives with these days, it’s reassuring.
To a point. Laura thinks about texting Peter. She’ll have to at some point; she would’ve even at their worst, when she outright hated him for being so fucking—himself, even as the world went down in flames around them over and over. And these days they’re almost good again, almost like they were before, rolling their eyes together, swapping tips on dealing with the morons. They just don’t fuck.
He’s better at this kind of thing anyway. He’s certainly going to be better at breaking it to Derek, who will flip out and God, Laura hopes at this point that Stiles has him tied down good and firm when that happens. He knew Chris a little better too, Laura thinks. He knew the Argents’ lawyer anyway, used to talk trade in between court sessions, at least till Gerard had that poor guy killed for a judge’s adverse call.
“So when did they get you?” Laura asks instead. She toys with her salad, dangling her fork over it and letting the tines twist in the greens.
“After my father got them. And my wife, and my daughter,” Chris says. His mouth twists and he puts his sandwich down. Then pushes it away. His eyes don’t quite flick to Laura, and then they stay firmly on the counter as he spreads his feet, leans his belly against the island’s edge.
He has earrings, Laura suddenly notices. Three of them, tiny little studs tucked high into the curve of one ear, almost hidden by the curl of skin. One’s gold, one’s silver, and one’s some dull dark metal. And then she looks down, and Chris already has his pants around his feet, his belt snaking out from under them.
Chris steps out of his trousers, then kneels down on top of them. His collar is open, shirt unbuttoned a third of the way down. He’s not wearing underwear and his legs look strange for a second, until Laura realizes that they’re smooth as any woman’s. His cock and balls play peekaboo with his shirt-tails and she has to admit they’re a nice set.
“Interpol,” Lydia says, stalking into the kitchen.
There’s a third plate on the island, with a bit of salad and a slice of pâté and cornichons, and a small stack of baguette slices on it. She takes it and pulls it over, and at the same time, her other hand loops a length of leather over Chris’ head and around his throat. She works up a silver clasp till the strap is tight across his Adam’s apple, then drops it to pull at the leash, dragging Chris away from where he’s tried to bury his head in her skirts, with a sudden, intense urgency that makes Laura start.
Chris doesn’t answer. His eyes are closed. He turns his head into Lydia’s hand instead, just resting his cheek against it as she shakes out her headset and puts it on. Dials up Stiles, who is, as usual, deeply amused to hear about potential opponents. Lydia snipes and insults her way through her meal, but under that she isn’t very concerned either.
Halfway through the call, Lydia steps over so that her feet are on either side of Chris. She holds her hand out to Laura, who licks off the crumbs and pâté, and then uses that hand to ruck up her dress till Chris’ head disappears under it. Lydia’s eyes widen a little, for a bare second, and then she slips seamlessly back into arguing with Stiles about the merits of selling out another mercenary.
Laura eats her food. When she’s done, she washes up, and then she pokes around till she finds some saran wrap for what’s left of Chris’ sandwich. She puts that in the fridge and is turning around when Lydia takes her by the arm. Pushes her up against the counter next to the other woman, then reaches over and pulls up her skirt. Peels down her panties, frowning when Laura can’t help a hiss or two. The damn things are kind of stuck to her, silk half-dried to unpleasantly crinkly, and Lydia doesn’t shave her all the way, just clips it short, so she loses a few hairs.
Then Lydia steps to the side, so that Chris’ head tips out of her dress. His face is glistening wet from mouth down, and there are some smears as high as his cheekbones. He looks more than a little dazed, and a thready, aching noise comes out of him as Lydia scratches him under the chin, then twists his head roughly so he’s facing Laura.
“Well?” Lydia says.
Laura stares down at Chris. He doesn’t look anything like his father, but he’s got a couple things in common with his sister, and when Peter had told her about seeing Kate’s broken neck, Laura had been almost choking with jealousy for a second. She hadn’t been that jealous since that time Deucalion held a gun on Derek, and asked him which he wanted to go with, and he’d picked Peter. She’d known for years about Derek’s hopeless thing for Peter, but it wasn’t till Peter had sagged that tiny bit in his cuffs that Laura realized their goddamn psychotic, half-trustworthy, selfish bastard of an uncle loved Derek right back.
Lydia clucks a reproof and Laura automatically whimpers, before realizing she’s still free, still not touching anybody or being touched. The other woman’s already moving, bending down and pulling Chris’ arms behind his back. She knots the end of the leash around his wrists, slinging them a little higher than the small of his back, so he has to work to not strangle himself, and then looks at Laura again.
“So does he still miss me?” Stiles’ voice crackles into the silence. He sounds peevishly curious, the way he is when he can’t quite number out somebody’s issues.
“Oh, he misses you,” Lydia says. She’s less annoyed, more resigned, and the hand she combs back through Chris’ ruffled hair is almost tender. The brow she cocks at Laura, on the other hand, is pure impatience.
Chris is looking at Laura, not at Lydia, not at the phone. He’s got that steady, unalarmed gaze again and that’s just—resemblance to his sister aside, that’s just fucking irritating. “He’s got you all over him,” Laura says.
“And you’d like to clean him off first?” Lydia says. She’s washed her hands of both of them. Steps away, tilts her headset so that they can’t hear Stiles anymore. Leans over the counter and taps at her phone.
Laura looks at him again. She rocks on her feet, thinking about it, and then she fucks thinking about it and just does it. Pushes her skirt back up, it’s been falling this whole time, and Jesus, but she’s barely got it past her thighs when he’s nosing in, licking and laving. He’s sticky from Lydia, his cheeks catch on her inner thighs. She’s got her own juices dried to her and he’s wetting them again, wetting them and then working them off with his teeth like he’s peeling off strips of fruit leather.
Lydia looks back over, once, when Laura’s well on her way to climax, holding onto Chris’ head with both hands and riding it hard, moaning as he eats her out like he damn well wants her to like it. She takes a long look, and Laura glimpses a little pleased curl to her mouth. And then she goes back to bickering with Stiles. When Laura screams, coming, Lydia just turns up the volume on her phone.
The Fox is a play on Nogitsune, and also, on Carlos the Jackal.
We’ve got Chris Argent, Laura texts Peter.
She’s showered, out of that dress, and lounging in the middle of a huge four-poster bed, with a canopy and bedposts like gilded maypoles. Summertime in France is humid and sticky, even in a drafty castle, so when Lydia gave her a choice she opted for no clothes, just the ankle cuff chaining her to the footboard.
Peter responds immediately: how does he look?
Stiles must have filled him in. Laura is annoyed, for a second, because neither her brother nor her uncle sent her a warning. And then she shrugs, and hitches herself a little deeper into the cool, billowy pillows, and she looks over.
Chris is naked too, but he’s got more on him. A proper collar, dark brown leather, broken in so she can see the wear creases, with a braided leather leash that goes up to the headboard. His hands are strapped behind his back with matching cuffs, and he’s got thigh cuffs squeezing his legs together around a thick dildo. And he’s blindfolded, with fitted, padded leather with a buckle so it won’t slip.
He’s lying on his belly, breathing slowly and regularly, like he has ever since Lydia dropped them off in this room. Laura isn’t a fan of blindfolds. They don’t send her into fits like they do Peter, and sometimes Derek, but she hates how she can’t tell whether Lydia is really gone or not. Lydia might make her shriek for them, beg for them, but it never lasts past the fuck itself. And then here’s Chris, lying in bed with her, so relaxed that he might as well be asleep—she only knows he isn’t because he changes which side of his head he’s got on the bed every so often—like that blindfold’s his security blanket.
Fucked up, Laura finally tells Peter. But kind of hot.
darling niece, you always had the better taste in the family, Peter says, because he’s about to go fishing. how worked up is our titania?
He means Lydia. There’s no way they would get cell phones that could get Stiles and Lydia in trouble, and anyway their text app is some kind of Darknet thing that doesn’t store the messages on the phone but that records them all somewhere else for their hitmen caretakers to peruse at will. So Peter just likes whimsical nicknames, and Laura rolls her eyes and then rolls with it. Why do you think she’s worked up?
because you’re there with him. The ellipsis symbol blinks for a good couple minutes as Peter writes and rewrites whatever else he’s going to say. Then it goes still, and Laura’s about to text again when Peter’s text pops up. sorry. derek backtalked stiles during gun-cleaning again.
Laura sighs. How bad is his ass? She pauses, then adds: Was it over Chris?
wasn’t his ass. his cock. which is spending the afternoon in me, while he thinks about what he did. or would, if he wasn’t trying to fuck off his cock cage. Even in text, Peter manages to be droll, smug, and faintly desperate all at once. in case you were wondering, i’m permitted one hand and my tongue for phone purposes. also, i get to come as much as i like.
I wasn’t, Laura types, and then doesn’t send.
It was over Chris. For some reason Peter starts capitalizing when he’s being serious. I tried to remind him that Chris fled the country when his wife was shot by the Alphas, and it didn’t go over well. Now he thinks we fucked.
Did you? Laura does send. And then stares at her phone, and thinks it over, before turning to Chris. “Did you and Peter ever do it?”
“No,” Chris says. He’s just turned his head to face her, and doesn’t even hitch as he settles into the new position. “Well, if you ever ask him, he’ll say we made it to second base.”
First Peter replies with a crying emoticon. Then: I probably would have called it second base before, but admittedly, I’m not sure he knew who I was. He was very drunk.
“He says you were too drunk for him to take credit,” Laura says.
Chris tilts his head slightly. He’s got more scars, that’s the first thing Laura noticed when Lydia stretched him out on the bed. Mostly knife, or at least sharp edge, but there’s a bullethole scar on either side of his left thigh, the weaker leg. And some sort of burn scar high up on his right arm, almost on the shoulder. It’s round but it’s the wrong size for a cigarette or a cigar.
And he’s got a line of tattoos. They’re small circles, each the size of a half-dollar, plain black, starting from just under the top of his left shoulder and trailing down over the shoulderblade, the ribs, and ending just above his buttock. The circles are partly filled in, but the amount of fill varies and so far she hasn’t been able to figure out the pattern.
“That sounds different from the Peter Hale I remember,” Chris finally says. He’s still relaxed but he’s a little more intent on her.
I don’t think Derek wants to kill him, Peter adds. But he’s upset he’s still alive. I also pointed out that nobody promised us all the Argents were gone. Didn’t go well.
Tell him it’s just Chris now, Laura texts. Also, tell him we definitely did fuck, so he can be mad at me, too.
“Well, Peter fell in love,” she tells Chris. She slides down the pillows as they get a little too warm, then spreads her legs and gingerly feels over her clit and the folds around her vagina. Everything’s a little sore, and she’s starting to think that damn vibrator chafed off a layer of skin into the bargain.
Lydia left her a packet of wipes, and a tube of anti-itch cream. Laura gets a dollop on her fingers and works it carefully over her clit and cunt, and watches as Chris tilts his head a little more.
“With Derek, if you were wondering,” she adds.
“Oh,” Chris says after a moment. He’s surprised, she can hear it in her voice, but he’s not…not stunned or anything. It just wasn’t something he knew, and now it is. “Stiles likes that?”
Laura snorts. “We’re not friends, Chris. Your sister fucked the shit out of Derek, so fuck you if you think you get an inch of him.”
Chris breathes in a little more than usual. It’s not quite a suck, but she can see the muscles in his shoulders and arms tense. His collar digs in at him, too, and when he breathes out it strains over his Adam’s apple, so that a line of pinked skin peeks out from under it.
you’re in a benevolent mood, Peter’s written back. take it he was good?
“So Stiles does,” Chris says after a second. He relaxes. The muscles in his back smooth out, one by one, so she can follow how relaxed he is all the way down to where his buttocks are pushed apart by the dildo.
Laura reaches over and puts her fingertips on his back, right between his shoulders, just where his neck starts. Chris starts a little, but that’s just the blindfold; as soon as he realizes what’s going on, he relaxes again. So she rakes him. Top to bottom, so hard that blood beads up here and there along the angry red lines.
He hisses. Tries to spread his legs against the cuffs, so his thigh muscles contract and bulge over the leather. He grinds his chest down into the bed and breathes in and out hard, and he’s hurting but he’s still so. Fucking. Calm.
“What the hell is wrong with you?” Laura finally snaps. “Your whole goddamn family’s dead. Don’t you give a shit? Aren’t you mad?”
She leans over him, and he presses himself out as much as his bonds will let him, feeling her body heat. His shoulders go down, his elbows bend, his hips flatten. He’s still breathing a little fast, even if he’s calm. Even if he’s not saying a goddamn word. Even if he’s—if he’s just giving up on her.
