As the situation grows more intense and Annie’s condition deteriorates, in episode 21 of In The Flesh, Michael and Susan help each other.
In the Flesh is very dark paranormal erotica. When Susan Innes comes to visit her friend, Annie Rivers, in Chapel House, the deconsecrated church that Annie is renovating into a home, she discovers her outgoing friend changed, reclusive, secretive, and completely enthralled by a mysterious lover, whose presence is always felt, but never seen, a lover whom she claims is god. As her holiday turns into a nightmare, Susan must come to grips with the fact that her friend’s lover is neither imaginary nor is he human, and even worse, he’s turned his wandering eye on Susan, and he won’t be denied his prize. If Susan is to fight an inhuman stalker intent on having her as his own, she’ll need a little inhuman help.
To read the story in its entirety up to this point, follow these links to Part 1 Part 2 Part 3 Part 4 Part 5, Part 6, Part 7, Part 8, Part 9, Part 10, Part 11, Part 12, Part 13, Part 14, Part 15, Part 16, Part 17, Part 18, Part 19, Part 20.
In The Flesh Chapter 21
‘It’s not all you want, just for Annie to be okay. You’re bargaining, Susan. In your head you’re bargaining.’ As Michael came and settled beside me on the bed, I could smelled the cold fell air on his skin and the hard muscles of his forearm were cool as he brushed against me. He took Annie’s hand and gently tucked it back under the duvet, then he took mine in his own. ‘You want to go back to be with Him. You think if you go back to Him, he’ll make everything all better because you’re certain that you’re the one he’s been waiting for all these centuries.’
When I tried to pull away, tried to be offended, he held me tight. ‘I know that’s what you want, Susan, because it’s what I want too. It’s what anyone who’s ever been the center of His attention would want, but they’re all dead.’ His words were like an ice bath waking me from a deep sleep with a cold that went clear to the core of me. He continued. ‘They’re all dead because of Him. It’s just the three of us now. And Annie, well no matter what happens, just like you and me, she’ll want that same thing, she’ll want with all of her being to go to Him. Until her dying day that’s what she’ll want, and that day won’t be long in coming if we can’t figure out what to do to imprison the Guardian again.’
I bit my lip and looked down at his large hand folded over mine, his thumb stroking my knuckles in much the way I had Annie’s. ‘Is that why you left the study while Magda was reading? Because you wanted to go to Him?’
He took a deep breath and looked up at me from beneath thick lashes. ‘Partly. Your … account of what happened to you in the crypt, your first encounter with Him, made me think of my first time being in His presence, made me think about what it had cost to be free of Him.’ He suddenly seemed to have trouble breathing, ‘And it made me realize once again that I’m not free of Him. I want to go to Him so badly that it feels like fire burning me up insides, and I’m not likely to ever be free of Him unless Magda can figure something out.’
For a moment we sat in silence. ‘I’m sorry,’ I said at last. ‘I didn’t know when I wrote those things.’ I bit back a sob. ‘I didn’t even remember writing them until Magda started reading, and even then it’s sketchy in places. But I never meant to hurt you. I didn’t even know you.’
‘I didn’t think that you meant to hurt me,’ he said. ‘I wasn’t offended, believe me, I wasn’t. It was
just, well I remembered all over again His way … His way of never letting go of anyone He’s ever touched, and I felt it more strongly in your words than I had since I was the object of His affection, that’s all. Well, that and, I was jealous. I’m always jealous when someone else has His attention. Just like you are. Just like Annie is.’
‘Christ, I’ve made such a mess of things!’ I shoved my way off the bed and paced the perimeter of the room, which was small, almost dungeon-like by comparison to my own. ‘I can’t just sit here and do nothing.’
‘You’re not doing nothing,’ he said watching me pace. ‘You’re working with people who can help. Magda has a plan and you have to trust her.’
‘How can I trust her when she left me in the crypt? And what kind of magic is she working on Annie? How do I know that her solution is not to just kill Annie and be done with it?’
Michael’s jaw tightened beneath the stubble that had grown enough to make him look even more dangerous than he usually did. ‘If she wanted your friend dead, she’d already be dead, not lying here in a clean bed in a safe house.’
‘A safe house? With a vampire and a succubus, and who knows what else? A werewolf or two? Maybe an army of zombies? Fuck, I’m open to anything these days. Good thing the beasties and ghouls are all on our side, isn’t it, Michael?’
‘It is, actually,’ he said in a voice so calm that you’d think I’d just made some benign comment about the weather. Then he added, ‘they all work for Magda. Well, Alonso does, the others work for him. Talia and Reese are his familiars.’
‘Jesus, I’m living a Bram fucking Stoker novel!’
The unexpected chuckle of a response was laced with a hint of bitterness. ‘Oh nothing so simple as that.’ Then before I could question further he said, ‘Look, Magda does what’s necessary, and she seems to be able to see and understand just what that may be without all the squeamish grey areas of conscience most of the world has.’
‘That doesn’t make me feel any better, Michael. What? We’re all just collateral damage if she decides it’s best to throw the baby out with the bath water? Is that it? Who the hell is she, anyway, and why does she always wear those Men In Black glasses?’
His lips thinned to a tight, straight line, as though they were suddenly sealed. ‘Her story’s not mine to tell. You’ll have to ask her yourself.’
‘I bloody well will,’ I said, turning toward the door.
‘Wait!’ He grabbed my hand and guided me out into the silent corridor, pulling the door shut behind. ‘She’s not here at the moment. You can talk to her when she gets back.’
‘Where is she?’
‘On business that’s none of mine, or yours.’ He said, tightening his grip on my hand. ‘She keeps her own council and for the most part the less I know about it, the happier I am. I wager Alonso feels the same.’
