Five in, hold, five out. Repeat.
I’d lived by the ritual since the day he’d stolen my innocence. Only now I was stuck on hold. If I didn’t breathe, then I wasn’t alive. If I wasn’t alive, then I couldn’t feel.
His gaze lowered to my filthy tee. “Take that damn thing off.”
Air whooshed from my lungs in a rebellious rush, and my chest resumed its natural rise and fall. But I wasn’t breathing, and I didn’t know how my arms moved without a heart that pumped life through it, how my fingers grasped the bottom of the shirt that belonged to Rafe.
His shirt. On my body.
If I closed my eyes and pretended, I could almost feel Rafe’s arms around me, his mouth moistening my neck, his warm palms on my breasts, brushing across hardened nipples. Could almost hear the husky way he spoke to me, his tone full of command yet quiet with vulnerability. I chewed my lip to stop it from trembling, but my chest shook with the rising tide of grief.
I jerked my gaze to my brother’s hardened expression. Even after all he’d done, I couldn’t think of him differently. I still remembered him as the boy I’d latched onto when I was six, when our parents made the colossal mistake of merging our families. Reality demanded I think of him as a murderer, but that only brought me back to the fact that I wasn’t breathing. Still. Not. Breathing.
Rafe’s not dead. Not dead. Dead, dead, dead…
The thought fired through my synapses, on constant repeat.
“You fucking reek of him!” Zach’s hazel eyes spit poison, as potent as the arsenic boiling in his soul. “Take it off.”
I lifted Rafe’s shirt over my head and stared, transfixed as the soft gray cotton dropped to the hardwood. I wanted to yank it back and bury my nose in it, inhale Rafe’s essence the way lungs hungered for air. Zach pulled me from the trance by sliding my sweats down my legs. I stepped free, holding onto his shoulder to keep from tipping over.
“Get him off of you,” he said with a rough shove into the shower stall.
A zipper lowered, clothing rustled, and the familiar sounds shivered through me. He switched on the water, and for a few blessed seconds the chaos in my mind fell silent, immersed in the roar of the spray. I crossed my arms over my chest and clawed at my biceps, dug my nails in deep until all that penetrated was pain. Leaning my forehead on the cold tile, I welcomed the numbness that blanketed me. I knew what was coming, and I didn’t want to be present for it.
Numb, Alex. Pay no attention to his hand slithering down your spine.
My protective cocoon threatened to dissipate as he bent me over, his naked front pressed to my back. My palms slammed against the wall, and he wound an arm around me, his fingers dipping between my thighs. I clenched my teeth to keep from crying. I wouldn’t cry for Zach. There was only one man I wanted to spill tears for and he was…
I gasped a breath and held, clenching my jaw as Zach’s cock pushed past my body’s rigidity. Warm droplets of water coursed down my face and shoulders, but the space between my thighs remained dry as a desert. I pressed closer to the tile, wishing I could escape him, wishing I could melt into the wall and disappear forever.
“The hell, Lex? You’re dry as fuck.” He pulled out then shoved in so violently, I arched to my toes. My teeth tugged at my lower lip and the metallic tang of blood lingered on my tongue. “I spent years molding you,” he said with a grunt, pumping a steady, harsh rhythm that punished from the inside out. “Bastard corrupted you.”
A whimper escaped my tight lips. “You’re hurting me.”
“Isn’t that how you like it? Come for me.”
It wasn’t going to happen. Icy fear doused my skin, battling the warmth of the water. How could I come if I wasn’t breathing? Wasn’t alive? I wasn’t alive.
I’m not here. This isn’t real. I’m safe in Rafe’s arms right now, having the nightmare from hell. Wake up…
Zach roared his release with a final plunge, ramming to the hilt and triggering sharp pain that spread outward from my cervix. The fog in my head enveloped me, and I barely noticed him rubbing my body down with soap until he turned me in the spray to rinse it away. He shut off the water, ushered me from the stall, and hauled me to the bed, dripping wet.
“You’re gonna scream my name.” He shoved me to my back and grabbed my ankles, his fingers trapping like shackles, and dragged me to the edge of the mattress. Forcing my thighs apart, he dropped to his knees. My mind left me, floated to the island and the memory of the dark abyss that had claimed Rafe. I visualized him breaking the surface and pulling himself onto land, but the daydream fractured, and I let out a startled yelp.
Something pinched my clit.
Zach, on his knees with his face buried in my pussy. His teeth clamped down unbearably hard, but the pain did nothing, didn’t even ignite a spark. No feeling, no forbidden rush of adrenaline storming through me. It might have been minutes. It might have been hours. I never came, never even got close, and no amount of him slapping me, pinching flesh and twisting nipples, would bring about an orgasm. Some previously dormant switch had been tripped.
Rafe had done that in the week we'd had together, when the walls had crumbled between us and I'd learned what it was like to feel cherished.
Possibly even loved.
“Snap out of it!” Zach slammed his fist into my face, and I cried out as the blow echoed along my cheekbone. He’d never hit me in such a visible place. I gaped at him as his finger curled inside me, pressing the spot that usually sent me soaring. He returned my stare, eyes narrowed dangerously, waiting. “Squirt like a fucking whore.”
“Never again,” I said, gritting my teeth. “Not for you.”
He jerked forward, fist raised.
“Go ahead! Hit me again. Kill me.” Please, God, let him kill me. “I’d rather die than be with you.”
A combination of hurt and violence darkened his features. I flinched, certain his knuckles were two seconds from connecting with my cheekbone again.
“You don’t mean that,” he said, his voice incongruent with the hard line of his jaw. “You’ll love me again. Somewhere inside you is the little girl who made me her world.”
“That girl was your sister!”
“I’ve never looked at you that way, Lex, and you know it. There’s no blood between us, so stop hiding behind shame. What we have is unstoppable.”