Laura is pretty twisted, she’s not going to lie, but she’s not exactly a sociopath. Not that coldblooded. She can slice and dice because she’s fucking mad, because she’s terrified, because she has to, but she can’t do it if she’s not any of those things. Doesn’t think she can do it; it’s never come up, Lydia’s never let it. And right now she’s not…not so mad. Not enough. She just doesn’t get him.
So she leans back, and she’s picking up her phone from where she dropped it, and Chris clears his throat.
“I was,” he says. He’s dry again, dry as bone, like he’s telling her some old history story. “I almost let my father talk me into getting back into the family business, actually. After Victoria. But then he got Allison killed, and I was just sad. Grieving. And then they dug me out, and I think Stiles fucked that out of me.”
She stares at him. Because yeah, sure, she’s no cheerleader now, but she still has a drink on the anniversary of the fire. Still misses her parents, her cousins, her poor little sister who never got the chance to figure out what her poison was going to be.
“I don’t think he meant to do that.” Chris shrugs. Of all things, he sounds a little sorry. “But what’s done is done. And they’re all dead, you know. Nothing else can happen to them.”
Laura doesn’t know what to say to that, so she doesn’t. She looks at her phone instead, and sees that Peter’s sent her a pretty long couple of texts.
Stiles wouldn’t say much, just that Chris’ daughter Allison was summering with Gerard at the time things happened, and that she was a friend. He and Lydia tracked Chris down after he went to live in France, and used him to kill all the other Argents before going after Gerard. Also, reminded me that they were still working things out back then, and weren’t as good as they are now. I think it was Lydia’s idea to look him up again, and Stiles doesn’t like it.
Hissing, Laura checks the timestamp on the last text, and then her phone’s clock. When she sees it’s been a good five minutes, she relaxes; she and Peter are all but certain that they have flags on certain words and phrases set up, but Lydia hasn’t come in and Laura’s pretty sure the other woman hasn’t left the building.
I think Lydia’s mad at him about something, Laura texts back.
Stiles hasn’t intervened either, because Peter replies right away. so was he any good?
Rolling her eyes, Laura almost doesn’t reply. Then she thinks the better of that, because Derek has already gotten into trouble once, and she can’t tell from here whether Peter’s in the mood to help or hurt with that. Peter loves her brother, but Peter in love is still Peter.
She texts a fuck-you emoticon to Peter, and then tosses her phone to the bedside dresser. It lands on the wipes, then slides off and into the tube of antibiotic ointment. For a second Laura stares at it, blankly, and then she picks it up. She fiddles with it, takes off the top. It’s a fresh tube and the foil cover is still over the end, and she almost tosses it back before realizing that the cap has a pointed part that’s meant to puncture the foil.
Laura looks over at Chris. He’s back to lying still and breathing like he’s meditating. She looks at the tube in her hand, and then she pokes it open and squeezes out some ointment. Leans over him, pauses again, and then carefully dabs it over the scratches she made.
He starts harder at that than he did at her nails. Starts, and then starts shifting around as she works down his back. His head turns so his face is buried in the mattress, then twists back, and his mouth is all tight and the muscle in his cheek is twitching.
“Stop,” he hisses.
“Fuck you,” Laura says. She does stop, but just because she’s got to squeeze out more ointment. “Fuck you, and fuck your trauma. I don’t care, but they must still want you alive.”
And that, for some reason, strikes Chris as funny. He snorts, shaking his head, rubbing his face roughly into the bed. Then he starts to laugh, and it’s a jagged, hoarse, nasty laugh. It’s like listening to a bag of broken glass being shaken around, and he keeps on doing it, even as she stops being so careful and starts just smearing the ointment on him. He doesn’t stop till he’s wheezing, choking a little, fighting his collar as he struggles to breathe.
She finishes up treating the scratches, because Lydia probably guessed, leaving that other ointment lying around, but she’s still not going to be pleased. Neither she nor Stiles like marks that they didn’t leave, and usually they don’t like to leave permanent ones. But once Laura’s done, she slides as far from Chris as she can get on the bed, trading ointment for phone again. Wishes she had her earphones, but since she doesn’t, she just ups the volume as high as it’ll go, and then plays the game with the most obnoxious music. And doesn’t stop, even when he does.
* * *
Lydia looks at Chris’ back, when she returns, and her lips thin out but she doesn’t say anything. Doesn’t tie Laura into a stress position, doesn’t put nipple clamps on, doesn’t even break out the vibrators. She just takes Chris into the bathroom, and when they come back out, he’s half-dressed and pulling on a shirt, and under the shirt his back’s shiny with skin-glue.
“I don’t know if they can ship that quickly,” he’s saying to Lydia. He doesn’t have the collar on but the skin where it’d been is still deep pink. “It’s not money. It’s just hard to get that kind of thing out of Russia right now. Customs tends to care when they’ve got a war on.”
“Did you have an actual point, or were you just complaining?” Lydia says icily. She’s in her negligee, and has a small pill bottle in her hand.
Laura’s phone battery died about a half-hour ago, so she sits up by the footboard and fidgets with her chain till Lydia unlocks her.
She needs to use the toilet, and spends some time washing the dried ointment and tiny bit of Chris’ blood off her hands, too. By the time she’s done, Chris is gone, and Lydia’s sitting on the bed with her laptop and a couple drinks. There’s a pill next to Laura’s glass.
Stiles never sleeps in the same room as Derek and Peter. Sometimes they’re not even sure he does sleep, Peter once confessed, but since Stiles is sociopathic and not outright psychotic, he’s not suffering from sleep deprivation. Lydia’s not big on sharing a bed either, but she does usually let Laura know where she’ll be. Once in a while Laura even gets to wake her up, in the sense that Laura hears Lydia’s phone chime with an important ringtone, goes over, and gets a gun in her face.
And three times, Laura’s even slept next to her. Maybe Lydia sleeps too, Laura doesn’t know, because Laura’s always drugged for that.
Lydia doesn’t make her. Just explained what the pill was once, and put it down and left it alone. The first time Laura didn’t touch it and they marathoned a really trashy British soap about soccer players, and nothing happened except Laura got about two hours of real sleep, after Lydia left, and then hated herself for it when they spent the whole next eighteen hours researching a target.
The second time, Laura had looked up the pill online, and traded a couple texts with Peter, and just decided to go for it. Way back in her teenage days, a few boys had tried to roofie her but nobody has gone that route since then, unbelievably enough. The Alphas were sick fucks but they liked their prey awake for it, and even if Laura and her family hadn’t managed to land a lot of blows on the Argents, they’d at least gotten better at avoiding them. So there was part of Laura that maybe thought she’d wake up skewered in the rain, or not wake up at all, but it was tiny because it was all just stuff she was imagining. And Lydia’s gotten her to get over way more ingrained issues.
Laura took the pill, and went to sleep, and woke up in the same place, just like she’d been before. Not even a dildo sneaked in. Just her, on the bed, surprisingly not drug-muzzy, and the cooling impression of a body curling up behind her. A couple long red strands of hair stuck to her skin.
So she takes the pills now, when they’re offered. She takes this one, washing it down with the water, and then puts her head in Lydia’s lap as Lydia boots up her latest TV series obsession. Lydia puts her hand on Laura’s head, then slowly strokes Laura’s hair as the drug begins to take hold. The last thing Laura remembers is the warmth of her palm cupping Laura’s shoulder.
When she wakes up, Lydia is still there. Awake. Working, one window on her laptop showing currency conversions while another has a diagram of what Laura thinks is an explosive, and a third with a half-written email in Cyrillic. Laura’s head is still in her lap.
The computer clock says Laura was out for six hours. “Where is he?” Laura mutters, working a crick out of her neck.
Lydia’s fingers still on the keyboard. Then resume typing. “Downstairs. He’s cooking dinner. If you’re hungry, get dressed first.”
Laura is hungry, but she can wait a little longer. She looks at Lydia’s computer and tries to figure out whether it’s pre- or post-offer prep work. Peter’s a lot more knowledgeable about this sort of thing, but Lydia seems to explain more than Stiles, so Laura thinks she’s coming along pretty well. “We’re not going to Chechnya, are we?”
“I don’t work war zones,” Lydia sniffs. She puts one hand back and pets Laura again, absently, chewing her lip as she examines a bank statement in what Laura thinks is Portuguese. “South America, more likely. If their finances check out. Oil’s been so volatile lately, it’s lousy collateral now.”
Venezuela, Laura guesses, but doesn’t say. The pills only ever come out when Lydia has something incredibly complex on the table and Lydia’s temper can turn on a dime those times. So Laura gets up, and goes into the bathroom to freshen up.
She’s got clothes laid out for her in there: underwear, skinny jeans, blouse. She puts her hair up too, in a loose bun, and then comes out just as Lydia’s closing her laptop.
“Chris is going into town later, for business. If you want to go, he can take you,” Lydia says. “The stores are inadequate, but the restaurants are passable. Eat the trout.”
“Should I go?” Laura asks. She sits on the edge of the bed and watches Lydia strip and change, too.
Lydia doesn’t mind doing that in front of Laura. Does it all the time, so that Laura’s had plenty of time to catalog the scars the other woman has. Stiles has more, so Derek and Peter say, but the two Lydia have are a lot bigger: an ugly, jagged semi-circle on her side above her hip and a thin white line going almost completely across one palm. Laura wonders sometimes how Lydia can be so comfortable with them, when she hates scarring so much otherwise.
“Should you?” Lydia echoes archly. She slips into a pencil skirt and a flimsy blouse, so tight across her chest that she has to reach in and rearrange her breasts a little to not bust a seam. Her bra’s thin, too, and Laura can’t help biting her lip as she glimpses the pink shadow of a nipple through the layers of fabric. “It’s just an option, Laura. We’re on hold at the moment, and unless you want to hike around after the cows, there isn’t a lot of other entertainment here.”
“Well, sounded a little like you were stocking up for something big,” Laura says. She shrugs, and then tugs at the denim stretching over her thigh, trying to loosen it up around her crotch without having to grope herself. Lydia doesn’t dress her like a whore, but the woman always seems to know what’s going to dig at the latest sore spots. “Also, he’s really, really screwed up. I don’t know if I want to get in a car with that.”
“That’s why you wouldn’t get in a car with him,” Lydia says. She’s sarcastic but there’s a little more, too. Once in a very, very rare while, she’ll look at Laura like that, like they’re talking on the level that she and Stiles talk on, somewhere way out there beyond sanity but also, way ahead of the rest.
And God, but Laura would do so many terrible things to get more of that. Laura’s problems are many, and low self-esteem is not actually one of them, but again, Lydia does things to her that nobody else does. “It’s weird,” she admits. “But I’m having a harder time getting past that, before you even get to the bad blood between our families. I mean—I wasn’t expecting sane, given who his dad and sister were. But he’s an entirely different stripe of fucked. I’m not even sure I’ve seen this kind before, and I’ve seen a lot.”
Lydia studies her. Just a few seconds, but that cool, flat stare, a few seconds is all Lydia needs to make Laura shift uncomfortably and wonder if she should be on her knees already.
“I wanted to kill him, when we had what we needed to know out of him,” Lydia says abruptly. “We both did. Stiles didn’t argue with me on that. But he made it too involved, pushed Chris too hard. Well, granted, I didn’t object either. We were still learning.”
“And you didn’t kill him because of that?” Laura says.
Lydia smiles, amused. “He wasn’t that kind of mess anymore, Laura. You don’t bring a gun to every fight, whatever Stiles thinks.”
She motions for Laura to go ahead of her, and they walk out into the hall. The chateau’s a lot roomier than it looks from the outside, with those heavy, claustrophobic stone walls. At some point they renovated the inside, lofted the ceilings wherever they could, opened up the windows. The views are spectacular, even at night.
“He doesn’t look like a fight,” Laura can’t help saying.
“Then you’re not as good as I was hoping you’d turn out,” Lydia says tartly, and then spends the rest of the time calling people in various languages.
Laura gathers that Lydia will be here doing business while Chris does business in town, and Laura is supposed to play the naïve tourist, or something like that. She’s not sure how she feels about it, but anyway, they’ve got dinner first.
Chris can cook. He serves them duck breasts with a creamy sauce, vinegary green beans, and fresh-baked rolls, with a bottle of wine which is covered in a light film of dusty spiderwebs, but which is one of the best glasses Laura’s ever had, before or after Lydia. There’s another salad, and then a sorbet for dessert.
He doesn’t eat with them. While they’re eating, he walks back across the kitchen and washes up dishes, mops down counters. A few times a phone rings that’s not Lydia’s, and he goes out of the room to answer it. Once when he comes back, he asks Lydia whether she will take a two percent materials increase and Lydia doesn’t answer, just tips her fork, and Chris sighs and walks back out.
