His smile was crooked, his eyes dancing. At a loss, she looked back at him quizzically. He’d been acting rather, well, odd for a good week now. She hadn’t thought much about it at first. He was moody and so was she, so it wasn’t anything out of the ordinary. But when the same type of oddness went on for days and days, it had begun to pique her curiosity. What was he up to? But it was never anything he revealed, and so now it grated on her, as though he wanted to make her paranoid just because he could. But then there was that day where his face had looked odd and swollen, as though he’d had a long crying spell, though he’d never shed a tear in front of her the whole week. She’d tried circumspectly to ask if something was bothering him, but he’d only given her that crooked smile and that infuriating air of a man with a tightly held secret. What made it so infuriating was that he was very much capable of completely burying something he didn’t want her to know, so she was well aware of being taunted. A week of it was getting to be a little much to bear, however.
So she just sat on the edge of the big canopied bed, having just slipped into her nightgown, and stared back at him with incomprehension, tempted to close the heavy velvet drapes of the canopy that were now pulled aside and tied to the bedposts, retreat to the far side of the bed, her back to him, and bury herself under the covers. She didn’t, though, and he surprised her by closing the door to the bedroom with exaggerated care. Surprised because there was really no need for it; the two of them were the only occupants of the huge, rambling house – mansion, really – upon acres and acres of land that assured the estate’s closest neighbors were quite a ways away, and so their privacy was an utterly complete thing.
Maddening. She suppressed the urge to shrug, to show him that his behavior was producing only apathy, but then that would shout to him louder than anything she could say or do that the exact opposite was the case, and so she remained motionless and relaxed, and answered his closing of the door with an arching of one of her brows.
He cocked his head to the side, the crooked smile twisting a little bit with irony. “What’s wrong, darlin’?”
She allowed a small smile in return. “Oh, not a blessed thing. Just thought it funny you’d closed the door.”
He shrugged. “Just trying to keep the cats out. I always forget.” The crooked smile turned coy for a moment. A flash, and it was gone. There something harder in his eyes, and she realized at that moment that that was part of what had been different about him these last days – a good deal of his usual shyness had been absent.
So amorousness had made him shut the door. A tingle of excitement shot through her. Maybe that’s what his secretiveness had been about in the first place, that he’d been planning something special for her. Immediately, she felt guilty at her irritation with him over the past week. Inwardly, she drew a sigh of relief and relaxed in earnest, smiling back at him with genuine pleasure and anticipation.
His smile crooked at the corner, and he gave her a knowing, indulgent look, apparently aware that she’d been in the grip of some inner turmoil, the tide had turned with his words, and that things had come out favorably for his side.
“So, you wanted to keep the cats out, did you?” she asked, watching him move into the bathroom and emerge with a towel. The tingle of excitement escalated into an outright thrill. The towel meant he wanted her to paint his face again.
His smile curved wickedly. “I did.”
She gave a small smile and turned to the cabinet where they kept the paints and the makeups and their other toys for such lovemaking sessions. They had done this so many times it had begun to take on the air of ritual. She always took out the paints, he would sit down beside her and caress and kiss her before pulling away and looking deep into her eyes before lying down without a word. That was always the signal that he was ready for her to transform his handsome face into a more ghoulish visage with the white, red, and black paints and pencils from among the array of colors. Her gaze swept briefly over the rest of the palette of shades, all unused except for that trio, and that gave her a little thrill, too…the endless possibilities to try, but so far the magic of these three basic colors was more than enough to entrance them both, and that to her was a source of deep contentment and pleasure, to know she could let her imagination have free rein and never have to worry about either censure or boredom.
She felt the warmth of his body as he sat down beside her and unbuttoned the expensive burgundy silk shirt he wore, stripping it from his torso in one fluid motion. She turned to watch him, the box of paints in her lap. He flung the shirt away, the muscles rippling beneath his flesh with the movement, and smiled enigmatically at her. “You won’t be needing that tonight,” he murmured, indicating the box.
She blinked for a moment. “No?” she asked, unable to keep the disappointment from that one syllable.
He shook his head. “No.” Gently, he picked the box up and set it on one of the heavily carved nightstands whose wood matched the deep cherry of the bedposts. He got up and lit the candles nestled in sconces on the wall and flat surfaces throughout the room. They had all seen much use, particularly the ones in the sconces, where the wax, in some cases, had melted enough to ooze down the metal of their gothic designs.
