In the Flesh is a dark and sexy story that has had several incarnations in its shorter form, but never quite worked because it needed space to grow. I couldn’t think of a better place for it to grow. In the Flesh is a blend of paranormal erotica and almost, but not quite … okay, quite possibly … horror. What I’m sharing with you, this version, is an expanding work in progress. You get it just shortly after I write it, and as far as what happens next, well … we’ll see.
If I had been lost in the garden trying to get to the kitchen door of Chapel House, I was even more so trying to get away.
In my panic, there was no being quiet and, with each snapping of twig and rustling of undergrowth, I was certain someone was following me, certain I could hear footsteps right behind me. I had been attacked under the sculpture of the angel. Christ, had it been Michael after me all along? Though my own breathing sounded like a rush of wind, and the hammer of my pulse thrummed like thunder, still I was certain I heard the breath of another just behind me. Frantically I glanced over my shoulder, seeing nothing but the sway of the brambles and overgrown lilacs I’d just shoved my way through. Too late, I turned my attention back to the path. My foot caught on the upturned edge of a paving stone disturbed by an ancient hawthorn root that resembled a thick serpent shoving it’s way up from the depths. I did a belly flop, an outstretched bramble scratching my cheek as I went down. For an instant the world went black, flashes of colour exploded behind my eyelids, and then my vision returned. I would have screamed as the sudden scent of roses overwhelmed me, but there was no breath left for it, and stunned as I was, I couldn’t quite remember how to move. It was that same sense of paralysis I’d experienced in nightmares when I needed desperately to run away, to flee some horrible danger, and yet my body refused to respond.
Though my body refused to respond to the need to run, parts of it responded perfectly to the touch down my spine, the kneading caress of my bottom, the heat of muscle and sinew and heavy maleness stretched out alongside me, an insinuating knee between my legs making room for further exploration of fingers I could feel on bare skin in spite of knowing full well that I was still completely clothed. Another hand curled in my hair, pushing the tangle aside to expose my nape and the back of my neck, to clear a path for lips and teeth and tongue. I think I might have said ‘please don’t,’ but then I might have simply said ‘please.’ Wherever I was, it was not in my head. But I was most definitely in my body, nipples aching, hips shifting, oblivious to the hard rock of the path bruising ribs and belly, responding only to the fingers that had found me embarrassingly wet and needy. A little voice somewhere so far off that I could barely hear it kept whispering that I should fight back, that I should run away, but it was hard to listen to that voice when I felt like my whole body would burst into flame with longing for more of whatever it was, whoever it was teasing me so exquisitely. It was hard to listen to that small voice inside myself when something outside me whispered louder, whispered words I didn’t understand at first, all the while nibbling my ear lobe and trailing kisses down along my shoulder now somehow exposed. I must have gotten lost in the voice. I don’t know how long. It could have been a second, it could have been an eternity, but my next conscious thought was that I had been maneuvered onto my hands and knees, bottom raised, legs open, that my jeans and panties were down around my thighs and a body much larger than my own, mantled me, warm, naked, smelling of male lust, dark and heavy and primordial-thick as the fecund vegetation around me. No matter how good my imagination, I was certain the weight of an erection rubbing low against my spine was real, becoming more real with each passing moment as it slid up the cleft of my buttocks, seeking me out like a stag in rut.
“No one can give you what I can, Susan.’ This time I understood every word, felt the shape of warm lips against my ear. ‘I can show you such ecstasy, such beauty. I can show you the meaning of the universe and everything in it. I know your longings, your dreams, the depth of your heart, and I want you. To be wanted, to be possessed by a god. Is that not everyone’s deepest desire? And yet you, my beauty, you want more than that, don’t you? You want to possess god. Just like Lucifer before you, you want what god has. You want me to open myself to you, to pour my wisdom into you, my creative force as surely as I pour my lust into you.’ The hands had become insistent, groping breasts and belly, fingering me open, touching every part of me in ways even I didn’t know I wanted to be touched. The voice, the whisper, became so intimate that I could feel it inside my head, inside the blood pounding at my temples. ‘And then you want to take the mind of god and translate it, write it down with your gift of words and share it with the rest of humanity. Oh, I know you, my darling, and I know your deepest longing. You are the object of my lust, Susan, and the object of my love. I want no other. I desire only to make you my lover, and in doing so I will give you the mind of god.’
