Hands resting on a smooth balustrade, their pale colour contrasting nature, she was frozen. There was something wrong with her hands, something very wrong. They were …. They should be …. She could not catch that instinctive feeling, explain her certainty of something other, something changed. Her mind seemed to want to give her a desperate clue as she looked down on the smooth, unmarked skin; but she could not grasp the fledgeling thought which hovered just out of reach.
Instead, her eyes lifted to take in the breathtaking vista of rugged mountains and deep forests – and that was wrong as well, they were wrong, indefinably so. There was a strange vagueness in her mind, an amorphousness of thought that should alarm her. Had she been drugged? Somehow she knew she had been, remembered a doctor, a needle in her arm. She wanted to react to the thought, wanted to let it pierce the grey veils drifting through her mind, but before she could, a noise behind her drew her attention. She turned.
A figure was leaning against the glass facade of the house behind her: tall, dark and vaguely threatening – a beautiful spectre in a world of grey. A man. His face, his identity, obscured by the shadows of the living world.
“Who are you?”
She knew it to be a stupid question, knew the “where” and “how” should be more important than the “who”, but it just slipped out nevertheless. Inconsequential human attention to peripheral information. And still, somehow, it seemed essential to know his name.
She had never met him before, of that she was certain – but she also felt as if she had known him all her life; as if his deep, melodic voice had been interwoven with her existence since the very beginning. And how did she know of his voice? A stray thought, shattered as he spoke, the sound a presence of deep familiarity in the crisp mountain air.
“I am the Shadow Lover.”
The softness of French syllables blunted the words. The voice reaching into her, touching something primal, something intimate like a strange belonging. An inexplicable anger rose in her. She was suddenly furious by his power to confuse her and demand something she did not know how to give. She knew the fury to be rooted in a primal fear, in a need to fight, to resist – though she could not name what it was she needed to fight.
“You are not my lover.” She was certain of this with every pore of her being.
“Tonight, I might be – I will be.”
So confident, so certain in the outcome. His answer only fed the rage in her. She wanted to deny his assertion vehemently, was about to and would have, non-regarding the place deep in her soul where she felt a welcome for him. She would have set him straight, utterly destroyed his arrogance and pretensions, had he not stepped away from the wall, into the grey light.
He did his name proud. He was a being of shadows and light, of obscurity and beauty. Ageless, his pale face was unlined, the features aquiline and strangely without racial markers. His hair a long curtain of silky white strands, colourless in nature not bleached through life but pale as an absence thereof. His most striking features were possibly his eyes, grey as a stormy sky and just as changeable. The combination was so striking that for a moment it robbed her of her breath and instinctively she felt him for what he was, a force of nature, more frightening even, through the care he took not to appear so.
She watched him move across the space separating them, was spellbound by the grace and power in his movements, and as he reached her, she had to turn from him, to block him out in order not to be overwhelmed. So she asked what she should have asked before:
“Where are we?”
She did not know this place, had never been here, in this house of straight lines and cold glass framed by steel. Nor had she ever stood overlooking this forest, her mind suggesting images more akin to the gently rolling hills of Shropshire. His hand rested besides hers on the balustrade now, a finger width from hers, a temptation to touch.
“Wherever you want it to be.”
This was so non-sensical an answer that she could not suppress a giggle, a silly giggle merging into a laugh, free and surprisingly happy. She had the impression that her muscles had not had the opportunity to laugh in a long time, so long they had almost forgotten how to. When she arched her brow at him in answer to the trite response she saw the lines around his mobile lips twitch and knew he fought an answering laugh of his own.
“Don’t you like it here?”
She had to think of the answer to that question. It was breathtaking, overwhelming, sensual – a fantasy. It was the world her mind had always created and she had never dared to touch. Even though, it fitted the man besides her better than it fitted her – or possibly HE fitted IT better. That was a thought. Her eyes found him again, considering.
“It is yours.”
His hand came up to play along her cheek, a soft caress.
“No, I do not belong here, not on my own. It is you.”
Her? It was wild and beautiful, dangerous and breathtaking – a world of absolutes, without compromise, without fear. It was what she always secretly wanted to be and never had achieved. The world her mind had hungered for and her pragmatism had abandoned too long ago. A sense of her self she had wanted and never quite allowed herself to be. When she lifted her eyes to correct him, to tell him this, she realised that, in his eyes, she was beautiful, and wild, and courageous. In his eyes she was perfect. It was that realisation which took her breath away.
