Terrified. Her heart beating out of her chest, her hands shaking, her skin sticky with sweat from her nightmares. That's how she should've woken up a month ago in Dante's bed. Instead, her body and her mind were more relaxed than they've ever been. Stepping out on Carter should've been her only concern, but it wasn't. She didn't feel any guilt over what she had done and that was the real problem.
What was wrong with her? Did she not have a conscience anymore?
Did she ever have one to begin with?
She didn't want to go down that road. Especially since she'd been spending more time with Dante, trying to figure out a way to find the Skull Man and make him pay for the lives he'd taken. The tension between them had grown since Carter returned from his firefighter convention weeks ago, but they continued to play nice.
So far, they came up with a theory that suggested the Skull Man had to be someone she knew. Since her memory was unreliable, she didn’t try to remember what he looked like when they were discussing it a few days ago. He must've watched her from afar to know every frame of thought forming in her mind, what would make her react, what wouldn't, what would make her comply and what he needed to force his hand with. There was also the alarming fact that the current murders happening around town were being done by a copy cat. Hazel found it strange the Skull Man had let this occur to begin with. He was a narcissist and a sexual sadist from what the behavioral analysts had explained during Dante's trial. Only the Skull Man didn't get off on raping his victims. The torture he inflicted on them had been his sexual release. Right along with breaking her down mentally.
She would know. There was no greater high than to take your rage out on someone who deserved it, with whatever means necessary.
Hazel shook her head, forcing the dark thoughts out of her mind as she resumed signing off on the paperwork on her desk. Her business was doing well. The hot chocolate sales skyrocketed during the snow storm last month, but it held steady with the same numbers now that the temperature had gotten colder. A normal person would be suffering from work overload by now, but not her. She enjoyed staying busy. It helped keep her urges at bay and occupied her mind from the twisted thoughts playing on a loop.
Once she was done with the paperwork, she took her phone out from her purse and began to answer all the unanswered texts Carter and Elle had sent her. They wanted to know if she was still up for celebrating her birthday tonight. And the truth was, she was too exhausted to enjoy it. She also wanted to avoid them both. Mostly Elle, but only because she knew she was going to push her on what happened with Dante the night she showed up at his place and found her sleeping in his bed. Hazel didn't want to get into the details. It had obviously been a mistake. On Dante's part, anyway. He brushed off that night like it never happened, even burned the bloody clothes she'd shown up in and Hazel tried not to let it bother her so much. She had abandoned him and he used her for sex. They were even.
Only Hazel knew it was far from over. She felt it in her bones every time she was near him. The electricity between them still sparked and, while she knew what a bad idea being his friend again was, she still enjoyed the calmness he gave her. She didn't realize how much she needed it until she slipped away from his presence. But she wouldn't dare tell him any of it. It would only complicate things.
She did have to admit prison did him well. Physically, anyway. Her pulse raced as images of his muscular arms and toned biceps popped into her mind. Remembering the weight of him between her legs, hovering over her body, waiting to take her, made the flesh between her legs wet, and she licked her lips as she began to fan herself in her cool office.
I need to see you.
Dante's text popped up on her phone's screen and Hazel bit her lower lip, wondering if she should answer. Maybe he made some progress on the research they had done and wanted to tell her. Yes. That had to be it.
I'm at work. You can stop by if you'd like.
She tapped the send button and waited for his response, anxious as she practically chewed off her bottom lip.
I'll be there in five.
Her heart began to beat furiously as she placed her phone down and untied her hair from her pony tail. Why was she so nervous? She'd seen him just two days ago.
"Hey boss, Dante's hear to see you." Lexi Cunningham, her assistant manager announced from the other side of the door, and Hazel gulped. When was the last time Carter had made her this nervous? She put those thoughts aside as she cleared her throat to answer her.
"I'll be right out," Hazel replied, standing up from her worn, chestnut brown leather chair and fixed the hem of her black t-shirt. She didn't like dressing up for work. Everyone knew who this place belonged to. There was no need to make people feel inferior with a fancy power-suit.