“So what are you doing in town?” Laura asks, when she sees that Chris is out of dishes.
He looks over at her, smoothing his shirt-cuffs back over his wrists. He’s wearing another suit, almost the same as the first one except that this one is dark grey, slightly textured with a herringbone pattern. “Are you coming?” he says.
Laura stirs her spoon around the remains of her sorbet. She glances at Lydia, who’s scowling at her phone, and then at her dish. “So you’re smuggling, right? Just like the rest of your family?”
Chris shrugs, and slips his cufflinks on. They’re small, oval, dark red stones, this set. Pigeon’s blood rubies, Laura thinks, remembering some poem from school, and then she shrugs too, because she has no idea. She doesn’t have that kind of eye, although she’s learned all the different grades of steel, the strengths and weaknesses of common and not-so-common alloys. The traceability of specialty knives.
“Did you eat?” Lydia abruptly says, looking up at Chris. She frowns at him, head up, nails clicking irritably against the table, as he freezes with his suit-coat half-on. Then she kicks back from the table. She looks up at the ceiling, mouth twisting, and then over at Laura. “Just take him out for dinner, would you? I can’t deal with this right now.”
“Fine,” Laura mutters. She stirs her sorbet a last time, then shoves the dish across the table. “Fine, whatever.”
When Chris washes it, he takes out one cufflink and holds it in his mouth, and folds back that cuff. He doesn’t get a drop on his coat, or his other sleeve, or his tie. So Laura flicks a little water on him, leaning on the counter next to him, and he looks up at her. Then reaches over, very slowly, very telegraphed. He wipes a drop of sorbet she hadn’t noticed from the corner of her mouth with his thumb, and then rinses off his fingers.
“Come on,” he says, taking the cufflink out of his mouth. Then he turns so she has to follow him.
* * *
“It’s never been very developed,” Chris says as they walk down the street. The three studs in his ear flicker under the dim lights. “Land’s not much good for farming. Grazing, sheep do all right, and cattle. Mostly it’s good for being close to the ports like Marseille, but far enough off that nobody thinks to look here for something that happens there.”
Laura swings her hips as she walks. Her knees and her calves are aching from the drive. Her thighs and pelvis aren’t quite aching, but they feel strangely loose, like having that dildo up her for so long undid some of the joints. “Usually she doesn’t let me go without something,” she says. She glances at Chris’ crotch, but can’t see any suspicious outlines. “Especially if there’s going to be a fight or something involved.”
He looks faintly surprised. “There’s not going to be a fight,” he says. “That’s not what happens here.”
“With the sheep and whatever? So what does?” Laura asks. “What the hell do you do, back here?”
They turn into a side-street, and then an alley behind a restaurant. Laura thinks it’s a restaurant, anyway. She took Spanish and French in school, but Spanish is what got the most workouts afterward. That and a little Latin, just to keep up with Peter’s lawyering jokes. She thinks she’s still all right with reading, but the French around here sounds rough to her, like somebody took her old teacher and stuffed his throat with gravel.
Chris speaks it fine, although she can detect an accent in how he sometimes clears his throat, messing up the cadence. He exchanges a few words with a man who comes out of the restaurant, then steps inside.
The man, and then the other two inside, they all look at Laura with curiosity liberally flavored with lust. One of them, the best-dressed, lets his eyes linger on her ass. And then jerks and starts forward, eyes widening, as Chris starts to open a metal door and Laura steps up next to him.
“He’s saying I should send my girlfriend out front,” Chris mutters. The door is heavy, and it doesn’t have whatever fancy system the chateau does, so he grunts some as he pulls it open. It still doesn’t seem too difficult for him, just a little unwieldy. “Or else we’ll have to kill you.”
Laura turns around so she’s facing the three men, her back to the wall by the door. She smiles at them, twitches her blouse so the neckline drops a little. “They alive back in there?”
Chris looks at her. “No,” he says, and then his eyes flick past her. “Hand me that hacksaw, would you?”
She picks it up, checks it over. There’s a crust of rust up around the bolt that holds it to the handle, and when she wiggles it, the blade feels loose. So she puts it back, and grabs the cleaver, the mallet and the steel wedges instead.
“You’re going to get that suit of yours all messy, trying to use that piece of shit saw,” she says, walking in ahead of Chris.
It’s a body, in a walk-in freezer. Gunshot wounds all over. Good suit, cheap shoes. The body’s thawed a little and it smells; Laura snorts out and Chris hands her a surgical mask that has some sort of lavender whatever smeared over it.
She almost refuses it, out of injured pride or whatever, but then he puts on one himself. Laura watches him for a second, then shrugs. The body is a body, and after they’re dead she’s stopped caring—that’s been easy enough.
So she puts her mask on, and then she hands him the wedges and the mallet. They cut off a couple pieces, get those boxed up. Chris looks over some accompanying notes that have been written out for him. The three men waiting on Chris look a little disturbed about her, for some reason, even though she doesn’t get a drop of anything on her clothes or hair or skin.
They don’t eat there. They eat at a place across the street. Well, Chris eats, the trout Lydia had mentioned, and Laura has some more wine. “We thought you were supposed to be the respectable one in the family,” she says, letting her glass dangle from her fingers. “The honest one.”
“Didn’t work out,” Chris says dryly. He has a decent appetite, although he refuses the dessert menu and just orders coffee. “They didn’t know me, you know. I wasn’t there. My daughter was—my father wanted her for a summer, or else he was going to make us all come back. I wasn’t there, I didn’t know what he was doing till afterward, when they told me.”
Laura snorts. They’re not the only ones in the restaurant, which seems pretty popular with the locals, but there’s a semi-circle of empty tables around their corner, and the people waiting up front aren’t objecting. “You knew what he did in general, didn’t you?”
“Like I said.” Chris pauses to allow their waitress to set down the coffeepot, the cream pitcher, the sugar bowl. Then he leans over as the waitress retreats, so she’s unnerved enough to send them an alarmed look before realizing he’s speaking to Laura. “It didn’t work out.”
He looks at her for a second. They probably look like a couple about to kiss to everyone else. So Laura puts her hand up, just as Chris is settling back. She cups his cheek and his pupils dilate, even as he feels like cold stone under her palm.
“So you work for them,” Laura says.
“I do their work.” The way Chris says it, he’s correcting her. He takes his coffee black, but picks out a few sugar lumps to crush with his spoon as he sips from his cup. “I have my family connections. We don’t—I don’t ship. Don’t have the staff for that. I coordinate. Tell the sellers where the buyers are, let them work out the details.”
Laura’s finished her wine. She’s a little buzzed, pleasantly warm in the pit of her belly and across her cheeks, but she’s nowhere near incapacitated. But she slouches like she is, lets her feet slide across the floor under the tablecloth, till they press up against Chris’ feet. He doesn’t move them away, and she pushes one so that their calves are rubbing against each other.
“I do some personal buying for them, but that’s not scaled enough to consider it a business,” Chris adds. He lets go of his spoon, and under the table, his leg tilts so that their knees push into each other. “Keep my ear to the ground. You get more if you trade intel these days, instead of goods.”
“You good at that?” Laura asks. She reaches over to set her glass on the table, away from her, and then stays swayed over, so that their shoulders almost touch. She can smell the coffee on his breath.
He tips his head, then swings his arm back over the top of his chair, opening his body up to her. He puts his cup down and the tip of his nose brushes through her hair as he looks at her. “That’s not why I’m still alive,” he says to her, very softly. “But I do it because it’s a reason for them to talk to me.”
“You’re not enough, all by yourself?” she says, just as softly.
Chris smiles at her. It’s a charming smile, makes him look younger, a little boyish. Not slick like Peter, he’s still got the unfinished edges. And then she gets to his eyes and they’re cool. Just cool, not cold, not with that kind of bite. They’re not slick either, but her sarcasm slips off them without a trace.
“Don’t get jealous, Laura,” he tells her. He turns away, drains his coffee and gestures for the check. “There’s nothing I do for them that you can’t do.”
* * *
The next day’s overcast, but the air is dripping with moisture, so that Laura feels like she’s pushed herself face-first into a wet sponge when she opens one of the windows. All the humidity makes her hair frizz and her skin itch, like she’s got rot growing under it.
Lydia and Chris spend the morning working at the kitchen table. Chris speaks Parisian French as well as the local dialect, and Spanish and Portuguese, and Italian. And he knows enough Latin and Greek to respond to Lydia’s muttered asides. He’s learning Russian. When Lydia tells Laura to start helping with the financials, Chris pushes his laptop over to her, and then goes and gets a new one for himself.
He knows a lot about money laundering, and currency export, and Swiss banking laws. If Lydia answers Laura’s question, he keeps quiet, but if Lydia’s too involved to get to it, he will tell Laura what she needs to know, in very straightforward, simple terms. He’s a better teacher than Peter, to be honest.
“Am I supposed to be his assistant? Or his replacement?” Laura asks Lydia.
Later, when they’re taking a break out on the patio. Lydia stretches out on a lawn chair in a breezy white dress, herb-infused cold-pack over her eyes, a pitcher of sangria chilling in an ice bucket on the ground by the chair. She’s got Laura’s head on her lap, her hand clasped over the claw tattoos on Laura’s nape. Laura’s wearing a loose cotton shift, weave just rough enough to irritate her nipples, pinched freshly sore by Lydia’s nails, and her wrists are bound together in front of her with rope. Another rope ties her ankles to the chair frame.
“An upgrade?” Lydia floats, lightly mocking.
Laura nuzzles at Lydia’s skirts. Neither of them are wearing underwear, and she can just see the reddish shadow of Lydia’s pubic hair through the gauzy folds. Can almost smell Lydia if she presses hard enough, mouths the cloth till it’s damp and sticking. “He knows his stuff, and I’m not Peter.”
“Thank God for that. I admit to a weakness for the visual, but I think if I’d met him first, you’d all be dead,” Lydia mutters. She strokes the back of Laura’s neck, tugging Laura back lightly when she pushes too deep into Lydia’s skirts. “Do you like working with him?”
The other thing about Lydia that people don’t get—don’t live long enough to get—is that Laura can tell the woman what she really thinks. Lydia doesn’t punish honesty. Is she going to use it against Laura later? Sure, like anything else Laura gives up. But that’s for getting at Laura for something else, that’s not for the opinion itself. Sometimes Laura thinks she’s lied less to Lydia than to anyone else. Definitely less than her own family, although that only semi-counts. Both Derek and Peter know her lies so well that it’d just throw everybody if she told the truth.
“He makes me nervous,” Laura says. She just rests her head on Lydia’s thigh for a few seconds. They don’t fuck as often as Stiles and Derek and Peter do, she suspects. They don’t need to. Lydia knows how to make her ache, make her hungry, make her want with nothing more than just a hand on her hair, and a few minutes of conversation. “I really want to know what you guys did to him. And how much of it was you, anyway.”
Lydia’s fingers still. Then they dip down, curve under Laura’s chin. She pulls Laura’s head up, just short of the point of pain, and sweeps a soft thumb across Laura’s lower lip. “Good,” she says after a moment. She smiles and it’s pleased. “As for your question. Well. Two of those earrings of his, that was him. The third one was us. The tattoos, those were us.”
“I thought they were moon phases, but they’re out of order,” Laura says. She lips at Lydia’s thumb a little, but backs off when the other woman moves it away.
“They are moon phases.” Lydia lets Laura’s head sink back onto her lap, lets her own head loll against the chair. “Day of death. The top one, that was a classmate. Not a friend—not of mine, anyway. Stiles knew her better. That was the first one Gerard killed. And so on and so on.”
Laura rubs her hands along Lydia’s calf, easing the skirt hem up over it. “And you did that.”
“We took turns,” Lydia says. She allows the skirt to get over her knee, and then, letting the eye-pack slide off her face, reaches down and catches Laura’s hands. Unties them, and then, as Laura is sitting up in confusion, she unties Laura’s ankles, too. “Go ask him.”
The rope drops to the ground. Lydia lies back, her skirt fanning gently around her as a light breeze blows across the patio. She moves the cold-pack back over her eyes. Under it her cheeks are smooth, white marble. She looks like that painting of Ophelia floating in the river, uneasily tranquil, except that the uneasiness comes from knowing that under her isn’t her death, that she is the one lying in wait in the water, and Laura just isn’t sure who for.
Laura swings her legs over the side of the chair, then crosses her arms over her knees and looks at her bare feet on the ground. Pink rope burns peek out just under her skirt. She rubs her ankles together and they sting, then itch, a lot.
“Did you fuck him?” Laura asks.
She doesn’t actually think Lydia’s going to answer. But Lydia even takes off the cold-pack, holding it over her head like a piece of trash as she stares flatly at Laura.
