Or at least she and other lucky kids had believed in that. Nathan had had the dream snatched from him much earlier. Like her and the shards of her heart, he’d turned the dark landscape into the setting for nightmares to inflict upon others. While causality didn’t absolve him, the soul of that little boy with the cape made her bend now, hold the shaking broad shoulders that were capable of shielding and offering a woman so much. Of being any woman’s own private hero.
She was so much smaller than he was, Nathan had to wrap his arms around her legs after all to keep her upright when his sobs rocked them both, but she kept embracing him. Making soft crooning noises until it ebbed away, leaving him weary but too numb to sleep. He was in Hell, after all. Sleep wouldn’t be possible here. No form of escape.
He’d never expected there to be a Heaven, so he realized Hell wasn’t really all that surprising to him. Except Dona. Dona was the surprise. Tearing up his ass one moment, merciful the next, never letting him get away with anything, so that in a remarkably short time she’d made him abandon the instincts of a lifetime. They were useless with her, leaving him only with himself. His horrible self.
“Where have you been? When I’ve been so lost…” He had to be babbling, because the words made no sense to his brain, but they felt right, coming from deep inside him.
Some part of him wanted to keep repeating them, hold the words to him like a child’s security blanket.
Where were you? Why weren’t you there to help save me from myself? Who are you?
She touched the side of his face, her thumb caressing his lips. “You’re not alone. We all get lost.”
“No.” She knelt before him now, an odd choice for a Mistress, for with his greater height it made him taller. But as she gently pressed him back on his haunches so they were knee to knee, she felt far larger than anything he could ever imagine being. She reached up, brushed his brow with her fingertips. “This isn’t the forehead of a weak man. Not this strong jaw, or these wonderful eyes.” She put both hands on either side of his neck. “You’ve made some terrible choices. But you’re not weak.”
“You don’t know what it’s like. You haven’t fucked up the way I have.” She blinked, a harsh chuckle coming from her throat. “You want to know why I’m here? I’ll show you, so you don’t have any illusions.” The world began to swim around them, that sense of disorientation that was like being swept along in a vast ocean. He wished there was something to hold on to, but when he reached out, his hands met nothingness.
He and Dona sat in an empty theater. The stage was the only illuminated area. He couldn’t see aisles or walls, as if their platform of chairs was suspended over an abyss.
He was in a tuxedo. Apparently she could dress or undress him from moment to moment as easily as she could a paper doll, a highly unsettling comparison.
A glance to his left showed his Mistress in box seat finery, a copper-colored dress that glittered and flowed to her ankles. Wearing an amber choker on her throat and matching teardrop earrings, she complemented him as if they were a well-to-do couple out for an evening of upscale entertainment. He wanted to reach out and touch her, but it felt as if there were a thin but impenetrable field between them, forcing him to keep his hands to himself.
“Watch,” she whispered. The lights of the stage and the movement of her mouth showed a dusting of gold glitter on her cheeks. It was also on the slopes of her breasts, visible in the generous low cut of the dress.
He lingered on her face. Perhaps it was habit. A woman’s face, her eyes and her body all held clues to her emotions. Once he’d been a master at translating that mysterious feminine language. He was probably the only man in the world who could comfortably translate all the meanings of the word “fine” when it came from a woman’s lips.
Therefore, he sensed her tension, at a level so high she was almost paralyzed with it. It made him want to touch her even more.
You’re not alone. She’d said it to him, but did she know that? Had something so terrible brought her here that she thought nothing could match it, isolating her forever?
He thought he saw something else glitter at her eye, a copper-colored teardrop about to fall. Obeying a compulsion he didn’t completely understand, he leaned forward, broke through that field and placed his lips over it, over the corner of her eye.
She stiffened. He’d surprised her again, so he didn’t push it, didn’t bring his hands into it. He just brushed her with his lips, letting that one tear moisten them, pressing his forehead against her temple, closing his eyes, absorbing her tense vibrations.
“You’re not alone, either,” he said.
Her jaw trembled. She nodded toward the stage.
Reluctantly he turned his gaze there.