As soon as she stepped out of her office and closed the door behind her, the scent of coffee and freshly baked cookies enveloped her, causing her to smile. It reminded her of her younger brother, Aaron. He constantly harassed their mother to bake chocolate chip cookies every night for dessert, but since he was allergic to chocolate, Laura Nash refused to give into her son's sweet tooth cravings and gave him fruit salads instead. He whined profusely, annoying everyone at the dinner table, but Hazel had always slipped him a cookie in his hand without anyone noticing, then broke down into laughter later on when her brother broke out in hives as a result.
The fire had taken him, too, but she still carried the dinosaur he had sculpted out of play-doh for her in her purse. She couldn’t recall how she managed to get the trinket out of the cabin, but she was glad she had.
"What's got you smiling today?" Dante's husky voice rang in her ears, pulling her out of another memory, bringing her back to the noise of the busy cafe. She met his eyes as she slipped away from the busy baristas and waiters and walked up to him. His eyes were a dark and smokey gray, and she remembered just how much she relished in watching them devour her soul, burning the clothes straight off her body and onto his bedroom floor.
"You needed to see me," Hazel answered honestly, keeping her words on a lower tone so the secret would be kept just between them. And there they were again, those damn eyes of his provoking the volcano of desire just waiting to erupt. Carter had been too busy at work and too pissed off at the fact that she had lifted the restraining order against Dante to make time for just the two of them, and it was giving her serious withdrawal symptoms.
"I came to see if you were up for a camping trip this weekend," he said, clearing his throat as he pulled his stare away from her face and focused on something behind her.
"Did you forget I hate those woods?" she snapped harshly, and she bit her tongue as punishment. Dante raised an eyebrow at her, but looked to be un-phased by her reaction.
"You won't be alone, this time, and I'm extraordinarily good at making fires," he responded, igniting her own inferno with a smirk he was trying really hard to hide. The guy was always relentless when it came to flirting. It was nice to see at least that part of him hadn't changed.
"I'll hold you to it. But I'll be swamped with work. Weekends are the busiest and—" Hazel started blurting out her excuses, but Dante wasn't buying it. He rolled his eyes at her and it ticked her off that he was being immature about it.
"Some of us have to work for a living," she reminded him, and his gaze snapped straight to her.
"Of course. I'll let you get back to it then," he countered, turning away from her to exit, but she pulled at his arm, which was covered by his leather jacket, and turned him so he could face her.
"We can do something else. Have a late dinner, maybe? My treat," Hazel offered, and when he narrowed his eyes at her, she swallowed hard.
"What are you afraid of, Hazel?"
"Is that a trick question?"
Dante let out an exasperated sigh and it made Hazel chuckle with joy. She liked teasing him. It reminded her of how things were before things got complicated in high school. Their friendship had been easy, comfortable, soothing, even. Dante had messed it all up when he confessed his feelings for her the spring before she went missing, and she suddenly wondered why she couldn't have admitted her own bubbling feelings back then. She still cared for him in unfathomable ways, and it scared her to the point of no return.
The Skull Man always said the ones closest to her were the ones who would suffer the most. Dante didn't deserve that. And she didn't deserve him.
"Let's talk in private. And cookies are on the house," Hazel mentioned as she led him behind the counter and grabbed a few from under the glass container with parchment paper. She wrapped them up on their way to her office, then placed them in his hands after she closed the door behind them, locking it as well.
"I didn't come here for free cookies," Dante said as he unwrapped them, while pulling out a ten dollar bill from his back pocket. He handed it to her as he took a bite out of the mouth-watering dessert, but she refused it and shoved the bill right back into his pocket. She lingered on his firm behind and her tongue couldn't help but lick her suddenly dry lips.
"You came here to ask me to go into the woods with you alone," Hazel corrected, as her desire grew when she caught him staring at her while he licked the chocolate right off his thumb. She recalled how his fingers felt against her clit and it was enough to make her moan softly in desperation.
"You'll say yes by the time I leave this office," he said, with as much determination his lips had as he leaned into her neck and planted a soft and wet kiss onto her heated skin. Hazel closed her eyes, grinning when the screams inside her head went mute as Dante backed her up against her desk swiftly and placed the wrapped cookies neatly on a piece of paper. Hazel removed his jacket as his hungry mouth attacked her neck, then her jawline, and his hands unzipped her jeans, pulling them down to her ankles. Her hands slipped underneath his plain white t-shirt, touching the rippled skin of his six-pack abs before she slipped that right off his body, as well. The tall and scrawny boy who loved her in high school had filled out well, in her opinion, and she loved how he took charge of her this time around, letting her know he knew exactly where he wanted to go and how he planned on getting it.
