I stop in the hallway with my hand still clasped in his. I don’t want to go any farther.
“It’s OK,” Fredrik says gently, tugging on my hand. “I’m not taking you down there.”
Urging me to continue, we walk only as far as the bathroom door and I find myself breathing again once we step inside.
Fredrik opens the glass shower door and turns on the water. I feel strange standing here. Waiting. Wanting to look at the bathroom in awe the same way I did the hallway, but I want to look at Fredrik more. His hard, tanned body, the strength of his solid, bulging calf muscles, the perfect curvature of his oblique muscles and how they dip down into his pelvis in a strong, masculine pattern. His six-pack abs that I still can’t get out of my head from last night as I grazed them under my fingertips when he was on top of me. When he was inside of me. Just thinking about last night makes me ache with need and tingle with warmth beneath my belly. Not just because of the sex, but because of how different Fredrik was from every other time before. He didn’t just take me, he cherished me.
A blush warms my face when he turns from the glass door and looks at me with those magnetic deep blue eyes.
He guides me with him into the shower.
The steaming water streams down on me, and it’s heavenly, but nothing is more heavenly than the feeling of his hands gently massaging the shampoo into my hair, or his lips on my wet shoulders, or the sides of my neck.
“Where would you like to go today?” he whispers against my ear.
A shiver runs up my spine.
Surprised by the question, I turn my head at an angle to get a glimpse of him behind me. His large hands steadily massage my hair.
“What do you mean?” I know what he means, but I can hardly believe he’s even considering taking me out of the house.
His lips fall on the corner of my mouth.
“Wherever you want to go,” he says. “You name it and I’ll take you there.”
Turning me around, he guides my head back under the steady stream of water. I close my eyes as he rinses the shampoo from my hair.
“I-I don’t know,” I say when he finally pulls me away from the stream and I can open my eyes again.
He smiles and looks a little surprised himself.
“You can’t think of anywhere?” he asks. “Not one place?”
I look up, pressing my lips together in a hard line on one side of my mouth, pondering the possibilities.
“Manhattan. Greenwich Village,” I say brokenly as I slowly recall the place. “I haven’t had a good hot dog in a really long time.”
Fredrik smiles and it makes me blush.
He does everything for me, washing me from head to toe, carefully cleaning around the healing, yet still very tender wounds around my ankle. And he kisses me under the constant stream of water. On the shoulders. The sides and center of my throat. The corners of my mouth. My forehead. My lips. And as much as I’d love to let him take me right here in the shower, I’m equally content that he doesn’t touch me in that way, and is very self-controlled.
When we’re done, Fredrik stands me in front of the steam-laden mirror, his chest and pelvic area touching me lightly from behind. He’s hard, but still he doesn’t lose self-control and it only makes me want him more.
I feel the tip of his finger tracing the scars on my back. Then he dips his head and his lips fall on them, one by one.
“Can you tell me where you got these scars?” he asks, kissing another one.
The question throws me off. Not because he asked, but because…I can’t remember.
“I…I don’t really know.”
It frustrates me wholly. I thought I had remembered everything about my past. How could I not remember something as unforgettable as the scars on my back? Fredrik always touches them. Since the first night he brought me here, he’s always had an interest in them. He would lie me on my stomach across my bed downstairs and gently pull my nightgown up to my shoulders. He would trace his fingers across the scars—just as he’s doing now. And then the tip of his tongue as if he were tasting and savoring a memory. I never knew the scars were there until I asked him what it was about my back that he seemed to treasure so much.
“It’s all right,” he says raising his head. “You don’t have to remember everything.”
I feel like he’s somewhat relieved that I don’t know. But that’s ridiculous. Why would he be relieved that I couldn’t remember any part of my past when we’ve both fought so hard and for so long to unravel everything?
I brush it off and smile to myself, thinking of only him. Of us. Being here together.
But then scars flash across my mind that I do remember. Absently, I finger the ones on my thighs—six on each side—cut in a perfect horizontal line three inches across. Fredrik’s hand touches mine, moving it away from them—the scars he made when he tortured me in that chair on the other side of the basement.
“I’m sorry I did that to you,” he says, his voice laced heavily with sadness and regret and shame and guilt. “I don’t want you to forgive me. Because I’ll never forgive myself.”
“But I do—”
He places his fingers over my lips. Instantly I’m compelled to shut my eyes and kiss them, but I don’t.
“Things will be different from now on,” he says with his lips against the side of my neck. Then I feel a soft towel rubbing gently against my back as he begins to dry me off.
“Fredrik,” I say almost in a whisper, “what made you change your mind?”
He squeezes the ends of my hair with the towel, soaking the water into the thick cotton.
“None of that matters,” he says. “I don’t want you to think about any of that.”
“But what about Seraphina?” I ask quietly, nervously.
His hands stop moving and I feel him sigh behind me.
“Most of all,” he says regretfully, “I don’t want you to worry about her.”
“But she’s looking for me. And I know you can protect me, but I’m still terrified of her. I’m most afraid when you’re gone. When it’s just me and Greta here.”
I feel the towel drop and then his hands cupping my upper arms. He kisses the top of my head, standing so much taller than me. And I know that it’s just an affectionate gesture, but I can’t help but feel it’s also one of regret, or maybe even grief.
“Cassia, would you believe me if I told you she couldn’t hurt you if you didn’t think about her?”