“He fucked me,” Lydia says. She holds Laura’s eyes for a second, cold and mesmerizing, and then she drops the pack back over her eyes. “My fucking him, that was later.”
So Laura sits there for a couple minutes, stewing in that. Lydia lying beside her, the clouds overhead, the air wet and dense around them, even with the breeze. Birds are singing. Flowers pop out from every corner and for a second Laura wonders what kind of payoff the gardeners around here get.
Laura goes inside. She finds Chris in the library. He’s coat-less today, no tie either, and his skin warms the translucent white of his shirt. A little is stuck to him, at the back, because he’s been lifting and moving around heavy books, apparently.
“I really like it when she ties me to the bed and puts her laptop on me, and edges me while she’s working,” Laura says.
Chris turns around. His hands are empty, and drop to his sides as he faces her. He flexes his fingers out, then lets them fall.
“She likes the vibrators a lot, but she’ll get in there with her fingers and her mouth, too.” Laura steps up against him. Puts her hands on his ribs, then slides them hard up his chest. She can feel his sweat coming through his shirt, turning it soft. “She sticks a couple fingers inside, and then presses her thumb on my clit. Nothing fancy, just holds it down forever and forever. Once, you know, she did it so long she forgot about her laptop battery, and it burned me a little. First-degree, no scarring. Here.”
She grabs one of his hands, puts it to her belly, to the left of her bellybutton. Chris doesn’t step back, doesn’t jerk or do anything shaky like that. He draws back, takes her with him, till they’re both leaning into the bookcase. His hand feels like wet heat, like a steaming wet towel, and she can feel his fingers curl, start to grip her, before he abruptly slides it down over her hip, along her thigh, till he can bunch them up in her skirt.
“And her mouth. I like her mouth. I like it a lot,” Laura says. She’s licking her teeth with every word, and she can feel tiny flecks of spit come out of her mouth and pepper his lips, that’s how close they are. “I like how she doesn’t get prissy about it. She looks like she would, talks like she would, but she fucking gets down and messes up her make-up when she wants to eat you out. You know?”
Chris tilts his head. It’s like he’s going to kiss her jaw, and then he doesn’t. Shoves up her skirt instead, gets both hands under it, just as she yanks open his belt and fly. He hefts her buttocks like somebody who knows what to do with them and isn’t afraid to, like he doesn’t give a shit if she bruises later.
“You know how she does this little thing with her tongue?” Laura says to him, and then opens her mouth wide enough to demonstrate. She wraps her hand around his cock, feeling how it’s stirring, and then twists two knuckles of her other hand into the flesh behind his balls. “I love that. I love it so much, I love it when she looks up afterward and I’m just all over her face. You know?”
“Yeah,” Chris says. He hikes her thighs apart so she falls into him with legs spread, with his fingers probing at her cunt, at that other hole, too, like he’s going in both doors at once. His cock pushes up through her circling fingers against her belly, warming through her dress. “Yeah, I know. I’ve seen.”
They go down. He grunts as his elbows beat every shelf on the way, but he’s got his mouth under her jaw, sucking, and half a finger crooked into her cunt, a curled one rubbing into her clit. She scratches at his balls and he spreads his knees so wide it pulls his pants back up, and Laura has to let go of his cock to wrestle them out of the way.
He just has to pull up her dress. He keeps sucking her throat, sucking and then rubbing his cheek against the trails of spit, faint stubble starting to rasp through. She bites him, twice, and then hitches back to get her knees over his pants and sees that pink circle coming back around his throat. He hisses and turns his neck so that she can keep biting the circle up again.
“I’m not on anything,” Laura says, dragging her fingers back up his thighs. She pinches the head of his cock and squeezes his balls, trading off hands, while he twists a second finger up into her, scissoring so it feels like three.
Chris laughs. It’s hard and short. “I’m neutered,” he says, and then rolls her half-under, buries his head into her neckline.
He laves down the slope of her breast as their hands pull his cock so its head rides into her clit, sending heated streaks that arch her back, serve up her nipples. His mouth slips over one, then closes down. He finds where Lydia’s nail marks still are, right through her dress, and works them with his teeth and tongue. Laura moans, she can’t help it, and drags at his cock, kneads him with her knees.
His fingers aren’t even out all the way before his cock head’s pushing in, and for a perfect moment she can’t feel anything but herself, anything but the hot stretch of it. Her flesh, her body doing that.
And then Chris is in, and Laura’s heaving them over, slamming herself down on his cock as she sweeps her hands in at his shirt-collar, then out, ripping the buttons. She grabs one of his wrists as it swings by her head and pins it down, grinds her weight down on it as she fucks him. Crouches over him, rolling on her knees. She sees that burn scar on his arm and leans over and she rakes it over with her teeth, and he cries out, hoarse and rough, and then grips her thigh and forces her down into his upstroke.
It’s stuffy in the library, sticky as a tropical hell, and sweat is burning her eyes, and she can’t tell whether it’s rolling down her face or being shaken up from his. Her hands slip, they’re so wet. She grabs at his elbow, then his upper arm. Then doesn’t grab him, just plants her hands on him, nails curled down, and scrapes his skin as she feels him coming inside of her.
His head and throat arch, his lashes are fluttering, fucking longer than hers even with extensions, she thinks. She thinks he’s passing out, and then his head snaps forward, faster than a blink, and he catches her neckline between his teeth and the front of her dress rips open. Laura barely feels his mouth, just the graze of his lips and the promise of his teeth, but it’s enough to send her over the edge, too.
She stabs the heels of her hands down into the floor on either side of them, forces her arms to stay straight till it’s over. She feels like somebody’s poured hot syrup all over her. There’s not an inch of skin that’s still dry, and the wet clings like her skin is coming off with it.
“Neutered,” Laura says breathlessly.
Chris lets his head rock loosely over the carpet, then ducks it to rub his eyes against his shoulder. His hand comes up and he pulls her wrist over his stomach, then moves his fingers to lie over hers and presses them down, till she’s fingering a couple scars on his scrotum. He looks up at her, and he’s breathing just as hard, looks just as unstrung, but he’s still so fucking accepting of it.
“You?” Laura says.
“My father. Technically. It was in his name, anyway.” Maybe Chris was mad about it once. Now he just looks like he’s remembering the anger, like it’s a photo he’s looking at. “Kate wasn’t about to have a baby, and he got Allison killed. I wasn’t giving him another kid.”
Laura laughs, because that just figures. And because honestly, she kind of thinks that’s a good idea, and she’s not so far gone that she doesn’t know what that sounds like, if you’re not keeping house with a sociopath.
“How about this one?” she says. She runs her thumbnail over that burn scar on his shoulder. It’s deep red from her teeth, and the flesh around it tenses, even if Chris doesn’t outright flinch.
“Stiles,” Chris says. He tips his head. Looks almost lazy, lying under her, with his cock softened in her body, her teeth marks all over his neck. “Gun tip. He warmed it up by shooting the previous owners of this place.”
And Laura doesn’t laugh. “He doesn’t like scars.”
“He was mad at me.” Chris shrugs, or starts to shrug. Halfway through he tenses up again, and then he sighs and turns his head so he’s looking away from her, at the door. “They’re both mad at me.”
“Don’t get off him,” Lydia says. She pauses in the doorway, looking at them, fresh in her white dress. She has a glass of sangria in one hand, and a set of leather cuffs in the other.
Laura doesn’t get off, but she does sit back as the other woman comes over. Chris doesn’t move an inch, hardly even breathes, except for his eyes tracking Lydia’s every move.
Using just her foot, Lydia pushes his arms up over his head, then lifts one and moves it so his wrists are crossed. She tosses the cuffs down next to them, and after a second, Laura picks them up and straps them onto Chris’ wrists, slinging the chain around a nearby bookcase leg. Chris breathes out sharply as Laura leans back and Lydia sinks down, skirts an airy puff around her.
His eyes close as Lydia flicks his nipple with a long, white-tipped nail. She pulls her hand back and switches her glass to it, and then uses the freed hand to catch his other nipple between two nails, pinching till it turns a deep red.
“Suck when I let go,” Lydia says to Laura. She’s low-voiced, almost smiling, strangely conspiratorial.
Laura bends down, and when Lydia’s nails leave, her mouth is there. Chris’ chest moves sharply under it, making her chase the nipple, but she sucks and doesn’t bite, because that’s what Lydia asked for.
She hears Lydia’s skirts move behind her, and then her crumpled skirts are being pushed up over her back. Chris sucks in his breath and pulls up his legs, knees moving in to hold Laura’s dress to her sides. Lydia tosses something out to the side—a small tube of lubricant—and then pushes up close behind Laura, cool and dry, feeling like pins and needles on Laura’s jumping, overheated skin.
When Laura bows down, pressing her hips towards the floor, Chris bends up to meet her. His eyes are still closed but they’re squeezed shut now, and he’s panting, sucking every breath over his teeth. His knees jerk in short, back-and-forth arcs across Laura’s ribs, and then he flattens out in a long shudder.
Lydia’s hand comes down on Laura’s back, fingers splayed into the sweat tracks. “Kiss him,” she says.
Laura’s only a few inches from his face anyway. She’s barely being nudged but she jerks down like Lydia slapped her, and her and Chris’ mouths are almost touching when Chris speaks. Groans, desperate and pained, all the fervent emotion she hasn’t even had a hint of since they walked in.
“Lydia,” he’s saying. “Lydia. Please.”
It’s not the begging that catches up Laura short. It’s not even the real fear in his voice, strange as that is. It’s Lydia’s name beating up against her lips, like Chris is praying.
“Please,” he says. His eyes are open. They’re so close that she can’t make out the details, can just see that they’re open. “Lydia, please, not—”
“I’m going to leave,” Lydia says, lightly petty, spoiled rich girl, and then she drives her fingers into him so hard that her forearm bruises into Laura’s tailbone. “Or you kiss her.”
Chris is shaking all of a sudden. He shivers and he pulls at his cuffs, till the wood cracks and Laura looks up and sees a bright white streak where the wood’s splintered off, and he’s shaking his head back and forth. He stares up at Laura and he’s staring like he’s looking down the barrel of a gun, and like he gives a damn what happens after the trigger’s pulled.
“I’ll kiss you,” Lydia suddenly says. She’s still light, still playing, her breath coiling warmly up the back of Laura’s neck as her arms work behind Laura. “If you kiss her first.”
Then her mouth is on Laura’s nape, demanding and hot. Laura groans and her head drops, and her mouth is on Chris. Not a kiss, nothing that planned, just on him, feeling his frantic breath struggling out the corner where her lip doesn’t go all the way down on his cheek. Her knees go, even though she’s already sitting, and she puts her arm out, hits Chris’ arm, and jerks it in so it drops between his arm and his head.
He whines into her mouth, last despairing cry, and then he twists his head around, matches them up, makes it a real kiss. It’s good, it’s fierce and rough and doesn’t hold anything back. She’s already slicked all over like she’s been swimming in the ocean but his mouth makes her feel like she’s been dragged all the way down into it, deep where the pressure just builds and builds and builds on all sides, everywhere, inside and out.
She grabs at his head, then wraps her arm around it. His cock gets hard in her again. He’s grabbing her with his knees, trying to rock her, get a rhythm going, but she digs her fingers into his hair because she just wants to get at that mouth from every angle, into every part of it. And it wants her right back. Forget about the rest of him, she doesn’t give a shit, she just cares about this part that can’t stop eating her, can’t stop taking her, can’t seem to have enough of her.
Laura only remembers about his cock when she’s already come. She can feel him going soft again, he’s beaten her, she has no idea when. Her hips sway on their own, aching, feeling like somebody’s knocked off the hinges, and they drag her head away from his. She looks down and he’s looking right at her, dazed and trembling. He looks like he wants her.
Long, slim white fingers intercede. They curl around either side of his face and straighten it out, even as a violent shudder makes Chris’ teeth clatter. He looks up at Lydia, raw shards in her hands, and he’s sobbing even before she kisses his forehead.
“I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m so sorry,” he’s chanting. “I’m sorry. I know you didn’t want to, I’m sorry.”
“Shut up, Chris,” Lydia says, and she sounds very tired. Laura can’t see her face, that’s behind the fall of her hair, but the way she strokes her thumbs over his cheeks is so careful it could be mistaken for tenderness. Then she sighs, and looks up at Laura. “Well, help me get him to bed.”
The chateau is completely made-up, but they're supposed to be in what used to be Gévaudan, which is now part of the Lozère department. It's southern France (inland, no coastline), which has a very striking difference in accent/dialect compared to Parisian French, and the area is still fairly rural, with ranching preferred over farming.
Peter says you’re screwing Chris Argent, Derek texts.