‘She’s a scary bitch, that’s what she is,’ I said, wishing the instant I’d said it that I hadn’t, wondering if maybe she was listening, just waiting to catch me out, to catch me saying or doing something I shouldn’t, so she could lock me back down in the crypt. Maybe I was the bate; Maybe I was the collateral damage necessary to imprison the Guardian again.
‘No one who knows her would argue that point,’ Michael said. ‘But she’s the only one here who has a clue how to deal with the Guardian, the only one I know to ever imprison Him. And He was there, safely out of commission for a long time, a very long time, thanks to her.’
‘Until I released Him.’
‘I have no doubt He deceived you into it. No one was supposed to be able to hear him or be aware of him in any way, and no one has been before you. Magda says it’s to do with you being a Scribe. I don’t understand it all. She’ll have to explain.’
‘I’ll add that to my list of topics for conversation at our next little coffee clutch,’ I said.
‘Despite the woman being a scary bitch, or possibly because she’s a scary bitch, she’s our best chance of locking Him away again,’ Michael said.
‘You believe that?’
He nodded. ‘If we do as she says, I think she’ll get us out of this situation without that collateral damage you mentioned. If we do as she says.’ At the passage that led down into the basement to Alonso’s study, he turned aside and led me up a winding set of stone steps circling what had to be the inside of a tower.
‘Where are we going? What’s going on?’ I asked, struggling on the uneven steps. The words were barely out of my mouth before, halfway up the stairs, he pulled me through an arched doorway we both had to stoop to enter, and into a round stone room not much bigger than a janitor’s closet. It contained nothing but a twin bed and a nightstand, the only light coming from a small slit of a window at the back of a curved wall. Nothing else caught my attention before he slammed a heavy wooden door shut behind us and took my mouth in a scorching kiss pressing me up tight against the wall until I could feel the hard geography of his body shifting and undulating against mine which, before I knew what was happening was returning the favor.
‘Where are we? What the fuck are you doing?’ I honestly didn’t care what the answer to the first question was, and the second was just plain stupid, really. I knew the answer, and I knew what I was doing too, as I tugged at the belt to his jeans. There might have been a small part of me wondering how I could jump from the roller coaster of concern for my friend and plotting to get back to the Guardian to wanting to shag Michael’s brains out, but I shoved the thought aside as he went to work on the buttons of my shirt.
‘The mark, my mark,’ he emphasized. ‘It burns because it’s not been reinforced properly. I had intended to take care of it. Believe me, I was looking forward to it, but between the Guardian and Magda, I didn’t get the chance. It needs to be made stronger if it’s going to help protect you. Or me.’ He shoved the shirt off my shoulder and all but ripped the hooks of my bra open before he scooped my breast free, bent and began a delicious, tetchy suckle and bite, suckle and bite of the mark he’d left just above my nipple during our earlier love-making. If the Guardian’s touch had brought me excruciating pain through that mark, the feel of Michael’s tongue, his teeth, his lips brought me exquisite pleasure – far more pleasure than even his skilled fondling of my breasts should have been able manage.
As I ripped at his fly, he returned the favor, shoving my jeans and knickers down over my arse with a slight of hand that felt like magic … probably was magic, come to think of it. I wriggled and squirmed them down around my ankles and kicked one leg free, sending a shoe skittering across the stone floor, all the while he sucked and nipped, cupped and explored, and the mark sent heat waves of pleasure through every nerve ending in my body.
‘Get ‘em off! Get ‘em off, get ‘em off,’ had suddenly become my mindless mantra. I was much less graceful in my efforts than Michael had been in his, my hands made awkward, fingers unsteady by my own need. He responded to my uncomfortable tugging and shoving with a harsh, humid grunt against my breast. While wriggling and shifting as best he could in order to aid my efforts, he brought a jean-clad knee in between my thighs to open my legs, then teased me by bringing it up to rub and stroke until I was all but squatting onto it, rocking against it. Then he lost patience, gave a guttural curse, and shoved my hands away to deal with his uncooperative jeans himself. All the while his mouth remained hard at work on my breast, on his mark.
With that same slight of hand movement that had freed me from my clothing, he managed his jeans –commando beneath, I noticed — though I barely had time to notice anything before he cupped my buttocks in large, calloused hands and lifted me. In one effortless thrusting of his hips, he pushed up inside me, gasping as though someone had knocked the breath out of him. I arched my back against the wall to get closer to his efforts, my legs circling his waist, one foot still trailing jeans and knickers, frantic to get a grip, frantic to have him where I needed him.
He bit my breast, and this time I did feel pain, delicious ecstatic pain that radiated in waves down over my belly to throb like a heartbeat deep in my core each time he thrust. Then he raised his head, taking my mouth savagely before pulling away, bathing me in the hot coffee scent of his breath and the hotter, darker, scent of his lust. ‘I won’t share you with Him, Susan. You belong to me now, and I might have been forgettable in your little account that Magda so kindly read, but I’m not now, nor will I ever be again.’
I grabbed him by the hair with a white-knuckled fist and forced his mouth back to my breast.
‘Then you bloody well better make sure I don’t forget, Michael; do you understand me?’
In response, he bit again, and I cried out, but this time in orgasm, my head thump-thumping against the wall with each convulsive tremor as Michael clamped down hard and suckled as though he were a vampire and I was the main course. In all honestly, I wasn’t sure that he hadn’t drawn blood. Whether he had or not, the delicious result of the act was his own release, with each brutal pounding of his hips filling me with his fire, burning me, biting me, suckling me until the world disappeared, until I couldn’t recall my own name if my life depended upon it; until I could recall only one name, the only name on my lips over and over again, ‘Michael! Michael! Michael!’