Vengeful (Page 18)

“Marcella,” she said, uncrossing and recrossing her legs.

He smiled. “Marcus and Marcella,” he said, lifting his drink. “We sound like a matching set.”

Someone turned the music up, and his next words were lost under the bass.

“What did you say?” she called over the song, and he took the opportunity to close the gap between them. She shifted her legs to the side, and he stepped closer, smelling like apples and linen, clean and crisp, such a welcome change from the sticky, tacky grime of lazy, drunken bodies.

He rested his beer on the counter just beside her arm, the cold glass brushing her elbow and sending a small shiver through her. A slow smile crossed his face.

He leaned in close, as if telling her a secret. “Follow me.”

He stepped back, taking the scent of linen and the blush of heat with him.

He didn’t pull her off the counter, but she felt pulled, drawn in his wake as he turned away, slipped through the crowd. She followed him, through the party, up the stairs, down the hall to a bedroom door.

“Still with me?” he asked, glancing back.

The door swung open onto a room at odds with the rest of the frat house. The laundry was hampered, the desk clean, the bed made, the only clutter a neat stack of books on the comforter.

Marcella hovered in the doorway, waiting to see what he’d do next. If he would come to her, or make her come to him.

Instead, Marcus went to the window, slid up the glass, and stepped out onto a widow’s walk. A fall breeze whispered through the room as Marcella followed, slipping off her heels.

Marcus offered his hand and helped her up and through. The city spiraled away beneath them, the darkened buildings a sky, the lights like stars. Merit always looked larger at night.

Marcus sipped his beer. “Better?”

Marcella smiled. “Better.”

The music, obnoxiously loud downstairs, was now a muted pulse against her back.

Marcus leaned against the wooden rail. “You from here?”

“Not far,” she said. “You?”

“Born and raised,” he said. “What are you studying?”

“Business,” she said shortly. Marcella hated small talk, but that was because so often it felt like a chore. Just noise, empty words meant to fill empty space. “Why did you bring me up here?”

“I didn’t,” he said, all mock innocence. “You followed me.”

“You asked,” she said, realizing he hadn’t. There’d been no question in his voice, only a simple command.

“You were about to leave,” said Marcus. “And I didn’t want you to.”

Marcella considered him. “Are you used to getting what you want?”

The edge of a smile. “I have a feeling we both are.” He returned her long look. “Marcella the Business Major. What do you want to be?”

Marcella twirled her beer. “In charge.”

Marcus laughed. A soft, breathy sound.

“You think I’m joking?”

“No,” he said. “I don’t.”

“How do you know?”

“Because,” he said, closing the narrow space between them, “we are a matching set.” A breeze cut through, just crisp enough to make her shiver.

“We better go inside,” said Marcus, pulling away.

He stepped back through the window, offering his hand. But this time he didn’t lead.

“After you,” he said, gesturing toward the bedroom door. It was still cracked open, music and laughter pouring up from the party below. But when Marcella reached the door, she hesitated, fingers coming to rest against the wood. She could picture Marcus standing a few feet behind her, hands in his pockets, waiting to see what she would do.

She pushed the door shut.

The lock caught with a soft click, and Marcus was there as if summoned, lips brushing the back of her neck. His hands slid, feather light, over her shoulders, against her waist. Heat flooded through her at the almost-touch.

“I won’t break,” she said, turning in time to catch Marcus’s mouth with hers. He pressed into her, pushed her back against the wood. Her nails dug into his arms as he unbuttoned his shirt. His teeth scraped her shoulder as her own came off. They laid waste to the order of his room, shedding clothes, knocking over a chair, a lamp, sweeping the books from the bed as Marcus pressed her down into the sheets.

They fit together perfectly.

A matching set.

II

FOUR WEEKS AGO

DOWNTOWN MERIT

THE cab stopped in front of the Heights, a pale stone spire seated in the heart of the city. Marcella paid the driver in cash and climbed out, her limbs a dull roar of pain with every step.