Before she could recover her senses he replaced her breath with his, covered her mouth and took the kiss she had not offered. His taste, spice and fire and comfort, was strange and familiar at the same time. An echo of a thought, a remnant of a dream. A promise contained in a kiss. And as his lips stroked over hers, his tongue tasting and coaxing, her mind tried to decipher this primal vow. Almost instinctively her own lips opened under his and when his tongue invaded, all memory of gentle persuasion left her mind. He demanded her surrender, with nips and licks, intended to conquer her in this duel of tongues – and did. She gave him all, relaxed into his hold and let him what he wanted, what he needed. And in that instinctual knowledge she was happy.
Suddenly, she found herself stretched out on a wide bed with him a shadow over her, shielding her against the world. She could still see the dramatic vista through the windows on her left – but had no memory of how they had gotten inside. A frisson of alarm whispered over her skin, a sense of … reality? … of common sense? … of something normal raising its head. Her cynicism had had a lifetime to develop, a well travelled neural network in her mind, pathways of thought long since broadened from mere game trails to six-lane autobahns. She was not a fanciful person. Instinctively, she raised her hands to push him away, to hold off the mouth that was about to descend.
“I don’t want this!”
A cry to halt the inevitable.
There was sadness in his eyes, a sadness swallowed by tenderness and warmth, and gentleness so deep it almost covered the desperation and loneliness. In the end, it was her who made the next move, her hand that reached to cradle his face.
“What is it?”
A wistful smile stretched his beautiful lips as he kissed her hand, let his mouth play over the sensitive skin of her wrist.
“I love you.”
“You don’t know me.”
She had to offer this gentle reminder, more to salvage her rational mind than out of any true conviction. She had given up. Rationality had no place here.
“I have always known you.”
His lips covered hers, lips that tasted of a thousand wishes, a million hurts and endless salvation. It felt right for her arms to come around him, to hold him. It was natural to answer him, to let her lips part and welcome him.
Their clothes disappeared and she had no idea how, or when, only awakening to his strong hands on her naked skin, his fingers playing along her ribcage in a teasing pattern. When he raised his head to devour her with his eyes she had the opportunity to let her own roam. He was stunning, lean and strong, velvet skin over hard steel.
To her surprise it was his voice, nor hers. And that was wrong as well, she had not been beautiful in years, in decades really. A pause, a spark in her mind. He did not let her follow that thought, did not allow her to gather her thoughts. Instead, he scrambled them quite effectively as his hot mouth closed over her right breast. It soothed an ache that had bloomed, stroked it away and fanned a fire in her blood, a fire ignited by his kiss. She loved the almost painful sensation of his mouth sucking in her nipple, of his tongue following the pull with soothing laps.
The strands of his hair were silk along her fingers, a heavy weight of decadent comfort. Her fingers buried deeper in his hair. Was it to hold him closer, or simply to answer the indescribable need to caress him? She herself did not know the answer. It mattered little. Her lips curved under the touch of pure joy at the sensual delight of his hair, his skin, against her own.
His lips stretched in an answering smile against her skin. She felt it more than saw it.
“I want you.”
Her voice was barely recognisable, husky and low. Her words were no declaration of passion, no matter how it seemed. They were more akin to a thoughtful comment, an observation, a statement of fact. He raised his head, met her gaze with his so full of longing and desire.
“You have always had me.”
It was then he moved over her, let her feel his weight – a comfort and shield. His body breached hers, stretched her, filled her. A delicious pressure, intimate and all-consuming. Pain. There had been pain. Distant, unconnected, the pain of a body not really hers anymore, swept away under the realisation of pleasure, of his touch. She was surprised. Normally she needed more foreplay – but now she was wet, her body stretching around his in exquisite agony. With every inch he owned more of her, with every moment she gave him more of herself, let him take her being into his keeping.
Her eyes were locked on his grey ones, saw the tenderness in them as he seated himself fully in her. For a moment they just rested there, together and apart in shared emotions and sensations unique to each and still the same.
He let her body adjust to his, his brow against hers. She held him close, her fingers tangling in his hair, her other hand soothing his skin. There was wonder in his smile now, wonder and sadness. She felt the glide of his body over hers, felt the sleek muscles of his back move under her hands, the wave of pleasure slowly rising in her.
“Hold onto me, Mignonne. I will catch you when you fall.”
She felt his words against her skin, in every molecule of her body. He began to move and it was not a wild ride, not a fiery coupling, though it did not lack passion. It was an intimate dance, a gentle weave of sensation carrying her high, giving her the strength to fly.
And as the wave crested, as she fell into pleasure, she felt a realisation rise in her mind, saw it mirrored in his eyes. She remembered the hospital, the pain wrecking her body over the last few months, the bitter taste of chemotherapy in her mouth and the resigned faces of the doctors, the tears of her children. And as her eyes closed in bliss she remembered something else – she remembered that the French called an orgasm a “little death” – and Death itself, they called the Shadow-Lover.