He shut off the electric lights so that only the glow of fire suffused the room. He cocked his head to the side as he got back into the bed. “Disappointed?” His tone was gentle but matter-of-fact.
She shrugged and gave him a small smile. “Maybe a little,” she admitted.
He drew close to her, and she could smell the musk of his own natural scent, and oddly enough a faint pleasant waxy odor that reminded her of the greasepaints he had decided they were not going to use. “What, my plain ol’ vanilla self isn’t enough to stir your passions?” he teased.
The teasing purr in his voice was enough to cause a hot pulse of sensation between her thighs. “Oh, always more than enough,” she assured him, slight irritation mixed in with her teasing tone. “You’re evil to say that to me. You know my thoughts on that.”
He put his arms around her and his lips brushed hers gently, and she closed her eyes and shivered at the warmth of his breath and touch of his skin against hers. “I know.” His voice dropped down into a lower modulation, the teasing note vanishing. “But that doesn’t mean I don’t like to hear it from your lips.” He smiled lazily, running a finger over her mouth. “Such beautiful lips they are, too.”
She shifted slightly, settling her legs into a more comfortable position, and her foot grazed the towel he’d left on the bed. She nipped the tip of his finger gently. “So if you don’t want to play dress-up tonight,” she teased, “why the towel, then?”
He took a slow, measured breath, and with it the whole atmosphere of the room seemed to change, and she knew then something had been going on, was still going on, and whatever it was, was no joke. That feeling was borne out by his next words.
“You always say you trust me,” he murmured, running his hands over her shoulders, up her throat, to cup her face in his hands in a sudden movement of fierce gentleness. “Do you?”
“Of course I do,” she whispered.
His laugh carried grimness in it. “And do you love me?”
Her heart started hammering then at the tone in his voice, and suddenly it felt as if the walls were closing in. “You know I do,” she protested, her voice catching in her throat. What was this about? What was it he was going to say? “I wouldn’t have said “yes” when you asked me to marry you if I did not, and after what I’ve been through, I could never say that unless I could consign my life into your hands without a second thought.”
He laughed darkly then. “Good. Remember that you said those words to me, because I will hold you to them if it’s the last thing I do.”
Her breath hissed inward. “Will, what is this about? You’re starting to scare me.” She hated the way her voice sounded small and tremulous, like a child’s, but she couldn’t help it.
He ran his fingers through her hair. “Shhh, it’s okay, babydoll, nothing to be scared of.” He laughed that same darkly satisfied laugh. “Well, nothing more than usual.” He kissed her hair. “Something I want to show you, though. Something you need to see now.”
“Um. Okay.” She was utterly at a loss now.
He picked up the towel, and he had a bottle of something in his other hand now, and he squirted its contents all over the cloth. By the pleasantly acrid odor of it, she knew it was makeup remover, the stuff he always used to get the paint she put on his face off. She got a queer feeling in her head, as though the world had turned upside down. “What on earth could you be using that for?” she asked, completely confused now. “I thought you didn’t want me to paint your face tonight.”
“I don’t. No need.” He finished dousing the towel and set the bottle aside, flipping the top shut. He watched her for a long moment, noting her confusion. “Just remember how much I love you…and how happy we’ve been together.”
Her stomach seemed to plunge into an abyss and her spine turn to ice at those words. The dark teasing glee that had been in his eyes seemed to recede, and for a moment real doubt and fear shone in them. Before she could say another word, he bent his head and began slowly to mop his face with the towel. The whole exchange was so ominous and the fact that he was mopping his bare face with makeup remover so bizarre that she couldn’t speak. It simply didn’t make sense. Perhaps she was dreaming.
He managed to keep his face completely covered as he wiped it in an interminably slow fashion. Finally, when she thought she just might be able to muster up the muscular control to blurt out a demand to know what was really going on, he drew the towel away from his face and looked at her.
She looked at him, utterly dumbfounded, and blinked. Somehow it was as if she’d been watching a movie in reverse, for when he took the towel away, his face was alabaster white, the flesh around his eyes painted black, spiking upward over his forehead and down over his high cheekbones in black diamond-like harlequin patterns, his lips a bright, bloody crimson, a thin line of red extending from the corners of his mouth on either side, curving upward upon his cheeks – the same ghastly harlequin-corpse design as she always painted it when they played.
