"No," Mr. Reddy said, shaking his head. "No. I pay you to step onto the mark you're told to, to put your cock where you're told to, to come when you're told to, and to walk back off that stage when you're told to. And if you didn't shine quite so bright and look so pretty under our pixie lights, I wouldn't even do that. So keep polishing your horns and following your stage cues, and shut your mouth until you're told to open it."
I folded my lips between my teeth and looked down at the floor. I'd been on the receiving end of one of Mr. Reddy's directorial dressing downs in the past, and I felt a stab of sympathy for Eston, in spite of his horrible suggestion. The rest of the stage didn't quite manage to restrain their titters. Eston wasn't a favorite, but he'd been with us for a few years now. I understood what it was like to assume, after such a length of time, that I held a special kind of value to the Company of Fiends. And to be swiftly disabused of the notion.
Mr. Reddy must've shot the others one of his patented stares, something between violence and minor irritation, because the laughter faded abruptly.
"You heard the Missy. Enough of that run today. Off stage. Last scene, Hazel and the Gemini."
I stiffened, but I'd known the moment was coming. In all honesty, I'd been thinking of it for most of the past day. My eyes searched the seats in front of the stage as the rest of the company drifted to the wings, some of them trickling back down into the audience to watch. I found Constantine toward the back of the theater, rising and already watching me as he approached.
It was normal for the company to watch each other rehearse. Rehearsals had more to do with staging and checking lighting cues—a spotlight from directly above on a large monster bent over a woman would ruin the view for the audience—than they did with any intimate moments between partners. Still, I found myself wishing Mr. Reddy might send the rest of the cast away for this. Constantine's effect on me made it impossible to maintain any control. The second he touched me, I would be reduced to sensation, howling and physical, totally at his mercy. It shocked me how ready I was to repeat the minutes from the day before, to surrender all thought and sense to this stranger again.
I didn't want witnesses. I didn't want Ronan or Mr. Reddy or Nireas or anyone to see me helpless under Constantine's hands. It wasn't the pain I was afraid of. It was the exposure.
Which was why it made no sense for me to be struck with sudden disappointment at Constantine's announcement.
"I won't touch her until we perform for an audience."
I blinked, still frozen in place. So did the rest of the cast, only half of them in their seats. Mr. Reddy stared squarely back at Constantine, apparently less disconcerted by his presence than the rest of us. The pair of them stood on the floor in front of center stage, Myra sliding away to sit down in Reddy's abandoned seat.
"How exactly do you propose rehearsing until then, without touching her?" Mr. Reddy asked, but he restrained his tone with Constantine in a way he certainly hadn't bothered with Eston.
"I will instruct her on what to expect, as well as your stagehands," Constantine said, smooth and unaffected. He bowed his head in a jerk to Mr. Reddy after a pause. "I will take your own thoughts into consideration, of course. But it is better for her if I restrain myself in the meantime. And ours will be a…spontaneous demonstration."
A visiting ghoul had once suggested to Mr. Reddy that he would be most entertaining if allowed to improvise his performance—as he often improvised visiting the dressing rooms of the rest of the company—and Mr. Reddy had dressed him down in front of the company for over an hour, culminating in a broken bench and a torn curtain.
"I see," Mr. Reddy bit out. "So glad to be taken into consideration."
But he bowed and gestured for Constantine to step on stage.
Constantine did so, his unusually long legs allowing him to rise in one impossible step. "We will need a bench," he said, and it was only because we had all been stupefied into silence that we were able to hear him. "Or a platform. Something I can display her on."
I shivered as he approached, and he stopped in center stage, a slender hand lifting and beckoning me closer. My body tripped forward as if Constantine had forged some invisible chain to hook inside of me yesterday and I'd been unaware of it until now.
"Something comfortable," he added with an eerie tip of his head.
"What kind of music do you want?" Nireas asked, and I found myself able to tear my gaze away from Constantine for the first time in minutes at the sound of his voice.
Constantine circled me slowly and I watched the floor, watched the shadows bend and duplicate. The audience gasped, and I knew he'd split into his two figures. I itched to twist and look at them again, half wondering if I'd made up the image of Con and Antin and the insanity of their touch.
"No music," Antin said, stepping forward. His hand was extended towards me and I straightened, stretching my neck as if I might coax him into touching me, even as Con's shadow loomed at my other side. "She will be our music. Her cries and screams. You can do that for us, can't you, sweet creature?"
I swallowed hard, thought of tipping into him. It would only take a few inches for his fingertips to brush my throat. I would shatter on the spot at that bliss, in front of the whole company. And I was sure Con would punish me.
"Yes," I gasped out, some remembered burn of the day before rushing up to flood my cheeks.
Antin nodded, and I wished for the trap door I was standing on to suddenly break open and swallow me.
"We will begin like this," he said, voice gentle. "She should be dressed. Something fine. Jewels too, for us to remove."
I shuddered, my eyes closing to those slow and soft words. Every touch the instruction promised would be agony or ecstasy, depending on whose hands were used. And until the performance, I wouldn't know which.
Worse, I didn't care. I was eager for both.