TABLE OF CONTENTS!
- Chapter One
- Chapter Two
- Chapter Three
- Chapter Four
- Chapter Five
- Chapter Six
- Chapter Seven
- Chapter Eight
- Chapter Nine
- Chapter Ten
- Chapter Eleven
- Chapter Twelve
Salena had come back in the early hours of the morning and crawled into bed beside her. Aria hadn’t bothered hiding that she was still awake. Instead, she kept her gaze glued to the ceiling, counting the imaginary pinpricks as she waited for her girlfriend to say something. Anything.
After what she had done, her infidelity was likely tattooed on her skin. It was a scarlet letter. She felt it like it was a great neon light casting their bedroom in a hideous, crimson glow.
Salena said nothing. It was almost as if Aria didn’t exist as she sank beneath the covers.
Strangely, she was able to fall asleep soon after. Not because she was comforted by her girlfriend’s presence but because she could rest in knowing their betrayal hadn’t been noticed.
The morning came and went, passed in its usual fashion. Eli hadn’t come out of the bedroom, not even for breakfast. So, with a certain measure of slick-palmed anticipation, she delivered the food to her. Aria worried that her ex might say something. That she might want to talk about what had happened.
But Eli didn’t. Instead, Aria was met with a knowing smile. The sort of grin that caused her thighs to tense and her core to ache.
Aria had to go to work—she had a life outside of the house. And for the better, frankly. She knew that if she stayed there a moment longer, she would crawl up the walls.
It had been one thing to have Eli there, but it was another to have to confront a few unsavory truths:
- Aria was becoming increasingly convinced that Eli wasn’t wholly human.
- She had just cheated on Salena with her ex.
- It had been impossibly good.
As the day passed, she continued to rationalize what had happened. She tried not to think too much about how the two were alone in the apartment. If she did, she would start painting elaborate pictures of the two comparing notes. Eli would share what had happened with a glib satisfaction staining her lips, and Salena would react poorly, fueled by jealousy and an already hot temper.
But what would Eli say? That she watched her come? It wasn’t like it was the first time. That she told her how to touch herself?
Aria tried not to think about what had led them there. She couldn’t without feeling a tempest of desire awake between her legs. She had made the mistake of recalling how Eli’s eyes had roved over her and had to go mop up immediately.
They had always had a stunning physical connection. But Eli had come into herself with age. She had more confidence and a seemingly better grip on what she liked.
Things she wished to see.
Things Aria knew she shouldn’t show her.
She waged war with herself, torn between wanting to repeat the night they shared and knowing they shouldn’t.
It wasn’t cheating.
But it was.
It wasn’t wrong.
But of course, it was.
Aria felt like she was being crushed under the weight of her guilty conscience. She couldn’t focus on much for too long, ultimately leading to her poorly timed lunch break. A break that would, undoubtedly, go on far longer than it should have.
Aria had once prided herself on her work ethic, but returning to Sanctuary Hills had obliterated whatever ill-conceived notions she had about herself. She cared less for the life she led and more for the life she imagined. Too easily—too often—she lost herself to thoughts of futures unwritten. Like the one where Eli took the toy in her hand and buried it inside her—where she replaced her fingers with her tongue and pleasured her how she used to.
“Excuse me!” A high-pitched voice squeaked.
Aria turned on her heel to face the stranger, only to have to shift her gaze downward quickly.
A heavily tattooed woman of Asian descent stared up at her. Her dark hair was twisted into an ornately braided rendition of space buns. She wore what appeared to be a few layers of brightly colored jackets and a neon pink graphic liner. Doing her best to hide her surprise, Aria cleared her throat. “Hi, yes?”
“Hi,” the woman greeted, reaching out a hand for Aria to take. The action seemed foreign—stilted—as if she was only doing it because she felt like it should be done. Not a habit. “My name is Yuina,” she said, her voice taking on a nervous lilt.
“Aria,” she replied, squeezing the woman’s hand while her expression shifted into something near concerned.
She was then confused when the woman’s face brightened. “Aria? Oh wow!” Yuina bounced, her legs lifting in an in-place jog. “Did she find you?”