Except the box of paints was on the floor. She’d never gotten to use it. She stared at his face. It made no sense. She was either dreaming or she’d been drugged and somehow skipped a step somewhere. She started to look around wildly, checking her surroundings for clues as to what could explain the fact that he seemed to have just wiped off his face to reveal Eric Draven’s painted visage from The Crow, when the reality should have been the other way around.
Her heart was pounding, her breath starting to come faster as she scanned the room. “Bridget, it’s okay,” he said softly.
“No, it’s not,” she cried. “Something’s happened to me. This isn’t right.” She stared at his face, so alien and yet so familiar, thinking frantically back over the evening. “Did you slip something into my drink at dinner?” she blurted.
His breath hissed sharply as though she’d struck him, but his eyes were unreadable, their expression hidden by the black paint. “No, love. I didn’t drug you. I would never do that. You know that,” he rasped.
“I’m dreaming, then,” she said, closing her eyes, and trying to calm herself. Her first lucid dream. That must be it. It made a certain kind of sense. She ran her hands through her hair in a nervous, restless gesture. She felt so odd, like she wanted to scream, run, and cry all at once. Being drugged would have made those urges make sense, too, but no, he was right…he would never violate her that way, and she knew it.
He drew close to her, gently capturing her restless hands in his own and bending to kiss them. And he really did kiss them. She felt his lips press against her flesh. Usually when they played out this fantasy, he was very careful, except in certain rare instances, to not actually touch her with any part of his face to keep from spoiling the paint. When his head came back up, she expected to see a crimson smear on the backs of her hands, but there was nothing but the sight of her smooth, unblemished skin, which confused her even more. He looked at her, eyes intense, and very deliberately placed her palm against his cheek. Out of habit, she recoiled, not wanting to smear his paint, but his fingers tightened cruelly around her wrist suddenly, and he held her fast.
“It’s not paint, love,” he said softly, his voice ragged.
“What do you mean, it’s not paint?”
“You know it’s not,” he replied calmly. “Your eyes saw true. It should have come off too, if that were the case, shouldn’t it? But it didn’t.”
She tried to pull her hand away again, but he held it in a grip of iron. “Don’t do that again, please,” he warned gently, but his voice held some dangerous note she couldn’t identify.
Her mind searched frantically for an explanation. Some other substance he’d put on his face, then. “Ah..it’s latex, isn’t it? A really thin mask…”
In answer, he simply stared back and dragged her fingers slowly over his face, and all she felt was flesh. No slipperiness of latex, no creaminess of paint. Nothing but his warm flesh, alive beneath her fingertips.
Her breath caught sharply. “Will, what have you done?”
His fingers uncircled from her wrist and instead he cupped the back of her hand, laying his cheek against her palm and looking up at her with a quiet, broken laugh. “It’s ink, love.”
She blinked at him a moment. “Ink?” she said slowly, and then gasped as the realization finally dawned on her sluggish mind. “You had your face tattooed?”
He nodded slowly against her hand. “Uh-huh.”
She stared at him, horror mounting up inside of her. “Why in the name of all that’s holy would you do something like that?” Her voice rose in panic and desperation. Fear and hurt surged up in her. “You couldn’t have thought I’d approve.”
He laughed darkly. “Lots of different reasons why I did it. And no, I didn’t think you’d approve. Obviously.”
“Then why’d you do it?” Hysterical tears were rising up from somewhere in her, threatening to blot out everything, and she yanked her hand away from him.
This time he let it go, and he straightened and faced her. “Because it’s my face and it’s something I needed to do. I thought long and hard about it…about why I needed to do it and what all the ramifications would be, and in the end, even though the stakes are high…perhaps especially because the stakes are high…I chose to take the risk.”
Her head was spinning and tears were welling, and she thought she would go mad. She didn’t understand this, she told herself. And she never would. She rose from the bed.
“Where do you think you’re going?” His voice was low and cool.
“I need to get away from here.” She headed for the door.
“You mean you need to get away from me,” he said flatly, and then gave a bitter laugh. “Please don’t. Please.”
She reached the door and looked over her shoulder at him. “I don’t recall being given a choice as to whether you were going to do this. You have no call to be asking me to choose to stay now.” She turned the door handle and pushed.
And nothing happened. It was locked.
He rose from the bed and smiled, moving toward her. “You’re right. I’m not giving you a choice in this either,” he drawled matter-of-factly. He leaned his elbow high up on the doorjamb and looked at her. “It’s not as though I’m going to lose you over this,” he said softly.