Laura hasn’t seen Chris in a day and a half, since she helped Lydia haul him up to his bedroom—his real one, apparently, too much underwear in the drawers even if the rest looked as sterile as a hotel room—and drop him in it after a quick wipe-down. His car’s left the garage so she knows he’s been out some of the time. He’s still cooking for them too, but he leaves the steaming plates on the table and disappears elsewhere in the house.
Yeah, so? Laura texts back. You that desperate to get Stiles’ attention?
Derek’s awake and able to use a phone. Damn, Laura thinks, and then she decides she’s got nothing else to do. Lydia fucks her at night, but during the day the woman’s on the phone the whole time, and it’s nothing Laura can help with, unless she steps up her attempt to learn Russian. Which she did try earlier, but there’s only so long she can listen to stupid dialogue about shopping for birthday presents and buying a new car.
What, you mad at him or something? What did he do? Laura texts.
I just wanted to know if it was true. Sometimes her little brother’s shockingly adept, and it’s not just his irritating self-destructive streak, it’s real insight, and sometimes he’s still an immature brat. So far it’s sounding like the second; his sullenness is coming through as thick as the humidity, what with impending rainstorms and all. Do they like him?
Laura pauses. Peter actually dropped that whole thread when she didn’t answer, and has just been chatting about when they might be coming down from Paris. Apparently, Stiles picked up a quickie job which is also a semi-favor to a colleague, and Peter’s all aflutter with newly-acquired knowledge about contract killer talent agencies. Which is useful, but Peter can be, honestly, a total geek sometimes.
Or Peter’s talking around Stiles being unhappy. In which case, Derek’s probably going to get his ass beaten whatever Laura ends up replying, and even if she doesn’t reply. So they broke him. Weird thing is, they didn’t want to break him.
Derek takes an uncharacteristically long time to reply, almost a minute. She’s actually switched over to a game, and has to pause it and switch back to see. Stiles says he shot himself. I mean Chris did.
Laura bites her lip. Starts and deletes three different replies, and then switches back and forth between her paused game for good measure.
He also says that Chris had no idea who they were when they found him, Derek adds. So do you like him now or something?
Fuck you, Laura texts him.
He’s a lot quicker this time. Whatever. Does Lydia want you to like him?
Derek doesn’t have the slightest fucking clue about Lydia. He’s always been pretty hopeless when it comes to women, and Laura doesn’t think it’s all down to Peter managing to be his first, his deepest, his absolutely unbelievably real true love. In that respect, she thinks they’re really damn lucky that Stiles decided to open up Kate Argent’s car trunk, because at least if Derek’s letting Stiles bait him out, then somebody will be home to shoot the crazies.
But he doesn’t get Lydia. He has a weird, almost uncanny resonance with Stiles that isn’t getting the man either, but that means Stiles is amused at him even when he’s being a jackass. Lydia doesn’t have the same sense of humor.
If you stick your nose in my thing, I’ll slam the door on it, is what Laura tells her brother, for his own good.
Then she gets up and heads downstairs. She did, in fact, do a little touristy hiking around the countryside. Got in her cardio, since they’re not near a gym, and Lydia isn’t tying her up to see her flab. But it’s way too sticky for that today, so she figures she might as well get around to exploring the rest of the house.
She’s not looking for Chris. Hasn’t looked for him, on purpose, and just noticed he wasn’t around. But she runs into him less than ten minutes later, coming in from the garage.
He looks rough. “You need a shave,” she tells him.
Chris pauses, sleek leather satchel half-off his shoulder, streak of dirt on his collar, and then he sighs. He turns and goes up the stairs, and after a few seconds, she follows him.
“One of my regular intermediaries went and got in trouble with the Camorra,” he says when they’re in his bathroom. His bag’s off on the bed, along with his suitcoat and tie, and his shoes are on the floor underneath, socks neatly tucked inside. “Happens. But they stuck around, decided to test out the waters. I want the local powers that be to stay as-is.”
It’s a big counter, a contoured marble slab that runs across two walls. Laura hops up onto it and watches him get out his shaving kit. Really old-fashioned—straight razor, okay, but it’s a razor with what she thinks is a mother-of-pearl handle, and the shaving cream dish and brush have matching inlays. He takes off his cufflinks and folds back his cuffs before he gets started, and the cufflinks are from yesteryear too, that custardy old gold shade just like Laura’s grandmother’s Victorian jewelry.
“Need a hand?” Laura says. She swings her feet under the counter, then toes off her shoes so they click against the tiled floor.
Chris’ shoulders stiffen. He’s still not expecting anything—or maybe he’s expecting everything, and that’s how he’s so blasé—but he’s a little more aware of her. He angles himself differently, looks at her longer.
“I pretty much took care of it this morning.” He starts swirling up foam with the brush. Unbuttons his collar with his other hand. He’s still got Laura’s teeth marks on his throat. “Interpol picked them up for a couple local murders.”
Laura nods, and then snorts when she’s unpacked all of that. “Oh, that’s neat, isn’t it. All tied up with a red bow.”
He flicks a look at her, just before he swipes the brush across his cheek. “It doesn’t matter what I do, you know. That’s not what they’re looking for.”
“Why do you think we’re competing?” Laura snaps, suddenly exasperated with him. “Jesus, you know, do you think I’m an idiot? You think I’m jealous over you or something? Wouldn’t that mean I’d have to think she loves me in the first place?”
Chris stills. He stares at himself in the mirror, half-foamed, fingertips flexing a little around the brush, and then he gives himself a shake. Covers the rest of his face with foam, puts the brush down, and picks up the razor.
He’s brisk about it, methodical but quick. The way Peter sometimes talks about how Stiles does it, Laura ends up squeezing her thighs to try and keep from getting whatever she’s sitting on too wet. She really isn’t interested in fucking Peter these days, even if she admires him for being one magnificent bastard, and she and Derek…no, she’s not interested in that either. Which isn’t to say that maybe they’d get carried away, or get talked into it by Stiles or Lydia at some point; Laura just doesn’t see the point in getting really fussy about that kind of thing these days. But she’s not interested in it.
Watching Chris shave is weirdly calming. She can see it’s having the same effect on him, can watch his shoulders ease down. If she were a good person, or even just a cautious one, she’d leave it at that.
“I don’t think I’d like her so much if she could, you know,” Laura adds, when Chris just has a small patch on his throat left. “If it just was, I screamed for her enough, or I helped her with enough kills, and suddenly she’s all roses and sugar. She wasn’t like that when she fucked me the first time. That’s not what I’m screaming for now.”
“Do you think I’d be that kind of romantic either?” Chris says. He raises his chin and then stretches the skin of his throat between thumb and forefinger, running the razor as close as he can, and then he looks down. Rinses off the razor, then knocks the tap on more with his wrist, letting the sink fill up as he puts away his kit. “With my family?”
Laura shrugs. “You were married, weren’t you?”
“And I loved my wife, but I didn’t love her for her way with flowers and poetry,” Chris says dryly.
“Yeah. Well. I saw her all of twice, and didn’t talk to her either time,” Laura says back, just as dryly. “She didn’t look like the flowery type, but I didn’t want to assume.”
He looks over at her. She looks back and then she leans over. Grabs the towel he has laid out, swishes it through the water in the sink, and then turns off the tap. She uses the handle to help her scoot over, and then she holds up the towel.
His eyes flicker hot. It’s close to hate, she thinks, except not enough thought in it for that. He breathes in deeply, his hands opening and closing against the counter, and then he exhales in resignation. Steps up between her knees so she can towel off his face.
“Did you ever wonder about us?” Laura asks. “Not me, I’m not that much of an ego fiend. I mean my family, in general. When did you leave anyway? Did you even hear what your family did to us?”
“I heard,” Chris says. He seems to relax into the subject, for all that he’s rigid under the towel. “I knew D—my father thought some of you had gotten out, or missed being in there, something like that. Honestly, I didn’t like it, but I didn’t want to know more. I wouldn’t have burned her up but I hated your mother too, for dragging my family back into my father’s business.”
Laura pauses with the towel completely over his mouth, and mostly over his nose. He can still breathe but she’d just need to shift it a little. And he knows, he’s watching her, but she has no idea if he’d fight or not.
No. She thinks he’d fight. It’s not that kind of broken, she can tell now. She’s still short of understanding it and she doesn’t like that, but she’s seeing how some of it works.
“Mom was kind of hard to take sometimes,” she finally says. She finishes wiping him off, while he frowns at her, and then drops her hands. Drops the towel, lifts her hands again and puts them on his waist. “Don’t get me wrong. I just wish Lydia and Stiles had come along when we could’ve had the chance to all fuck over your father’s and sister’s bodies.”
Chris gives her a very thin, very black smile, and then he takes his hands and he cups them over her hips, leaning in towards her. She shifts on her ass, her knees closing around him, and he slides his hands up her sides to just under her breasts, thumbs drifting under the curves as she breathes in slowly.
Laura smiles back at him, and then reaches for his shoulders. Grabs his chin as he stoops, catching it before he can press into the collar of her blouse, and jerks it up so she can see his eyes widen as their mouths almost touch.
She doesn’t kiss him. He flinches like she’s trying, and then slaps his hands flat against the counter to either side of her, bracing himself so she can’t pull him any closer. “You still want to kill me?” he rasps.
“I think I’m on to hurting you, but I think that’s not exactly out of line for you,” Laura says. She keeps hold of his jaw, and then curls her free hand around the back of his thigh, the one with the bullet scars. “Why’d you do this?”
Chris doesn’t even hesitate. “Because they were leaving me.”
Laura looks him over. He’s getting comfortable, she thinks, and she lets go of his chin, grabs his shoulder instead. Then bends her head till her ear’s nearly touching her shoulder, with enough of a twist so that he should be able to see the tattoo. “See that? There’s a tracking chip under it.”
“That hurts,” Chris says, chuckling, with sharp, real pain underneath. “She honestly thinks you’re going to run?”
“I did once. From my family. I didn’t want to deal with it, didn’t want to see it all falling down. I grabbed Derek and I ran, and I said, we’re going to start over. We’re going to leave, and be other people,” Laura says. She can hear her voice shaking, and for once she doesn’t care. She straightens her head and pulls him up, slides off the counter till they’re flush from shoulders to knees. “I meant it, too. I thought we’d be better off but I just fucked up my brother even more. And Peter, who is an asshole even if I love him, but he didn’t need that brand of fucking with, and when the Alphas got it they screwed him over worse, and it was all down to me.”
They’re standing there, breathing in each other’s air. He flexes his fingers across her ribcage. He’s strong, could do real damage to her. Lydia’s shown her a few things but Laura’s still an amateur, she knows that. For all his claims about his past, Chris moves like he’s been doing something close to this his whole life.
He sighs. His hands move off her ribs, more onto her belly. “She doesn’t think you’re a runner,” he says.
“No, the chip’s for me, not her.” Laura has to tilt her head back to look at him. He’s taller than her. She kind of forgets, with how he pulls himself into the background. “Those tattoos you’ve got.”
“They’re for me,” Chris says, smiling at her. He tilts his head a little, so his nose brushes over her cheek, his breath over her mouth. It’d be a tender gesture, if they were lovers. “To keep score. All the times they’ve come around, even though nothing’s making them.”
“That doesn’t make sense,” Laura says, not thinking. She feels him stiffen and suddenly she’s too close. He’s overshadowing her, he’s too calm, he’s too good at this. She pushes back, and then twists out from between him and the counter. “That makes it sound like they—like they owe you, for all those deaths. And those were the people they gave a damn about.”
He twists after her, then grabs the counter. He’s angry. With her.
And then he’s not. He looks at her, and he shrugs. “It’s not that they owe me,” he tells her, like she’s a fool. “It’s that that’s what they can relate to.”
Laura stares at him for another second, and then she turns, and she gets as far as she can from him without leaving the house.
* * *
She does a lot of thinking. It’s not often that she gets the space and time to do that, but Lydia and Stiles have finally agreed on two job prospects and are in the final stages of negotiating the financials, so research is on hold till one of them pans out. And the house is huge, and nobody comes out to it, and the people who are already in it aren’t going to care if Laura finds Chris’ armory, borrows a rifle and does some target shooting in the backyard.
Peter texts her a couple times, asking how she is. She answers in emoticons and Derek texts her once, telling her to stop weirding Peter out so he won’t get so damn jumpy about Chris fucking Argent. Laura doesn’t even answer that one, because Peter is firmly Derek’s problem now.
They’re her family, but they’re all fucking old enough these days. Derek needs to learn. They’ve got the time for that now.
“Laura,” Lydia says, standing behind her, so the clay pigeon goes soaring untouched into the distance.