“But you’re not god.” The words erupted from my parched throat feeling as though I had vomited them from the depths just as the scent of roses gave way to burning garbage, and I gasped for air, shoving and clawing at the pavement against the weight on top of me. A gust of wind whipped my hair around in my face as I managed to pull myself into a sitting position. Suddenly free from the heaviness of the masculine body that had not really been there, at least not in the flesh, I fumbled my jeans up over my arse, embarrassed, angry and frustrated, but mostly just really, really scared. The flash of a knife was my only warning before Annie was on top of me, shoving me back down onto the jagged paving stones.
‘I told you to get out!’ She screamed, jamming a knee in my ribs. I caught her wrist and rolled just in time to keep her from plunging the knife into my stomach. ‘Your stuff, I threw it over the fence. You should have taken it and left. I don’t want you here. I never wanted you here. Now you’ve ruined it all. I’ll kill you! I will. I need him, and he needs me. He’ll understand that once you’re dead.’ She tried again to bring the knife down, but this time a large hand grabbed hold of her arm and yanked her off, tossing her into a bed of overgrown geraniums as though she weighed nothing, all the while she screamed and raged and cursed me. The next thing I knew, Michael jerked me to my feet and flung me over his shoulder like I was a sack of grain. I screamed and did my best to squirm free making useless attempts to knee him in the stomach. “You lied to me! It’s you! It was you all along, you sonovabitch! It was you all along!” The air reeked of burning rubbish and my lungs burned like fire. The wind had risen to near gale force and I could do nothing but close my streaming eyes and hang on as Michael shoved through the rank vegetation, slammed open the wrought iron gate and shoved me into the passenger seat of the lorry. ‘Let me out,’ I managed around a hacking cough. ‘You lied to me! Let me out now!’ But instead, he belted me in the seat and locked the door.
‘It wasn’t me, goddammit! Now shut up and sit still until I can get us out of here or it’s it’ll be all over.’
I didn’t argue further. I knew he was right. We needed to leave now. The wind rattled the truck as though it would turn it over, and for a terrifying moment I though it might. The air, even inside the cab was foul enough to make breathing secondary to not asphyxiating. Michael had pulled the collar of his t-shirt up over his mouth and nose, and I did the same with his jacket, stiff-legging the floorboard and bracing against the dash with the flat of my palm as Michael revved the engine and downshifted, shoving his way through a brutal headwind. He cursed, stomped hard on the gas pedal, and we sped toward the street. With a screech of tires on pavement and a quick swerve into traffic, the wind died completely away and the air cleared as though nothing out of the ordinary had happened. To everyone around us it was just a normal summer day.
“What about Annie? We can’t just leave her. He’ll kill her,” I said when I could speak again.
“He won’t kill her.” Michael kept both eyes on the road, but I didn’t miss the frequent glances in the rear-view mirror. “He’ll punish her by fucking her until she’s too weak to move, all the while telling her that she’s his only love, that his heart’s broken that she could be jealous, that she could think he’d want anyone else.”
I fought down panic at the thought. “She’s already weak. She’s just skin and bones, and she can hardly function now.”
“It won’t matter,” he replied. “ He knows just how close to the edge to take her. He’ll never kill her, and he’ll never let her die while she’s with him. Even when he replaces her with someone else, he never kills his lovers once he’s through with them. He doesn’t have to. He’s become their reason for living. Without his attentions, they’re all more than willing to sacrifice themselves to him. Look,” he said, glancing at me then back through the mirror, “right now there really is nothing you can do, and by going back you put yourself in danger. Don’t let her weakened condition fool you. She’d kill you in a heartbeat, and you’d be surprised just how strong her jealously, her lust for him will make her.”