She laughed. “Oh, it’s not, is it? My, we’re sure of ourselves, aren’t we?” she jeered suddenly, brimming with anger, and fear that he was trapping her.
He shook his head, long hair glinting golden in the light of a nearby sconce as it tumbled around his garishly tattooed face. “No, it’s not. And yes, I’m quite sure of myself. I’d never have done it had I thought for a moment that it would cause you to turn away from me for good.”
“You’ve got a lot of nerve,” she spat.
He smirked, and the expression looked especially predatory on the wide crimson slash of his mouth. “Yes…and no.”
She knuckled her eyes for a moment, for the unshed tears were still brimming in them in spite of the anger and indignation that now was beginning to burn in her. “And why is it you’re so sure that you will not lose me over this?”
He half shrugged and laughed softly. “Well, one, I’ll do everything in my power not to let you go and make the biggest mistake of your life if it comes to that.” He ignored the way her jaw dropped open at that and pressed on. “But more importantly, I had good reasons for doing it, and though you kick and scream a lot about convention at first, I know a lot of that is just out of habit and is pretty well meaningless, and I knew that eventually some point would come where you’d calm down and be able to listen to reason and agree I’d done the right thing.”
She snorted, and her hands curled into impotent fists as she fought to contain the tide of fury and hurt that was mounting in her. “The right thing for you in your eyes, maybe.”
He reached out and cupped her chin. “The right thing for both of us.”
“Oh, what utter gall you have, Will. Pray tell how this could have anything whatsoever to do with me, much less be the right thing for me.”
He moved then suddenly, and his hand slipped from her face to snake proprietarily around her waist while his other slipped under the silk nightgown she wore, sliding between her thighs, and she moaned as she felt the heat and wetness of herself against his hand. “Because…even while you’re protesting about it, even though you’re indignant and hurt, it excited you. The minute I told you it was inked on and not painted, I could smell how wet you got.”
She swallowed and turned away, looking down. It was the truth, she knew, although she didn’t quite understand why it should be so.
He frowned. “Hey.” Gently, he took his hand from between her legs, wiping it absently on his trouser leg before using it to pull her chin up so she was once more facing him. “You should never be ashamed of the way you feel.” He smiled gently. “Especially the way you feel about me. Don’t want to give me a complex do you? I don’t think the royal ego could bear that.”
“Oh,” she whimpered childishly, “stop trying to make me laugh!”
He stroked her cheek tenderly. “Sorry, darlin’. But what is shaming you so about that?”
She closed her eyes, blotting out the white face in her vision. It was too much to bear, his nearness and the knowledge of what he’d just done to himself, while her thoughts and feelings were so tangled. “Because I don’t want you thinking it’s an endorsement of what you did.”
He laughed softly. “Well…aside from the fact that it IS an endorsement of sorts, what good will getting angry at me about it now do? It can’t change the fact that this,” he indicated his face with a gesture, “is done.”
“But it’s wrong, and it’s wrong for me to like it …even a little bit,” she wailed, trying to turn away, but he wouldn’t let her.
“Tell me why it’s wrong, love. Look at me. Tell me why.”
She squinched her eyes shut more tightly. “Oh, don’t make me be looking at you.”
He sighed softly. “Come on, Bridget. Do it. Please?”
“Grrr…gah…how do I let you talk me into such things?” She cracked open an eye, and the garish lips smiled at her.
“Because you like it…and don’t go pretending you don’t. So if it pleases you and it pleases me, I can’t see how it’s wrong.”
“Because, Will…it is. It’s…weird and freaky.”
He shrugged. “According to whom? Society? You and I’ve never cared much about that.” At her bristling, he pressed on. “Oh, I know you pay it a lot of lip service, but I know when it comes right down to it, it doesn’t really matter much to you either.”
“Great,” she said miserably. “Good to know that my words are all empty.”
He sighed. “Nah, not empty at all. You just get scared.” Suddenly he bent and swept her up into his arms, bearing her back toward the bed. “Which is why I went ahead and did it anyway. You told me a long time ago you wanted me to open you. Well, that’s what I did here. I knew you’d be frightened of it and it would stop you from getting something you wanted. So I just did it.” He laid her down on the bed and sat on the edge beside her. “I’d say I’m sorry I overruled you, but I’m really not…so I’m not going to.”