Lydia’s suited up. For her that means classic French designers, skirt suits and pearl jewelry, severe buns and subdued make-up. She looks like an angel, the kind that adds up your good and bad deeds and then sweeps you in or out with an inflexible flick of a pen.
“I’ll be staying in town tonight,” Lydia says. “Business meeting. Chris is in the bedroom.”
“Am I supposed to watch him?” Laura says. She shoots at the next clay pigeon, knocking it cleanly into pieces, and then turns off the launcher. Lowers her rifle and turns around. “I’m serious. You broke him so bad, why did you let him talk you into keeping him around?”
“He doesn’t talk that much,” Lydia says primly. Then she picks her way across the lawn, lip wrinkling as her ivory shoes sink into the very green, very damp grass. She walks right up to Laura, so she’s visibly tilting her head back—Laura’s taller, not that she gets much chance to show it—and then she smiles pleasantly. “That vase in the green parlor, the one under the mirror.”
Laura frowns and tries to remember. She has a vague mental image of a fairly nondescript thing, blah color, kind of lumpy, honestly. “The one with the chipped lip. Yeah. What about it?”
“It’s raku ware,” Lydia says. She pauses, and then eases a little closer, so that even through her suit, her ice-cool smile, the heat coming off her starts to make Laura’s skin prickle and itch. “We were going to kill Chris, and then he fell in love. So we were going to leave him instead, because really? How—”
“Common?” Laura offers dryly.
Lydia’s smile grows a little, gets creamier, warmer. It’s going to bite Laura in half, and if it doesn’t, she’s going to dream about it and wake up wanting. “He’d kill himself, we assumed. Except he didn’t. He made it interesting instead. This isn’t what we planned, but we can’t just go with the original plan, it’d be too much of a waste now.”
“I have no idea what raku ware is,” Laura says after a long silence.
“Then take a look.” So Lydia says, leaning up, almost close enough to cut, and then, as Laura’s breathing in hard, turning sharply away.
She walks off across the lawn, and then goes into the house. Laura stares after her till her silhouette’s disappeared, and then still stands there.
It’s not till Laura hears the car leaving that she pulls herself forward. Cleans up the lawn, kicking the shattered pieces of clay into a little pile for these amazing gardeners. Breaks down and cleans the gun, and puts it back where she got it. Checks out what Chris has left in the kitchen for dinner.
Then she goes upstairs. She’s a little tacky from the shooting practice; the rain finally came last night and it’s cooler, less moist, but it’s still a wet summer. Laura pauses outside the door to her bedroom, then sets her shoulders and goes inside.
It’s empty. She stares at the bed for a second, then laughs at herself. Sometimes she thinks fucking Peter so early made her too likely to overcomplicate things. But then she remembers Derek’s been screwing him for way longer, at this point, and it wasn’t till Stiles showed up that Derek got any sense of finesse.
Laura takes a shower and twists her wet hair up with a chopstick, and then pulls out one of the new nightgowns from Paris, all sleek silk and pretty lace and extra-gauzy inserts where clamps or vibrator ends or whatever will show through. There’s a matching robe that she doesn’t wear, but she does dig around till she finds the antibiotic ointment.
Then she goes to Lydia’s bedroom. She doesn’t knock, and Chris doesn’t look disappointed that she isn’t Lydia.
He’s not tied up, she’s surprised to see. But his nipples are reddened and swollen under silver clamps she knows intimately well, and he’s wearing that collar again. There’s a silver chain trailing from the front into the waistband of charcoal silk pajama pants, all that he’s wearing in the way of clothes, and he’s sprawling on his knees in the way of somebody who’s got something deeply uncomfortable between his legs.
Chris is shuffling papers around the bed. He moves a pile to make room for her, and then tidies up another stack before going back to the one he’d been leafing through.
“Payments?” Laura asks. She tosses the ointment to the bedside dresser, then adds the chopstick from her hair.
“No, collateral escrow,” he says. He reorders his current pile, and then starts gathering everything together into a single stack, which he slips into a bag at the side of the bed.
He moves slowly, carefully. When she flops over on her side, watching, the bounce of the mattress makes the corner of his mouth twist. Laura stretches her legs out till her feet are pressing into the headboard, and walks on her elbows till she wouldn’t have to stretch if she wanted to touch him.
“Lydia says you’re in love with them,” Laura says.
Chris turns back to her. “I only said I wasn’t a romantic,” he says after a short pause.
“I don’t think I called you a liar.” Laura puts her head down on the bed, then lifts one arm. She lets her fingers point at him, and then turns her hand over and beckons.
He’s still half-hunched from leaning over the side of the bed, his weight forward on his arms. The chain drags open the waistband of his pajamas, showing a flattened vee of his belly edging into darkness. His eyes look a little like that, dark and getting darker, and just hints, in the way the muscle of his cheek flexes, the tick of one brow, of where that might be going.
Laura presses her head a little further into the bed, tipping it so the hair falls away from her neck. It’s so wet that it feels like a weight slinging around behind her, and the movement catches his eye. She’s not sure if he can see the tattoo, but his gaze flicks that way and that’s good enough. “Come on,” she says. “She said I should take a look.”
Chris laughs. He knows what she’s doing, it says, with its dry, dry thin edge. He knows, and he knows what he’s doing too, crawling over to meet her. His head dips just as he’s got to start turning his body, and she slides her hand and arm up his back and grips over his shoulder, the start of his tattoo, and they don’t kiss. They bare their teeth to each other, whispers of breath mingling.
Then he twists over, lies down with his back along her front. He shifts roughly as her hand comes down over his chest and touches a clamp, and then exhales slowly as she takes hold of it.
“I met them pretty early on, I think,” he says. His head rocks back as she tucks her face into the curve of his neck. “They brought my daughter’s body home. It took a while. Over a year, almost two. Gerard hid her, didn’t let anybody know she was dead. Then didn’t tell anybody where her body was. Then federal investigators, then customs. I didn’t know they’d be coming with it, they just showed up one day.”
Laura works her other arm under his head, propping the bent elbow on his shoulder. His collar smells strangely clean, barely a whiff of musk, mostly some light, soapy scent. It’s the same temperature of his skin, and she has to concentrate to tell when her mouth is running off it onto him. She keeps lipping at it, trying to tell the difference.
“I just knew bits, all from the investigators, and with my family, they aren’t going to figure out anything. They said they knew all of it.” Chris moves his legs, sliding the one off the other so it’s easier for her to wrap her leg over him. He bows slightly, shoulderblades and ass pushing back into her, and then inhales deeply as she flicks his clamped nipple. “So yeah, I invited them to stay. I just wanted to know. And they did know, they knew everything. I knew something was up, they knew so much. I knew they weren’t just kids.”
“Were they playing nice?” Laura murmurs, nuzzling up into his hairline. She’s seen Lydia do that sometimes, heard about Stiles doing it. It’s impossible to imagine unless you’ve seen it, the pair of them are so blatant about their real selves. They’re realer than any honest people Laura’s ever known.
“Really nice,” Chris tells her. He reaches back and puts his hand on her hip, fingertips on skin, palm on silk, and then pushes up the hem as she raises her leg to lie across his waist. “Nice. Hurt. They had nightmares. Lydia wouldn’t go to sleep unless Stiles was in the same room with her, and he wouldn’t go into any basement. They didn’t sleep much, anyway, so we’d stay up and talk. They told me everything about Allison that I’d missed. They knew things she’d never told me. They’d make me coffee, you know, and hide the whiskey, and tell me she didn’t hate me at the end.”
When she twists the clamp on his nipple, Chris bends back till she has to raise her head out of the way and then his head keeps going, onto her shoulder so she can look down and almost see into his open mouth. She lets go and he slumps down, then pushes his chest out into her fingers like he’d rather have the twist.
“I didn’t love them. I felt for them. I felt bad they got in my father’s way,” Chris says. He’s breathing a little unsteadily, but then he inhales deeply and corrects that. The breath makes her hand slide to his belly and he pushes it back up, so she’s pressing her fingers over his other nipple. “I knew they wanted to do something to him, and didn’t ask what. They didn’t ask either, but I think they already knew I didn’t keep up with him, wouldn’t have the fresh news.”
“You felt like you owed them,” Laura says.
“A little, yeah.” Chris shrugs, and then stifles a groan when she toys with the second clamp. “Dad never liked me for exactly that reason.”
Laura snorts. His collar rubs up against her mouth and she lets it part her lips, then opens her mouth till she can get her teeth under either edge of it. Chris shivers, rolling his hips back into her, heel of her foot dragging up and down between his thighs. “Forget your goddamn father, for once. What happened?” she says, letting the collar go.
He goes still. His shoulders and arms and back tense when she flicks his nipple, but that’s all.
“They started killing the rest of my family,” Chris says. He moves his elbows back towards her, and when she tightens her leg over him, takes the clamp between thumb and forefinger, he just sighs. “And took me along, and told me why. Told me everything I hadn’t asked about, everything else. They never actually lied, you know, when they were being nice or when they weren’t. I just didn’t ask. And they respected that, and then they didn’t.”
She turns the clamp so she’s got the release in hand. Chris knows what she’s doing, starts to suck in a breath and then stops himself.
“They just kept explaining,” he says. “And I got it. My family, all right, I can’t not get it. I got it, all of it, could see exactly why, and then we got here—”
Laura takes off the clamp. Chris bites down, breath seesawing, and can’t hold back all of that sound, a thick, guttural, growling hah of a sound. He shakes under her leg and arm but keeps his place. She kisses the back of his neck and he jerks like he’s going away, like he’s panicking again like in the library, and then he moans, falling back against her.
“—and they told me what they were doing next, where they were going, and they weren’t taking me any farther.” Chris spits the words out in between sharp pants. He’s kneading the sheets and beyond them Laura can see the blankets slowly crawling off the pillows. “And I got that too, I got it, I wasn’t there, wasn’t involved, so I’m the only one left. I have to be, I have to see everyone else go.”
“She said you shot yourself,” Laura says.
“Because I got it but I couldn’t—” Then Chris’ voice breaks. It’s not like most, it goes low instead of high, and cuts like somebody punched him in the throat. His arms flex and she grabs the remaining clamp, and he almost pulls it off himself, he shudders so roughly. The chain off his collar whips into her arm, stinging so bad she knows it’s drawn blood. “I got it. I couldn’t hate them, I got what they were doing. So—yeah. I fell in love. What else.”
He sounds too angry. His shoulders bunching up, his head dropping forward, snarling into the bed. She thinks he’s lying and then he laughs, and she gets that that deep tight feel to his voice, it wasn’t anger at all.
Chris takes a breath so deep that she can feel it dropping into his groin. His shakes stop. His head is still forward, but it’s limp, hanging rather than grinding. “They were going to be nice about it,” he says, very quietly. “They gave me a gun with one bullet. The thing is, you know—they weren’t going to stay for it. It’s not like they cared. So yeah, I shot myself.”
He takes her hand, wraps his fingers over her own, and releases the clamp. His upper body flinches forward, then settles into a hairline tremble as he makes her drop the clamp and moves her hand down till it’s on his scarred thigh.
“I was thinking, I’ll probably bleed out anyway. Wasn’t really aiming much,” Chris says. He’s almost steady again, the shivers of his body not making it into his voice. “But if I was going to watch them go, then I was going to watch. They were going to know I was.”
He breathes raggedly after that. His legs shift, and then shift again, but he doesn’t try to get up or to get away from her.
Laura rests her head against the back of his neck, listening to him pant. She moves her hand, the one on his thigh, and he tips his head like he’s looking down at it. So she skims it up over his hip, back across his belly, up his chest and throat, till she’s at his mouth. She dips her thumb between his lips, pulling it out as soon as he closes on it, and then she drops her hand. Rubs the thumb across his nipple.
Chris arches more sharply at that than at anything else so far. She has to grip him with her legs, and still, he almost twists her off. Hissing, Laura swings her other arm down and around, locks onto him. She brushes his nipple again and he sucks in his breath like he’s going to yell at her.
“Shut up and take it,” she says. She works the pad of her thumb all around the rim of the nipple, massaging wherever she feels the heat of inflammation. Cools it down with his spit, then with the sweat that’s running down over his chest. “Come on, that was then, this is now, and she said I could look at you.”
He twists his head hard over, and she can see his fingers digging into the bed. Then he exhales like his breath is a snapped wire. He sways back, catches himself. He’s so fucking stubborn, even in pieces.
And then he gives. He gives and he uncoils, goes limp against her. He’s riding her strokes, moaning, pressing into her hands, her grip, and she can see every fracture in him that way, every place that’s broke and unhealed, jagged ends cracking up and tearing over each other, and she still doesn’t know what the vase has to do with it but she gets this. She gets that she’s elbow-deep in those pieces and they aren’t going to cut up anybody but him, that she can have him, if she feels like it. She gets that he knows it too, and that he’s waiting for her to leave him the gun.