Aria’s head quirked slightly, her brows furrowing. “What?”
Yui’s expression paled, her mouth falling into a gloomy frown. “Elizaveta,” she said her name so quietly it was as if she was afraid that the wind would carry it somewhere it didn’t belong. “She’s here. Looking for you. We came from Vegas. To find you.”
Aria rocked back on her heels, her eyes widening. She had known that Eli had come to Sanctuary Hills partly because of her, but she hadn’t thought it was specifically for her. And Eli never mentioned traveling with another woman.
“I’m… I’m sorry, who are you?”
“Yuina,” the woman repeated, her expression twisting in pity as if she suspected Aria suffered from short-term memory loss.
“Yes, Yuina. But who are you to Eli?”
“Oh,” she giggled and lifted her shoulders apologetically. “I’m her best friend,” she explained, exhaling sharply. “I found a job in town, and Eli was going to keep looking for you. We were supposed to meet after my shift, but she was just… gone. I haven’t heard from her, and I’m just,” her voice broke, her lip trembling. “I’m worried about her.”
Aria stood perfectly still, like a deer in headlights. A part of her was desperate to console the stranger. She knew that she should tell Yui that Eli was all right. But another part of her—the part that had been trained to be cautious—wanted to feign obliviousness. What would happen if this woman was someone who intended her harm?
“I’m sorry,” Aria said, worrying her lip between her teeth, “I didn’t know Eli was in town. If I knew anything… I’d tell you.”
The woman’s expression crumpled. In the gray light, Aria could see the bags under her eyes she had done her best to conceal to no avail. “Well, I uh. I work at Sanctuary,” she said, hooking her thumb over her shoulder in the bar’s direction. “If you hear anything or… you know, find her or something, can you please reach out to me?”
“Here,” Aria said, offering her cell phone to the woman. “Put your contact information in, and I’ll be sure to get a hold of you if I find anything out.”
Yuina brightened, shifting her weight from one foot to the other as she took her cell phone. The stranger’s expression crumpled when she saw the background. It was a picture of her and Salena smiling brightly at the camera. Aria tried not to dissect what that frown was guarding. It would make her think too far into what she had said about Eli coming to Sanctuary Hills just for her.
It shouldn’t have done things to her insides. Though, this wasn’t the first or most intense feeling that Eli had awoken since coming to town.
Yuina handed the phone back to her, giving her a half-hearted smile. “I’m sorry. I know this is super weird. And it’s such a… weird thing, I’m sure. Given….”
Yui nodded, gnawing her lip between her teeth. “I know that it’s probably a big surprise, but….” She exhaled slowly and dropped her attention to her feet. She toed the ground with a pair of platform shoes Aria had learned were called “creepers.” “I know you mean a lot to her. I figured if something had happened, she would have tried to find you.”
Aria nodded slowly, doing her best to guard her expression. “I don’t know anything. I’m sorry. But, again, if I see or hear from her, I’ll text you.” She waved her phone at Yui and forced a reassuring smile.
They lingered for a heartbeat in awkward silence. Yui hazarded a half step back, forcing a smile in return. Aria was just as keen to create space. They hesitated for a moment longer before Yui let out a squeaked, “I’ll see you around.”
Aria nodded in response, offering a three-fingered wave. “I’m sorry I couldn’t help.”
“It’s okay,” Yui replied, sounding painfully sincere. “I’ll find her.”
A shiver rolled up her spine, her jaw tightened, and her teeth gnashed together.
Aria watched as the woman disappeared down the street, keeping her hands buried deep within her pockets.
There was more to this story than was being shared, but the question remained of how she could approach it. Yuina might be there looking for Eli. Perhaps, she was the trouble that Eli was trying to escape. Or, maybe, she was a different kind of trouble. A lover scorned from her past life?
There was always the option—farfetched as she wished it was—that Yui was being sincere. The thought caused her insides to twist in guilt.
If Yuina was being sincere, then she had unwittingly come face to face with Eli’s captor.
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