She closed her eyes. It still felt surreal, as though she might suddenly wake up any moment. But she knew it was not. “Now what will happen?”
His broad shoulders heaved briefly in a shrug. “Not really anything any different than how things were going.”
Her eyes flew open and she stared at him.
“What?” He peered at her. “Oh, you were thinking I was going to walk around like this all the time?” He laughed softly. “Oh no, darlin’. Only people who get to see what’s underneath are you and I. Tempting though it is to thumb my nose at everyone now that I have enough money to do so, I wouldn’t profane it that way. That makeup they use on people with burn scars is good stuff. If a week of it fooled you, it’ll fool everyone else for sure.” He shrugged again. “And if it doesn’t, if I’m somehow “unmasked,” so what? I’ll just buy me an island like I’ve always said I would and you and I’ll make our own little world.” He smiled. “I like the idea of being the wolf in sheep’s clothing, though, of walking among them, doing business with them, and them thinking I’m one of them, not so much as suspecting the predator and the freak that lies beneath.”
She continued to look at him, shocked. “Oh…you always intended to keep it covered?”
He looked back at her, running a hand along her stomach through the silk nightgown. “Of course. I told you, I wouldn’t profane that. They don’t need to know who and what I really am, or what is between you and me, the way I burn for you and only you.”
“Oh.” She was startled by that somehow, the intimacy of it, and she fell silent for long moments. “I’ll miss painting your face, though,” she laughed weakly.
He laughed softly. “Well, there’s always other ways to paint my face if you like, but I figured maybe you could be the one to paint it up for the real world to see every day. It’s for you, too, as much as me…my promise to you that there are secrets about me only you are permitted know…places inside me that only you can touch,” he said softly, and then the tattooed mask of his face changed, a strange, hard light awakening in his eyes. “And my promise to you that if anyone so much as tries to hurt you, they’ll have me to deal with, and they’ll rue the day.” He leaned forward and kissed her softly. “So I’ll guard your heart in my own way, and you can guard mine in yours.”
She was silent for long moments. “I don’t know what to say.”
He smiled softly. “Say you still love me and that all is forgiven…and that you’ll still be my wife.”
She gazed long and hard upon him. “All that sounds a bit too pat. It shouldn’t be so easy.”
He smirked. “Oh, it wasn’t. I assure you. I told you, I took a great deal of time in thinking about this, and if I had any doubts as to whether it would work the way I’m saying it does, I would never have done it. It caused me a considerable deal of agony, you’ll be happy to know.”
She sat up. “Well, gee, that’s such a comfort.” She sniffled a bit, wiping her eyes. Stray tears kept welling up on her here and there, and her own emotions were baffling her just as much as anything he had done or said. “The idea of you in agony just makes everything all better somehow,” she finished sourly.
“Well…” The heavy shoulders shrugged. “I really couldn’t blame you if you cheered that on at this moment.”
She snorted delicately and shook her head. “Like you said, not like it’s going to put your face back to the way it used to be.”
He nodded quietly. “True.”
Reaching out, she gently touched his face. “It must have really hurt,” she whispered.
He nodded. “A great deal. Hours upon hours of pain. I had it all done in one go. My friend who did it had to have someone to spell him for a while, it took so long. He told me I was crazy to get it all done at once.”
She shook her head slowly. “He was right. No wonder your face was all swollen when you came back from that business trip. And that was obviously not a business trip at all.”
“It doesn’t still hurt, does it?”
He shook his head. “Not really. Little sore, but nothing to really be bothered about.”
Still, she traced the velvety blackness his eyelids with care, staring at them in a sort of fascination. “I didn’t even think they would tattoo here, except for maybe permanent eyeliner or something.”
He smirked. “Well, my friend wasn’t real happy with it. It made him real leery, but it was what I wanted and so he did it because he said he worried that I’d go to some stranger and wave as much cash around as it took for me to get them to do what I wanted, and then I might have ended up blind, so he said he’d do it because then at least he knew I stood the best chance of that not happening with him at the wheel, so to speak. I made sure to give him plenty extra for the courtesy. Meant a lot to me, it did.”
She closed her eyes. “Mother of God.”
“That you would go and risk blindness, endure all that pain for something that’s going to really complicate your life.” She felt tears welling up again and ruthlessly jammed them back down.
He nodded. “I really wanted it and it was something I needed to do. All that pain was worth it. It was cathartic, too.”