“I don’t love her, you know,” Laura says. She slides her mouth and nose up along the curve of Chris’ nape, laps at the sweat running out of his hair. Sucks deep behind his ear, the pierced one, her hands sliding from his nipples to that chain, following it down his belly into his pants. “I don’t. I like her, I like her so bad I think I’d die for her, but I don’t love her.”
“Then what are you doing here?” Chris rasps. He grabs her wrists, but then slides his hands up, stroking her forearms as she reaches his cock. “Why don’t you hate me?”
“Did I say I didn’t hate you?” It’s not a cock cage. Laura can’t tell what it is for a few seconds. She could look, but she’s nipping along his ear, teasing the studs with her tongue and lips, and he’s shuddering from it, shuddering and whimpering. So she doesn’t want to look away, doesn’t want to miss this.
Chris laughs at her, twisting his head so far back that they’re looking each other in the eye for a second. “Then say you do,” he says.
He twists just a little farther, and his mouth touches hers just as she figures out what she’s feeling. It’s just a cock ring, but there’s a clamp biting the skin, right over the catch. She snaps it off and he jerks his head back around, gasping. He pulls her hands out of his pants, and then, before she can do more than drop backwards, he’s spun around and over her. No pajamas, no cock ring, just his palms scraping up under her thighs as he spreads her legs.
Laura scrabbles at the sheets, then gets handholds just in time to shove herself down as his cock pushes into her. They slide over the sheets anyway, nearly to the other side, and then she heaves herself up and over, and grabs his shoulders as he goes under her.
“I don’t hate you,” she says, and she watches his pupils blow out, feels his cock stretch her out. “You’re hers now, you’re not your father’s, or your family’s, and I don’t hate her.”
“So I’m not yours,” Chris tells her, like that matters.
“So you don’t need to be.” Laura drags her knees up, gets herself down that last fraction. She leans over and lets her breasts drag over his chest. She can tell when she hits his nipples because his eyes widen. And she can see straight into them, and they’re not steady in the least. “You don’t need another person to love, Chris. You just want one.”
Then she kisses him. His arm comes up around her, tangling into her hair, and then he hauls her down, kisses her back. She twists her fingers up in the chain dangling from his collar and yanks at it, the two of them pulling at each other till she’s got him coming off the mattress, till he’s got her shaking off her knees.
She fucks him on that side of the bed. He pushes her up against the headboard and takes her from behind, and then they roll over and end up with their heads by the foot of the bed, his cock rubbing off between her thighs, her mouth on his nipples.
When they stop, he’s got his head pillowed on her thighs, his mouth puffing air over her sticky, sore cunt. Laura pushes at him and he just moves closer, and she snorts and gives up.
“I heard you were fucking Peter,” Chris says. His eyes are closed. “And now Derek is?”
Laura shrugs. “He’s family.”
Chris opens his eyes and looks up at her. “So Derek doesn’t need you. And Peter never needed you.”
“I never wanted Peter to. You don’t think I fell in love with him, did you?” Laura says. And her brother, well, she’s waiting on Chris to go there.
“But you do love them,” Chris says instead. “Derek. Peter.”
So that’s the thing about Laura. If she were really out to survive, if she really meant it, she wouldn’t. They get her into more trouble than she gets them; she absolutely thinks that their luck wasn’t in Stiles stumbling across Peter, it was in Stiles doing it, not Lydia. Sure, they have their good points, but none of them are points Lydia’s looking for.
“Yeah, well, I’m not Lydia,” Laura says to him. She reaches over to where his chain’s pooled on the bed and closes her hand over it. Doesn’t pick it up or twist her fingers into it, just covers the links. “I can love. I don’t have a problem with it.”
“Do you think she doesn’t?” Chris asks.
Laura looks at him. He’s collected again, looking at her like he’s just making small talk, but she gets him pretty well now. “I think she figured it out. She does that. You know.”
Chris pushes himself up on his arms. He looks at her, and then he pushes her hand off and picks up the chain. “Yeah,” he says, and he gets off the bed.
He starts pulling away the dirty sheets, working around her till he can’t. Then, grumbling and cursing at him, Laura gets off. She limps into the bathroom to wash off. Strip off, negligee’s not salvageable, and Chris eventually joins her, so they have to trade the antibiotic ointment back and forth between them. She does help him put on the new sheets, and then they both climb on and fall asleep. Laura wraps around him, and after a second, he leans his head into hers.
In the morning they’re coiled together the other way, him at her back. She hasn’t slept with a man like that since her uncle, since she was that young and stupid, and Peter was that careless with himself. She looks at the hands clasped over her belly, and then, just as she’s tensing to push out, Chris unclasps them. Wraps his palms over her shoulders instead, breathing into her hair.
“Do you miss them that bad?” he asks her, very softly. “Your family?”
Laura’s still sleepy, still getting over how comfortable she is. She almost turns and slaps him, and then she’s all awake. She exhales slowly, and then she twists around. “I didn’t miss them so bad that I couldn’t leave them, even before they were dead,” she says. Her voice isn’t as steady as she’d like, but she looks him in the eye. Holds his gaze as she lifts her hands, cups his face. “I could miss you. Do you want me to?”
Chris stiffens. He’s that way up until she’s almost on him, and then he dips his head to meet her mouth. There’s a snarl in his throat, thick and furious, and it dies against her lips. His hands go to her breasts, then to her hips, and he presses her up against him till he crushes the moan out of her.
When they roll apart, he’s laughing at her. He pushes himself up on his arm, leaning over her, eyes as hot as they’re hard. “Call me,” he says.
He bends over and he kisses the back of her neck, where the tattoo is, the chip is, and she feels a tremble run all through her body. “I’m gonna,” she says, and flicks his leash with her finger.
When Lydia comes back, it’s with the news that Stiles and Derek and Peter will be down in two days. She says that sitting at the kitchen table, watching Chris go still with his hands deep in a bowl of marinating meat. Laura standing behind him, arms looped loosely around his waist, so when he begins to move again, he has to bump her back with his ass.
“And then you’re all going?” Chris says.
Laura unbuckles his belt, undoes his fly. Pushes his pants down, so when he moves the bowl away and wipes his hands on a towel, Lydia doesn’t have to go around the island to see Laura’s fingers sliding into the stubble over his cock.
Lydia uncrosses her legs. Gets up and walks over, and pulls Laura off and kisses her hard, so Laura’s already gasping when the first nipple clamp goes on.
“Get out the sugar,” Lydia says, and both Laura and Chris bite back groans.
She ties Chris to the kitchen table. On his back, with each ankle tied to a different leg. His hands are tied, in front of him, not leashed to anything, but he puts them behind his head without being told—or asking—and scratches at the wood as Lydia rips the hair from his groin using sugar paste. Lydia puts other stuff in the mix, mint for cooling, and something for cutting down irritation, and anyway, it ends up smelling like a dreamy garden, like some kind of mind-altering incense. Once Laura thought she smelled it, walking by a spa, and by the time she got back to the hotel, two minutes later, her panties were soaked through.
Laura doesn’t need the paste herself, but Lydia doesn’t tell her to go so she curls up on the table next to Chris. Her feet by his head, her head on his thigh, so she can inhale the scent of it while Lydia works. Sometimes, when Lydia’s checking over a spot to see whether she missed any hairs, she reaches into Laura’s shirt and fondles the clamps on Laura’s nipples.
“We booked a job,” Lydia says when she’s done. She wipes her hands off, then unties Chris’ ankles and walks out.
Before he can sit up, Laura straddles him. She sets her hands to either side of his erect cock, steadying it that way as she sinks down, and then bends over so he can drop his arms over her head.
“Yeah, we’re leaving,” she says. She kisses him, sucking at his lower lip as she pulls back. “What happens when you run out of deaths for them to tattoo?”
“Already did,” Chris says. He rubs his hands in a soft circle over her back, tilting his chin up, eyes half-closed. And then he hauls them over. Gets his legs off the table, stands so she has to wrap her legs around him to keep him bent onto her.
He presses down on his forearms, arches slowly from shoulders down to slide flush into her. Sugar crystals are still sticking to his skin, little bits of grit that melt away as they mold to each other. She reaches up and cups his face, runs her thumb down his cheekbone.
“So how’d you know they were coming back?” she asks. She’s too breezy, she can see it in how his pupils widen like they want to swallow her whole.
Chris smiles at her. It’s too sharp, too alive. He’s so handsome she almost wants to hate him, like that. “I didn’t,” he says. “I never do. I just think they might.”
Lydia comes back, toys in hand. She works Chris open with a vibrator, squeezing his balls whenever he’s close to coming, and then, when Laura can’t keep from climaxing herself, pulls the clamps roughly from Laura’s nipples and hauls back Chris’ head by the hair, so that he sucks at Laura’s neck instead of them. And then she fucks Chris with a strap-on till he’s biting Laura’s shoulder, his own shoulders heaving, making strangled, desperate noises that are too far gone to be whimpers.
She fucks him into Laura, so hard that Laura thinks maybe the sugar got in there, maybe it’s not melted after all. His cock feels like it’s turning her inside out, fucking her so raw that she claws up his arms, trying to get his blood out for the blood of hers that’s surely come. After he finally comes, after Laura reaches down and grinds a shaky thumb through their mixed mess till she finds her clit under it, till she can get off again, she’s genuinely shocked that no blood drags out after her hand.
“Laura,” Lydia says, and Laura opens eyes she hadn’t realized she’d closed.
He’s groaning into her neck. Her shoulder stings. Her cunt feels like it’s been sandblasted, and then layered over with a thick, hot ache. Lydia over her head looks like a ghost, all white skin and fiery hair and unnaturally still eyes, and she moans and she reaches out to see whether the woman is solid or not.
Lydia sighs, and slaps her hand down. “Never mind,” she says. “Chris. Give her your phone number before we go.”
Chris starts. Laura pulls her hand back, then levers herself up on her elbows. Her sore nipples press into his chest and they both hiss, and then Laura looks at Lydia for real. “I got it already,” she says.
She’s still relieved when Lydia smiles at her. She still doesn’t know the woman well enough to be sure of herself around her, but God, does she love that. And she doesn’t love Lydia, but she loves that smile, the one where Lydia looks at her and Laura almost thinks they might pull level one day.
“Good,” Lydia purrs, leaning over. She brushes the hair from Laura’s face, picking it off gently where the sweat’s stuck it down, with those long nails of hers. And then she doesn’t turn her head, just her hand, and she grabs Chris under the chin. Hauls up his head, kisses him while Laura watches.
She has him. She doesn’t even have to try: her lips barely move while he does all the work, shivering, opening his mouth to her, moaning. When Lydia breaks the kiss, her lipstick’s slightly duller but there’s not a smudge past the sharp, perfect lines of her mouth, while Chris’ mouth is swollen, blurry, stretched beyond its boundaries.
“I want to eat in an hour,” Lydia says, and then she turns on her heel and walks off.
Chris stares after her, panting. When he turns back to Laura, he moves like it’s plain gravity swinging his head around. He blinks a few times, and then he’s seeing her.
“You look really good when she has you,” Laura says to him, grinning. “I’m gonna miss that.”
He cocks his head. “You’re going to hurt,” he says.
“Yeah.” Laura shrugs. “Well, I never said I wouldn’t.”
He looks at her a little longer, and then he smiles. He kisses her like the sting of his bite on her shoulder, quick and sharp and leaving that hot flush behind. “Sure,” he says.
* * *
So Chris Argent, Laura texts her brother.
He takes three hours to get back to her. She’s curled up in bed with Chris and Lydia by then. The other two were talking shipping logistics, and then Lydia had enough of that, and now they’re all watching a moody Hong Kong gangster flick. Lydia’s got Chris’ head in her lap, Laura’s head on her knee, and Chris has his bound wrists resting on Laura’s breasts.
What, is Derek’s reply.
I want him, Laura sends him.
Derek doesn’t answer till the next morning. Laura’s helping Chris air out bedrooms for Stiles, and for Derek and Peter. Chris tells her that they can only do so much, that Stiles will arrange things the way he likes when he gets around, and that includes security, but Laura still picks up some interesting tidbits.
You’re crazy, Derek says. The typing ellipsis shows for a few seconds. Peter’s jealous. I think.
Laura laughs, and across the room Chris looks up. Fuck him. Wait, no, get Stiles to do it.
Fuck you. Derek waits a minute for the rest. You’re okay, right?
You’re an idiot, bro, Laura sends, and then she puts her phone away and walks over so Chris can show her how to splice the cables for the video cameras.