He found himself looking into a dining room. An attractive man sat there, holding the hand of his dinner companion, a beautiful redhead with pale skin. A great deal of it visible, since they were both naked, eating pizza on fine china, laughing. Obviously lovers enjoying a weekend of playful fun. As Nathan watched, the man rubbed a slice of the pizza across her breasts, smearing sauce and cheese there in a primitive display, bending his head to suck the food off her skin. She enjoyed it for a moment, her chin lifted. Then she pushed away. Standing up on the chair, she stepped onto the table, spread her legs and put her hands on her hips, making a stern face as he caressed her ankles, his hands moving up her calves. “That’s a very bad boy, Alex. Isn’t that what your wife would say?”
She went down on all fours, positioning her breasts before him, hanging them over his plate. “You clean every bit of that off with your mouth, or you’ll get a very severe paddling.” Her eyes darkened with lust, her voice dropping to a whisper. “Play the games with me you play with her.”
“They’re not games, Pamela.” His voice got rougher, lower, his gaze rising to meet hers as he flicked his tongue over the sauce. “You’re my Mistress… See? Your nipples just hardened. I’ll teach you to love making me beg.” As they bantered, a shadow moved into the doorway. Watching. When that shadow stepped out into the light of the stage, Nathan saw Dona in slacks and blazer, a professional career woman with the look of someone returning home from a business trip. From the darkness around him came a rush of sound, an invisible audience oohing like a class of dramatic schoolchildren, knowing someone was going to be in very big trouble.
He couldn’t turn his head from observing the stage to look at her, couldn’t move at all. The darkness in the theater was absolute. He wouldn’t have been so sure she was still there, except that whenever she was absent, like when she’d gone to see “Him”, it felt different. Almost like they were two magnets.
Magnets. His thought resounded in Dona’s head as she watched him through the darkness. Like Lucifer had said. They couldn’t help but believe in one another. The way he’d kissed her just now, when he’d never reached out to a woman without calculated intent. It made her want to crawl over the seat into his lap, be held in those strong arms.
She could sleep there, cradled against him, his heartbeat steady beneath her ear.
The voices on the stage drew her attention away, making her remember why such musings were dangerous.
“Dona…” Alex displayed the expected deer-in-the-headlights look. His gaze darted between the two women. Pamela was frozen on the top of the table. “You’re…home early.”
“Earlier than you think.” Dona’s voice was high, thin, but Nathan heard the hint of steel in it that he’d recognized from the first moment when she ordered him into her car. He also felt her pain like a full cannon blast in the chest. Blowing everything to pieces, an agony of disintegration of everything she was or knew.
He knew what that felt like. He’d experienced it before he’d even had a solid sense of self to call his own. For the first time in his life he thought that maybe it had been easier to be shattered early, rather than like this, when enough time had passed to allow a person to spin dreams so strong that they became a part of her, like a vital organ or limb.
He was seeing too much. More than she had seen or felt in herself when what was happening on the stage had actually occurred. Dona didn’t understand how this involuntary one-sided telepathy would help. If Nathan’s soul was as poisoned as Lucifer thought, all He was doing was arming Jonathan, because by letting her see what her charge was feeling, it was stripping her emotionally, making her feel vulnerable.
Why was Lucifer doing this?
“I’ve been here long enough to see you eat more of that pizza than you should. You know your cholesterol numbers aren’t what they should be.” The Dona on stage glanced at Pamela, who looked as if she wished to be anywhere else in the world. “I guess worrying about that was a waste of time, though, wasn’t it? A person has to have a heart to get heart disease.”
A titter of audience laughter. It was so obscene against the frozen paleness of Dona’s features on stage and the wooden quality of her voice that Nathan felt nauseous.
“Cut it out, Dona.”
Suddenly, he was able to look toward his current Dona. See her silhouette. Her eyes met his, glittered in the darkness. “That’s a very appropriate comment,” she said.
Pamela screamed and his attention jerked back to the stage. Dona had taken two steps forward and wrapped one hand in Alex’s shoulder-length hair to pull his head back. In a fluid motion, she shoved a kitchen knife into his left pectoral. When Pamela’s knees went out from under her, she landed on the plates, breaking one. The wineglasses fell over, rolled to the floor and shattered, spreading wet burgundy across the table linen. As she scrambled backward, blood sprayed out from Alex’s chest over her, over all of it.
“So, let’s see…” Dona grunted, jerking on the knife as her husband convulsed in death throes, his hands batting ineffectively at her. “There it is. You do have one, don’t you? Lucky I’m a surgeon. Otherwise I wouldn’t have known where to find such a small thing.”