“There has to be something we can do.”
“Not right now there isn’t. Not after what you’ve just been through, and not when both his attention and hers is fully on you. Now get some rest. You’re exhausted.”
Rest wasn’t my intention, forcing him to turn the truck right back around so I could go get my car and get the hell out of Dodge until I could figure what to do was my intention. I sure as hell had no reason to trust him now. But I did rest. That’s exactly what I did. I slept the sleep of exhaustion, blissful and dreamless with no room for thoughts of what might have happened if things had played out uninterrupted by a crazy friend with a sharp knife and man who might be an angel, or could possibly be even worse than what he’d rescued me from. Christ, sleep was the safest place for me. None of those thoughts needed to be visited, especially not when everything in me felt like an open wound too tender to even touch.
When I woke up, I was in a large bed down between midnight blue sheets that smelled slightly woody. From the angle of the sun it was clear most of the day had passed without my knowledge, which suited me just fine under the circumstances. I was still in that state of blurred consciousness I often had when waking. I was no longer in the oblivion of the unconscious, but not fully aware of the goings on in the waking world either. There’s something to be said for not being fully aware. My unconscious struggled to pull me back down into the dark cushioning layers of sleep, and the part of myself that was conscious made a heroic effort to comply. Not wanting to wake up became an imperative, one that my body would have been completely willing to obey had I not noticed Michael standing on the balcony beyond open French doors, silhouetted in the mauve and melon tones of the setting sun. “You’re awake,” he said, turning to face me. I could tell he was fresh from the shower. He was naked to the waist, dark hair curling around his ears. The white gauze curtains billowed on a breeze around his body obscuring and revealing and obscuring again. Beyond him I could make out the hunched backs and rocky outcroppings of the fells thrust up against the horizon. I thought we were in the Lake District, but I wasn’t sure. What was it, an hour by car, forty-five minutes? How long had I slept? I had no memory of him bringing me into the house or putting me into bed. That I was still fully clothed eased my fears a little bit, but then whatever it was that had attacked me in the gardens at Chapel House hadn’t needed to remove my clothing to take his jollies, nor to make me want him. I shivered in spite of the thick duvet spread over me, keeping my eyes on Michael, whom I still didn’t trust whether he had undressed me or not.
For an instant, with the curtains obscuring his legs and groin, with his hand outreached to push them aside revealing the curve of bicep and the straight broad expanse of chest and shoulders he could have passed for the statue in the ruined garden. Suddenly I was wide awake. Panic rose up my spine. I bolted from the bed and was halfway to the door before he caught me by the arm and gently steered me back into the room, settling me into a large wing-backed chair in front of a stone fireplace with no more effort than if I’d been an errant child. “It’s alright. You’re safe.”
“Safe, am I? Safe?” In spite of my best efforts to calm down, my voice rose with each word.
“You didn’t dream, did you?” He asked, pushing a strand of hair away from my face with the curl of a finger.
I shook my head. “How did you know?”
He shrugged one well-muscled shoulder and offered me a self-deprecating smile. “You were exhausted, and I knew if I could get you to sleep, I could keep you from dreaming.”
“You? You got me to sleep? Jesus!’ I whispered. “How?”
With a flash of memory, I recalled my first encounter with the angel in the overgrown garden, the inviting hand, the look of longing. The encroaching evening went silent around me, or maybe the thought, the impossible thought forcing its way front and center in my mind had simply blocked out everything else, everything not relevant to the situation. It was a thought I really would have preferred not to have, but there it was filling my brain, refusing to go away. I braced my feet hard against the floor to keep my legs from shaking, took a deep breath and gave that thought substance. “You’re an angel, aren’t you?” And just like that, I slid deeper into the rabbit hole.