* * *
That isn’t the end of it. Derek loves her unconditionally. He’s like that with all of his family, but he’s also never been disgusted at Laura for anything she’s done. Sure, he still resents her for fucking Peter, but he wasn’t grossed out by that whole thing. He just wanted to be first, and last, and all that amazingly bloody romantic shit he can’t help going in for. But he didn’t look at her like the rest of the family, when they found out. Like their mother, like she wasn’t even human anymore.
She might not be straight-up sane, or really, that straight, but she’s damn well a person.
So she knew Derek wasn’t going to turn his back on her, but that doesn’t mean he gets it. Peter absolutely would—does, is probably laughing his head off with glee and envy all the way down from Paris—but Laura doesn’t exactly trust her uncle to use that for any good. There is one person in the world that Peter has even half-assed selfless impulses about, and it has never, ever been Laura.
She has no idea all the way up to when Derek walks in the door, to be honest. Laura loves him too, the same way, but she admits she doesn’t get parts of him. A lot more than she used to think, and she’s fucked them both up because she didn’t see that. She doesn’t want to lose him any more than Peter does.
“Hey,” Derek says.
He’s got luggage, but he puts it down, and then comes over and presses their foreheads together. They don’t hug so much these days; can’t ever tell what’s under the clothes. He can certainly see her corset, which is so tight she gets dizzy if she moves at more than a crawl, and she knows he can walk better with a vibe in him than she can.
“Hey,” she mutters. She moves her head so his slides past her ear, so she can see Chris standing on the other side of her stool, watching them.
Chris’ eyes flick to hers like he was waiting for that. Then slide over as Derek twists around, looks at him. Derek puts his hands on Laura’s hips and lifts his head, but she can tell he’s smiling that killer smile of his by how he sucks in his breath.
“Hey,” he says to Chris. “So you’re alive too.”
“Yeah,” Chris says.
Laura almost calls her brother’s name, and then presses her lips together. She does catch Derek’s eye as he straightens up; he looks annoyed with her, but just in passing. He pivots around her stool and walks up to Chris, and reaches up for Chris’ tie.
Grabs it by the knot. She can see Chris’ collar tighten before Derek hooks his finger under, stopping that. Chris’ brows rise a little but otherwise he’s the same strangely serene doll he was when Laura first walked in.
“Yeah, you’re fucked up,” Derek mutters, looking him over, and then pulls him in for a kiss.
It’s hard right away, Derek crowding Chris up against the kitchen island. Chris grunts as his back hits it, then puts his hands up and they go straight under Derek’s coat. Derek lets Chris slide that off his shoulders, then frees his arms one at a time, with sharp jerks that send the coat flying across the kitchen floor. When it lands, his hands are already back on Chris, stripping off Chris’ trousers.
Stiles and Peter come in just as those puddle around Chris’ feet. Derek’s onto sucking his way down Chris’ throat, his body tipped to Chris’ side so the newcomers have a good view of the cage Lydia locked on Chris’ cock earlier, with Derek’s hand behind it, tugging roughly at Chris’ balls as Chris tries to drag Derek’s shoulders through his shirt-collar.
“Hey,” Stiles says. He pulls Peter back against him as Peter stumbles slightly, cups Peter’s groin with one hand, plucks nipple rings with the other, and then nods at Laura over Peter’s shoulder. “Lyds?”
“Changing,” Laura says. “She decided she wanted to ruin a different dress.”
Rolling his eyes, Stiles digs his chin down into Peter’s shoulder, so Peter breaks up his moans with a pained hiss. “And so I hear you’re into messes these days,” he says.
He’s always got some kind of edge to his amusement, and this one feels like it’s right under Laura’s feet, ready to cut straight up through her body if she steps wrong. She does not like dealing with Stiles on her own—doesn’t even like doing it when Derek and Peter are there, ready distractions, barely feels like she’ll be able to dodge when Lydia’s around. If she thinks she’s getting somewhere with Lydia, well, she has no idea where she stands with Stiles.
“Yeah,” is what Laura says, all she says.
Stiles studies her. His hand slides up Peter’s chest and along Peter’s throat till he’s forcing up Peter’s jaw. Peter is staring at Laura too, half-dazed from the other man but still warning her, ordering her with his eyes. Like she doesn’t already know, and she just avoids calling him an asshole out loud.
“You two look nice together,” Stiles says. Then he laughs. He looks over at where Derek’s got Chris bent over the counter, arms forced behind his back. “Yeah, well. Lydia says, and I can kind of picture it. But I think I wanna see for real.”
Laura shrugs, and then tries not to gasp as the corset tightens. “Sure,” she says.
Lydia comes down at that point. She and Stiles exchange greetings, while she’s pulling Laura off the stool and onto a roomier chair with her, hand working up between Laura’s legs. While Stiles is stripping Peter, while Derek’s holding Chris till Stiles gets around to him.
They fuck Chris while Lydia and Laura watch. Stiles ties Chris’ wrists behind his back and finger-fucks him, leaning over him, whispering things that nobody else can hear but that turn Chris into a squirming, shivering wreck. He doesn’t take first round—Derek does. Doesn’t touch Chris except to hold him down, and one other place, when Derek comes, dropping his forehead onto Chris’ back and snarling. He leaves a fan of flushing finger-prints over Chris’ hips.
Peter’s next, except he doesn’t get to fuck. He gets his cock in Chris and then Stiles fucks him, and if he moves Stiles stops and won’t let him come. It takes him five tries before he manages to hold still long enough, and by then Stiles is hauling him off Chris like a sack of wet cement, dropping him in Derek’s lap for Derek to manhandle.
And then Stiles. Slow, inching his way in, and then inching his cock back out, so Chris, who’s been holding himself to just grunts and groans, starts to whine for him. To beg him, to twist against the rope and plead for him to just do it, just finish it. He gets all over Chris too, licking over each one of the tattoos, as far as he can bend, rubbing his hand over Chris’ scars like he put each one there himself. He kisses the back of Chris’ neck and uses both hands to play with Chris’ balls, occasionally clicking his nails against the cock cage.
Laura’s on the verge of passing out the whole time. The corset’s so tight and she keeps trying to gasp anyway, even though she knows she won’t get any more air. She sways and rubs on Lydia’s thigh, clenching down on the other woman’s fingers, blinking back black and white dots in her vision every time Lydia presses a thumb over her clit.
“Missed me?” Stiles says, rocking up into Chris.
“Yes, yes, God,” Chris moans, ache coming out of him from frayed voice to trembling hips. “Yes, always, yes, please.”
“They look good, right?” Lydia whispers to Laura, and then pinches Laura’s clit so she misses Stiles coming.
When Laura’s vision is any good again, she’s kneeling on the floor. Something is zipping behind like, not like a zipper but like steel through fabric. Her corset pinches all along its length and then abruptly loosens, and she sees a cut lace fall just as Lydia steps out from behind her, knife in hand.
She looks down. Chris is lying in front of her, hands still tied, lolling head knocking against her knee. Stiles has his legs, and opens them up so Lydia can step between them. Lydia looks at Laura, smiles, and then reaches between Chris’ legs. Her knife’s a switchblade, and she snaps it shut and slides the handle up between two of her fingers, and then pushes all of them into Chris.
He arches, then gets up on shaking knees, his head still on the floor. Laura grabs at his shoulders as they come towards her, still gasping for air. The corset’s holding her up, tight enough so that it won’t come off yet, won’t let her bend. So she pulls at Chris’ shoulders, forcing them up till she can drop under them.
Laura’s back bangs against the floor, reminding her it’s stone. The corset pads her fall a little, but it still jars her. She stares up for a second, gasping, and Chris’ head is over her. His eyes are blown, his mouth a wet black hole.
“Come on, stop stalling,” Lydia says impatiently, and Laura looks aside.
But that’s not for her. That’s for Stiles, who’s squatting by Laura’s head. He’s looking back at Lydia, a strange, contemplative look on his face. He laughs at her, at something she’s done, and then shakes his head.
“Yeah, I see it,” he says, and then presses something into Laura’s hand. “Good eye.”
“Of course,” Lydia says.
Laura just half-hears it. She has a key, Stiles gave her a key—Chris jerks and his head hits her shoulder as his knees slide, his arms yank futilely at their bonds. His mouth lips blindly at the place he bit her, getting through the skin-glue Lydia sprayed on it, and Laura reaches up and grabs his cock cage, and sticks the key in the lock.
Chris swings his head up and over her like it’s a wrecking ball, a rough, shaking cry coming out of him as her fingers close over his cock. Her corset’s finally coming off, sides pulling away a little more every time she ducks his head. She can feel her body slumping out of it as his cock stiffens in her hand.
She gets that into her, and then grabs his head between her hands, stops it moving and kisses him. She can already feel him coming, cock only part-in but his body’s arch is too hard, to urgent to stop and he can’t bend enough to push any further. So she pushes herself back up, gets down on him, and then folds up around him as he screams into her mouth.
“So you admit you missed something,” Lydia’s saying.
“I admit I wasn’t looking,” Stiles says, bored. “But this makes it fun. We should do it again.”
Laura and Chris collapse on their sides. He buries his head in her breasts, and without it in the way she can see Derek and Peter knotted up on the floor across the room. Peter’s got his face hidden in Derek’s belly, back shivering, but Derek’s looking straight back at her.
His brows rise. She narrows her eyes, then reaches around and deliberately draws her fingertip across the back of Chris’ neck, along the hairline, where her tattoos are. Derek presses his lips together, and then rolls his eyes and drops his head back so he can’t see her. Pulls Peter with him, and a couple seconds later, Peter rouses enough to climb over Derek on his elbows, and start making out with him.
“Okay,” Stiles says, and Laura stiffens because he’s talking to her. Still squatting by her head, still smiling. But it’s a little different, the smile. It’s approving. “Got him?”
“Yeah,” Laura says.
Lydia bends down so her face crowds out Stiles’, and she smiles too. “Good.”
“He’s not chipped, is he?” Laura says.
She and Lydia are flying ahead, doing the scouting. They’ve been in the air for an hour and a half, and Lydia’s still putting together the next season’s wardrobe on her laptop, flicking through couture websites and fashion blogs and social media posts.
“Well, it’s not like he’s ever leaving,” Lydia says, frowning at a purse, a pair of lavender pumps, and a jeweled princess band. “In fact, I don’t think he’s ever even thought about killing us.”
“That why Stiles didn’t argue?” Laura says.
Lydia looks over and Laura winces. She’ll get it when they land, but for now Lydia just presses her lips together. “Stiles isn’t going to argue with you,” she says tartly. “So leave him to me.”
Laura nods and Lydia goes back to her browsing. There are movies and music and ebooks that Laura could be entertaining herself with. Or online language lessons. Or online research whatever, there’s always research. She could even try texting Derek or Peter, see if Stiles is running them too ragged with weapons shipping.
“I still don’t get the deal with the vase,” Laura says instead. “The raku. I looked it up. So you can’t predict how a piece is going to turn out, and you use the flaws for decoration. But that doesn’t make sense.”
“It wasn’t a metaphor, it was a mental slap. You needed one, you were being slow,” Lydia says, looking up. She considers Laura for a second. “I don’t like raku anyway, though Stiles looks at them sometimes. I like things to match. Like these pearls.”
She taps her necklace. Laura glances at them, then opens her mouth. Then closes it. She looks at the necklace again before turning around and slouching down in her seat. “They don’t really match, you know. They all come from different oysters, they can’t. If you look close enough.”
“If I look close enough, I’m missing the point,” Lydia says, a little more sharply.
“No. No, I see the necklace.” Laura swings her feet up onto the opposite seat and pulls out her phone. “It looks good. They all look really good together.”
She glances over. Lydia sniffs, and turns back to her laptop. But she’s got an upwards quirk to the corner of her mouth, and when Laura looks at her phone, she’s got an alert that Lydia’s just ordered her something so she needs to confirm her measurements.
Grinning, Laura does that—it’s a new corset—and then switches over to text. So your earrings.
Victoria’s wedding ring, Allison’s favorite necklace, bullet that they left me.
Laura leans her head against the window. You’re fucked, but weirdly, I miss that.
Chris doesn’t reply as quick to that one, although it’s still within a minute. That hurts.
It’s supposed to, she writes. She looks at the scenery outside, and then goes back to her phone. So what are you going to do for me?
Come back and see, Chris texts.
Laura laughs. Sure, she tells him. Why not.
Raku ware is a type of Japanese pottery, wherein the potter uses techniques that deliberately produce unpredictable effects in the appearance of the finished product. Some of the effects would also be considered flaws in other pottery styles, but in raku, the flaws are considered to be integral to the art of the style.