Eleven Years Ago....
"They're beautiful aren't they?" the gravelly voice behind her asked, as she touched the white edges of the lily, and took in their scent. Beautiful was an understatement. She'd grown up with the flowers due to her parents owning a funeral home. They held the services almost every week, and that's when she got to see where she and everyone she cared about would eventually end up. Just a rotting body in a casket no one would visit after their mourning was over and done with. Hazel didn't want to leave that kind of sad impression on the world. But she was afraid, that just like death, there was no getting out of being forgotten.
"I see them come in every week. Right along with the bodies they're supposed to restore innocence to in the afterlife. Yet they still hold their radiance, even with all the darkness surrounding them." Hazel answered, pulling away from the large vases, and turning to see who she'd actually been talking to. The man was tall, hair dark and cropped short, with very pale skin. His cheeks were hollow, and his eyes were sunken in and lightning blue, as if death itself had a body and it had chosen to speak to her today.
"Are you part of the grievers?" he inquired, gesturing towards the people behind them as they tried to decide which seat to take before the service started. As if it mattered. The woman was dead. She didn't know any of them were here.
"My parents own the funeral home. Family business," she corrected proudly. Most people would've alienated her for her family's choice of career but not in this place. St. Cloud, Minnesota had a fascination with death and all things abnormal. And that included her. She wasn't an outcast in school. Quite the opposite, actually. They found her and her family charming and quirky and they were all wrong. Death wasn't supposed to be glorified and alluring. It was supposed to encourage people to live their lives to the best of their ability, without all of society's restraints. Time doesn't stop when your heart does.
"Ah, I see. You seem incredibly self-adjusted for a child." the man observed, but it was the way he was looking at her that intrigued her. She was his lily in a room full of sorrow, and he wouldn't dare let it slip away.
"Kind of have to be if you're surrounded by death all the time. Are you a griever?" she continued, finally noticing he was the only one wearing a long black coat, in a warm and crowded room.
"I've been grieving for a very long time. Does that count?" he countered, with a bone-chilling smile as he extended his unusually long and skinny fingers to shake her hand.
"Hazel Nash. And your name?" she asked, quickly removing her grip from his icy cold palm. His smile faded as something behind her caught his attention. When Dante Jones appeared beside her, and wrapped his arm protectively around her shoulders, she understood the abrupt change of expression. Dante was part of the wrestling team and towered over her by three inches. He was a nice boy who felt too much too soon. She could see it in his eyes every time he looked at her with an intensity that kept her from breathing properly around him. He scared her. More than anything her night terrors could come up with.
"Dante Jones. Sorry for your loss." Dante introduced himself as he rose to shake the man's hand but he didn't bother raising it for him. The brightness in the stranger's piercing blue eyes were now darkened, which she suspected had to do with Dante indirectly trying to claim his territory.
"Nothing to be sorry for. I haven't lost anything I can't retain."
"I hope you like them." Dante's voice slipped into her ears as she shook out of the current memory flashing through her mind, and focused on the beautiful garden of lilies in his backyard. The patio lights illuminated their surroundings enough for her to see his silhouette in the dark as he approached her. The wind had calmed a bit on her drive up here with Carter but there was still a slight chill in the air and it made her comfortable enough to close her eyes and take it all in.
"You didn't have to do all this. It's just a birthday." Hazel claimed, as she opened her eyes once she felt his warmth in front of her. He cleaned up nicely in that new charcoal gray suit of his. He even chopped off some of his hair and shaved a bit of the scruff she adored. He was changing again. And it was all for her.
"Maybe I just wanted an excuse to see you again."
"It's been six hours since... we saw each other," she reminded him in a hushed tone and the intensity in his eyes made her wish she'd gotten used to the air they deprived her of by now.
"An incident I would've loved to repeat if you hadn't brought your fiancé to my home," he whispered heatedly into her ear, which made her swallow hard with regret. She glanced back towards the closed patio doors and the curtains shielding them from the people inside and pondered if bringing Carter had been a good idea or not. He was her rock among other things, but Dante... he was something else. A force that had laid dormant inside the confines of her heart and had awakened the moment she saw him again.
Was that what love was?
A malignant sense of passion and wonder, comfort and obsession? Carter was a safety net, the hose that she used to put out her fires. The same fires he could've chosen not to deal with but decided against it and her protests anyway.
Hazel didn't deserve him, either.
"I don't want to talk about Carter," Hazel stated firmly, dismissing her guilt as she crossed her arms and stared into the night.
"I want to show you something. And when I do, I want you to tell me the truth, no matter how painful it is. Deal?" Dante replied softly behind her and she nodded. Hazel knew after their encounter at her office that she had a lot of explaining to do. She also knew Dante wasn't the kind of man who liked to wait for things to be handed to him. Nonetheless, if she could tell the truth to anyone, it would be Dante Jones. He was far in too deep with her again and he wouldn't betray her. Not after she told him everything she had remembered earlier.