She swallowed, her mind flinching away from all the implications of that paired with what he had said before, that he had done it for her as much as himself. “Do you like it?”
He smiled at her. “It pleases me a great deal. I’ve felt transformed, if that makes any sense. And it’s helped me to define some things, certain boundaries, if you will.”
She nodded slowly, watching him. “You’ve made this face your reality, and your old face the mask.”
“Exactly. And, well, ever since then, I’ve felt very at peace with things. Doing that helped me to accept certain things about myself.” He looked over at her. “It’s really botherin’ you, isn’t it, that I’ve gone and done this?”
Biting her lip, she didn’t answer, but ran her fingers slowly across his cheek. “I’m…I’m just really shocked. I mean, this isn’t paint anymore…it’s part of you now.”
He took her hand and kissed her palm lightly before laying it against his cheek. “Just like you’re a part of me now.”
She took a shaking breath, conscious of the warmth of his skin against her hand. “Could you not be laying the burden of that on me?”
“Sorry,” he said softly. “But I can’t lie to you either, it’s how I feel. This has all been a very deeply emotional thing for me. And I’ve been worried you would turn away from me.”
“But I thought you said you were sure…”
His smile was a bit sad. “I was sure you wouldn’t stop loving me because of it. Whether you would decide I’d just plain lost my mind and whether you’d be able to stand being with me anymore…well, that I wasn’t so sure of. I would have fought my hardest to keep you…” He turned and kissed her palm again. “Hell, I’ll still fight my hardest to keep you, because I know you haven’t quite digested this yet, and your decision might not turn out in my favor.”
Closing her eyes, she sagged back against the pillows, a torrent of tears bubbling up, despite her efforts to quash them, and they began sliding silently down her cheeks.
“Oh, darlin’, don’t cry,” he began, his voice cracking with anguish. “I don’t want you to cry. There’s nothing to be crying about.” He took her into his arms, red lips kissing her tears.
“But Will, your face…it’s permanent now, and I worry for you,” she began, her voice coming out strangled with the effort not to start sobbing. “You’re right…I don’t give a fuck about what they think is normal or not normal, but I worry about them making life hard on you if it ever comes out.”
“Don’t you worry about that, love. Don’t you worry. It’ll all be okay. I promise you.”
She cried harder at that.
Pained, he stroked her hair back from her face. “No, I do. I promise you. There are a lot of things I can give you now, parts of myself that I couldn’t before because I didn’t understand them.”
“Everything’s going to be more complicated…this is going to be so hard on you after a while, trying to hide this!” she began to sob brokenly.
“No,” he sighed. “No, doll, it won’t be. It’s actually easier on me to hide my new face from the world than it was to try to hide the fact from myself that I was different. It’ll be all right, really. You’re just scared now because it’s different. Maybe I should have handled telling you differently…I just couldn’t wait, though. And…I wanted to stir you up with it. I admit it.”
She shook her head back and forth, back and forth. “Nothing will ever be the same.”
He laughed. “You’re not worried that my money’s going to dry up because of this, are ya?”
She cried harder and punched him in the chest. “Oh, you fucking bastard. How dare you even tease me about that!”
He tried to smother his laughter as she pummeled him weakly. “Oh, I’m sorry. I just had to.” He went silent then, stroking her hair, his tattooed face losing its humor and growing graver as he watched her cry for a few moments and realized she wasn’t going to stop. “Shh…some of it will stay the same, but you’re right, some won’t. It’ll be better. Promise.” He kissed her eyes and her cheeks, his lips dragging against her flesh. His tongue dipped out once accidentally, to taste her tears. “I think I just need to show you. It’ll never seem real any other way.” He gave a small shudder and began kissing her bare neck.
“Oh great,” she hiccoughed. “Now you’re going to take advantage of my confused state. I thought you didn’t believe in that. You thought you’d be taking advantage of me long ago when we first met up, but somehow now it’s okay?”
He laughed softly, teasing the flesh of her throat with his tongue so that she moaned, in spite of her tears. “Yes. Because back then I told you things about myself that I wasn’t entirely proud of, and I wanted to give you a chance to back out. You’ll not get any such chance now, because I have no problem with what I’ve done to my face. I did nothing wrong. You’re just afraid right now because it’s shocked you.” He smiled against her neck. “Ain’t no way you’re getting away from me now, or ever, darlin’. And no one’s ever going to take you away from me, either.”