When she had first discovered the secret apartment—on a g*****n bank statement—she’d assumed the worst, but Marcus had claimed the place was purely practical. A safe house. He’d even insisted on bringing her there, showing off his thorough work—her favorite designer labels in the closet, her brand of coffee in the cupboard, her shampoo in the shower.

And Marcella had actually believed him.

Found a way to make it their secret instead of his. Now and then she’d phone him up, insisting there was some emergency, and he’d somberly order her to meet him at the safe house, and he’d arrive to find her waiting, wearing nothing but a gold ribbon carefully wrapped and finished with a bow.

Now the image of the tawdry pink lipstick flared like pain behind Marcella’s eyes.

What a fool.

The concierge rose from the front desk to greet her.

“Mrs. Riggins,” said Ainsley, surprise lighting his face. He glanced quickly at her ill-fitting clothes, the bandages peeking out from collar and cuff, but the residents at the Heights paid for discretion as much as floor-to-ceiling windows (now Marcella wondered how many times Ainsley had employed that same discretion with her husband).

“Is . . . everything all right?” he ventured.

She flicked a wrist dismissively. “It’s a long story.” And then, after a moment, “Marcus isn’t here, is he?”

“No, ma’am,” he said solemnly.

“Good,” said Marcella. “I’m afraid I’ve forgotten my keys.”

Ainsley nodded briskly and rounded the desk to summon the elevator. When the doors opened, he followed her inside. As it rose, she rubbed her forehead, as if simply tired, and asked the date.

The concierge told her, and Marcella stiffened.

She’d been in the hospital for almost two weeks.

But that didn’t matter, not now. What mattered was that it was a Friday night.

She knew exactly where Marcus would be.

The elevator stopped. Ainsley followed her out onto the fourteenth floor, unlocked the cream-colored door, and wished her a pleasant night.

Marcella waited until he was gone, then stepped inside and flicked on the lights.

“Honey, I’m home,” she cooed to the empty apartment. She should have felt something—a pang of sorrow, or regret—but there was only the ache in her skin and the rising tide of anger beneath, and when she reached for one of the wineglasses on the counter, it warped under her touch and turned to sand. A thousand grains rained down between Marcella’s glowing fingers, spilled onto the floor.

She stared down at her hand, the remains of the glass dusting her palm. The strange light was already sinking back beneath her skin, and when she reached for a fresh glass, it held under her touch.

A bottle of chardonnay sat chilling in the fridge, and Marcella poured herself a drink and flicked on the news—now eager to know what she’d missed—as she clicked the volume up and headed for the bedroom.

One of Marcus’s shirts lay thrown across the bed . . . along with one of her own. The glass in her hand threatened to give, so Marcella set it aside. The doors to the walk-in closet were thrown wide, Marcus’s dark suits lining one wall, while the rest was given over to a medley of couture dresses, blouses, heels.

Marcella glanced back at the clothes still twined in a lover’s embrace atop the bed and felt her anger rising like steam. Fingers glowing, she ran her hand along her husband’s side of the closet, and watched the garments fade and rot under her touch. Cotton, silk, and wool all withered and dropped from the hangers, crumbling by the time they hit the floor.

Hell hath no fury, she thought, dusting her palms.

Satisfied—no, not satisfied, nowhere near satisfied, but momentarily appeased—Marcella took up her drink and went into the luxury bathroom, where she set the glass on the rim of the marble sink and began to peel away the frumpy stolen clothes. She stripped until she was dressed in nothing but bandages. The sterile white wrappings weren’t nearly as seductive as the gold ribbons, but they seemed to trace the same path across her leg, her stomach, her arms.

Marking her. Mocking her.

Marcella’s hands twitched with the sudden urge to reach out and ruin something, anything. Instead she stood there and took in her reflection, every angle, every flaw, memorized it while she waited for the rage to pass—not vanish, no, simply retract, like a cat’s claws. If this new power was temporary, a thing with limits, she didn’t want to pass them. She needed her nails sharp.

The painkillers from the hospital were wearing off, and her head was ringing, so Marcella dug two Vicodin out of her emergency supply beneath the sink, washed them down with the last of the chardonnay, and went to get ready.

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