"Okay," she answered and he took her hand in his, leading her through another entrance of the mansion and down the marble floors that lead to his den. She recalled spending a lot of time together in his home, since she wanted freedom from her responsibilities at the funeral home her parents owned. After thirteen years of death constantly appearing at her doorstep at the time, she'd had enough.
Once they were inside the cozy office, Dante closed and locked the door and swiftly pushed her up against the wood, leaning down to kiss her cold lips. His passion instantly warmed them and she'd forgotten what exactly they were doing in there to begin with but it didn't matter. It was her birthday and she could have sex if she wanted to.
"Remember that spring break, freshman year, you and me in my parents cottage for the weekend?" Dante asked in between kissing her neck and dipping his fingers in between her thighs. Her thoughts instantly brought her to the memory he was referring to. It was that same weekend they'd taken each other's virginities, despite the purity ring her parents made her wear. But her body craved everything else but purity back then. And Dante took full advantage of it. He adored her and her mind, and everything else in between. It was enough for her to give herself to him and she'd done it several times that weekend from what she recalled.
"Some things never change," Hazel said, as ragged breaths escaped her mouth and soon her red dress pooled down to her feet, giving Dante access to everything he wanted to tease her with. It was wrong, in every sense of the word, but he helped her see everything clearly, the fog in her mind no longer distorted her memories and she owed him for that, and all the pain she'd caused him over the years.
"Before we do this again, I want you to know, Elle and I—" he started but she didn't want him to finish that sentence. She knew what would come afterwards and she knew it would bother her enough to leave this room. Her mind was exhausted and the screams needed to go away again. So she captured his lips again, along with the tie around his neck and she pulled her to him, jumping on his built physique, wrapping her legs around his waist. He carried her over to his leather chair, and kept her straddling his lap, as he pulled his pulsating cock out from his pants and ripped the fabric keeping him from the wetness glistening for him.
"I fucked her right over this desk, Hazel. I don't want to keep anything else from you after tonight. Promise me you'll do the same," he added, when her lips finally left his for some air. Her heart dropped to her stomach, but the carnal anger and lust consuming her took priority and she simply nodded as her hands wrapped around his throat.
As soon as she felt his engorged tip enter her sodden folds, she bit down on her lip and tightened her fingers around his throat, which only made his dick throb inside of her. She grinned and started sliding up and down his thick cock, taking him in as deep as she could when she heard the screams inside her head settle into silence. She rode him on a quicker pace than normal. Her desperation encouraged her to keep squeezing at his throat, imagining it was the same cock she was riding on, stroking it with every intention of making it burst for her and only for her.
"Are these walls still sound proof?" she asked as she leaned and bit his earlobe roughly.
"Yes." he hissed then moaned into her neck.
"I only want to hear your scream tonight, Dante. Can you do that for me?" Hazel ordered and without hesitation, he drove his dick hard into her, using that as his response. She smirked and took his lips again, while she tugged on what was left of his hair and she continued to roll her hips. His fingers were pulling and pinching her tender nipples hard, adding to the stimulation his shaft was providing her. Hazel was close to reaching her sexual high, but Dante beat her to it. He took her hands off his throat and stood up as he carried her, gripping her hips as thrusted into against the book shelves behind her. She didn't mind the pain coercing through her back. All she wanted was to feel normal again.
"Did you fuck anyone else like this before me, Hazel?" he questioned, while he still pounded into her, only he was slowing down his pace this time, confusing her.
"No. You were my first, you know that," Hazel insisted and it made him thrust into her hard, just how she liked it.
"And after me?" he added, as he toyed with her clit, making her whimper with frustration.
"Dante, please... the screams are coming back..." she pleaded but the words seemed to have gone through one ear and out the other. The man who was fucking her was on a mission and he wasn't going to stop until he got his answers.
"How could you not tell me about her?" he continued and stopped all movements, while his eyes bore into hers. His cracked but stern voice let her know she wasn't the only one who'd been in pain all this time. The same memory that came to her in her office today was the same piece of the puzzle Dante figured out somehow and she could do nothing but spill her heart out to him as her apology.
"I was scared. We were too young and I was just terrified you would leave me. And with all of our friends going missing, it was just too much at the time," she admitted as tears burned her eyes and she rested her forehead against his. He spilled inside her when he drove into her one final time, and he began to process her confession. But there was no look of satisfaction in his eyes. Hazel deserved everything he was about to throw in her face and more.
"He has her, Hazel," Dante claimed, pulling out of her as he reached for a piece of paper on his desk and handed it to her. The words on the paper filled her with an unfamiliar fear she wasn't accustomed to. She'd always been afraid of her own mind and rage-filled actions but this, this was beyond anything she'd ever felt before.
"I don't remember...."
"No. Don't give me that shit. She's out there with that madman and you have to help me find her. You're the only one who can." Dante urged desperately as he got dressed and handed her back her clothing.
You're the only one who can. You're the only one who can.
The words kept echoing in her mind as she recalled the nightmare she'd suffered through the night before Dante returned home.
The Skull Man had said the same thing to her right before she killed him.