Hazel couldn't remember the last time she was this wet for a man, but her inner walls were dripping with her natural lubrication when his fingers dipped inside of her.
"I need you inside me, Dante," Hazel urged hotly into his ear as she bit it and he ripped her panties apart, throwing the shredded fabric aside. He lowered himself before her as he parted her thighs for him and leaned in closer to her opening. The scent of her arousal and chocolate chip cookies turned him on enough for him to aim his tongue towards her clit and to execute his plan of driving her into complete madness.
At a steady pace, he kept his tongue pressed at her nub while thrusting two fingers deep inside of her. She would've screamed if she weren't fully aware of where they were and who would hear them.
"I had dreams about doing things to you in prison, Hazel. This was one of them," Dante enlightened in a raspy voice as he plunged his fingers in and out of her soaked walls quickly, while sucking on her clit as if it were the only fountain of water that would quench his thirst. She took a handful of his shoulder-length hair and tugged at it as he ate from her. Every part of her was alive, pumping adrenaline and pleasure to all the right places. He put her noisy mind and quivering body into a state of lechery and quiet solace, and Hazel knew then that Dante had become her new addiction.
"I want you to come all over my cock, Hazel," he ordered when he nestled in between her legs and brought his member out of his jeans, placing his thick and long shaft straight inside of her. He covered her mouth with his hand to keep her from screaming as he fucked her against her desk, and she let herself get lost into the turbulence of her lust for him. He melted into her body as she came hard. Her inner walls contracted and compressed around his dick as they pulled him in and latched on, milking him into submission before he exploded inside of her. While he filled her with his warm liquid, Hazel rolled her hips, mixing their juices together, making him moan against her lips when he kissed her deeply.
"What other things did you want to do to me? Tell me," Hazel demanded as she tugged on his ear and he began to pound into her again, slipping his hand around her throat, squeezing softly, at first. When she tugged at his hair again, his grip on her neck tightened, fogging her thoughts further as her body adjusted to the new tactic of pleasure. She'd heard of erotic asphyxiation before, but she'd been too afraid it might trigger the darkness inside of her that constantly craved inflicting pain. It was another method of getting off for others, but to her, it was just another way to end someone's life.
Dante's hand kept steady at her neck, squeezing occasionally as he pumped into her and aimed to reach another climax. As soon as his lips met hers and his hand took a strong hold of her, he spilled inside of her again and she screamed into his warm mouth, while another orgasm made her body tremble against his.
He released her right away, tucking himself back into his pants as he held her gaze. She pulled her pants up and zipped them, trying not to squirm with delight when she still felt his come swimming inside of her.
"Where'd you get that scar?" Dante asked her when her shirt slid up as she put her hair back into a ponytail. She looked down to see what he was referring to and felt the prickle of a headache forming at the base of her skull as she traced the jagged edges of the healed scar on her stomach. Images of the the Skull Man hovering over her began to take shape in her thoughts as she closed her eyes and felt the excruciating pain coming from her lower abdomen while she recalled the memory. He must’ve cut something out of her. A kidney, maybe? A liver?
No. None of those things would fill the room with the cries of a newborn baby.
"Oh, god..." Hazel began, holding her stomach as tears began to blur her vision.
"Hazel? What is it? What do you remember?" Dante's panicked voice didn't help matters, but he did his best to comfort her with his embrace. She held onto him, trying to cling to the memory long enough to make sense of it. The more she focused, the more she could clearly see what started the Skull Man's obsession with her, and what had forced her to escape from captivity.
"I...I think I know why he targeted me and the others that summer," Hazel said in between shallow breaths, as she tried to bring herself out of the memory, and back to Dante. The last thing she pictured was her first victim; the mother who had drowned her children and whose dead eyes she could still feel on her whenever she was alone. When she finally left her memory, she opened her eyes and found Dante watching her carefully, waiting for an answer. Before she could give it to him, she had to be sure. And she needed to go back to that cabin she and Elle stumbled upon in the woods for that.
"Yes. I'll go camping, but I want you to bring a gun with you," she responded as she pulled away from his embrace and began to pace.
"So you can kill me when I turn into him again."