Ronan spun slowly, silks wrapped around the roots of his own wings, our faces uplifted to him as he cradled a lost figure in open empty arms.
The audience was hushed, and I resisted searching the crowd for a hint of tusks or a flash of green skin. Alexa's voice cracked with feeling as Ronan flipped, freeing his trapped wings, claws grabbing onto the fabric as he swooped above. He was performing the act without Beth, as if she were still there. Wax dripped over the edge of the candle I held, running down the side and cooling with a harsh kiss against my fingers. I bit my lip at the burn easing on my hand and the sting rising in my eyes.
Behind me, Samson hummed along with Alexa, low and a little tuneless, and his hand squeezed my shoulder in support.
The only person I was truly close with in the theater was Ronan, and I kept even him at arm's length. It would've been a lie to call Beth a sister to me, or even to say we were cut from the same cloth. But we'd belonged here together, caught in the same small web of an in-between world. People left the theater all the time, so often I'd grown cautious of connection, but this was like Beth had been stolen from us. And worse, she'd been hurt. Not just stolen from the theater, but from her own life.
I held my breath, resisted my own tears, and tried to hush my thoughts as Ronan twisted and curled and spun slowly down to the floor with the last notes from Alexa. One by one, candles flickered out in our hands, wicks pinched between licked fingers, the warm glow of the stage fading into pure dark and silence.
Pixies brought up the lights at the floor just enough for the audience to watch the red curtains swing shut. For a moment, I thought perhaps Eston was right—no one would care for our goodbye to Beth. Monsters didn't come to care about the humans in the company, but to covet them. My eyes fell shut, and a moment later a steady, simple applause pounded from the other side of the curtain. There were no cheers or whistles and shouts like there might be for a scene, but we stood together on the dark of the stage for several minutes, and the sound only grew and held. Not enthusiastic, but respectful, carrying on like a heartbeat up to the rafters.
"Come on now, everyone," Frank, one of our were-bear stagehands called, ushering us back to the wings. "We've got to set up the next scene. Get downstairs and get ready."
Samson was waiting for Alexa and Leon, and I wasn't sure if Ronan was the first person or the last person I wanted to speak to at the moment, so I turned and hurried away, weaving through bodies on our way downstairs.
I flicked back the curtain to my dressing room, inhaling a deep breath of the sweetened air from my bouquet, before I remembered the promise I'd grabbed from Hunter before he left.
And there he was, sitting on my chaise with his hat in his hands, resting on a bouncing knee. He straightened as I entered, opened his mouth to speak as I crossed to him, huffed a laugh as I knocked his hat to the floor.
"That one was new," he said.
"I don't care," I answered, taking the hat's place on his knee and wrapping my arms around his shoulders.
Hunter groaned as I tipped my head and slanted my lips over his, sucking hungrily and teasing the seam of his mouth with my tongue. His arms wrapped around my waist and tightened, pressing my chest to his, dark claws snagging in the loose cotton. His tongue met mine, and I twisted on his lap, climbed closer, surprised with my own need for this man.
I moaned his name as his mouth traveled down to my jaw, and one of Hunter's hands slid down to squeeze my ass, to press my core over his crotch.
"I didn't dare hope for such a welcome," he mumbled into my throat.
"You should have," I said, wrestling far enough back to hunch, to peck at his mouth as I spoke. "You should've hoped for more."
Hunter watched me with that same rapt confusion as I reached between us, my hands unable to make up their mind about what fussy, fine article of his clothing ought to be removed first. I was tempted to seek immediate access to his cock, but I missed the smooth, thick texture of his skin too and wanted it warming my own.
"There is something," he said, reaching out and catching my hands.
I struggled briefly, smiling at him, but he held fast until I settled. "Which is?"
"To taste you."
I blushed at the offer, or was it a demand? "To taste me where, sir?" I teased.
"Your cunt, little one," Hunter said solemnly and with his own rising color in his cheeks. "Would you allow me that? One taste?"
"Only one?" I blurted out, frowning.
He blinked at me. "You would allow me more?"
"I sometimes wonder if we aren't speaking entirely different languages," I said, tapping my fingers along his chest where I could reach. Hunter's brow furrowed in confusion, and I dipped my head, pressing my lips to his for a moment and then drawing away. "What if I wanted you to make a feast of my cunt? Show me your tongue, sir."
Hunter's eyes widened and his lips parted, and in his surprise, he was unable to stop me from reaching up and pulling his jaw farther down. I arched an eyebrow, and his tongue stretched out, revealing its full length and dark color. Orcs had beautifully long tongues, twice as long and strong and flexible as a human's.
"What if I asked you to fuck me with that tongue?" I asked, watching Hunter's eyes as I leaned close again, stroking the tip of my own tongue up the center of his, the vibration of his growl rising at the touch.
"Would you ask those things?" Hunter rasped, eyelids growing heavy.
I wanted to laugh. It took twice as much talking to get a little fucking from Hunter, but his lack of assumption was sweet, and when I did succeed, he was well worth the wait.
"Feast on my cunt, Hunter. Fuck me with your tongue," I said softly.
His growl was something like a purr, and he leaned in, breathing deeply at my throat, his hips lifting and pressing into me, allowing me to feel his arousal.
"Why wait?" I asked, growing a little breathless, working myself against him, my chemise thin enough to offer me friction as we moved together.
"You have a performance tonight, little one," Hunter said, tipping his head back. The yellow of his gaze was just a bright, thin glow, black pupils blown with obvious interest. "One I intend to watch."
I restrained my flinch at the thought of Hunter watching me with Constantine. The orc could barely imagine me offering my permission for him to lick my cunt. I couldn't imagine what he might think of what was to come. Which settled me a little.
"Not for an hour, at least," I said. Hunter grinned and I sighed, remembering. "But you want several hours."
"I do," he said, nodding, patting my ass. "Perhaps even just for licking, now that I know you have no objections."
I snorted and then blinked as I realized he was being serious. "Where did you go this week? Or if you can't tell me, did it go well?"
Hunter hummed, and then he was turning and sliding to lean back on the chaise, carrying me with him until I was draped on top of him like a blanket.
"I was once a member of a house that…offered pleasure partners to monsters," Hunter said.
Oh. I tucked my chin to hide my expression. So he'd gone back to the house? When he could've been here…
"I ended my membership, but I have a great deal of respect for the madame of the house. She was kind and did her best to…" Hunter frowned and I relaxed, realizing this wasn't a liaison he'd attended. He huffed, in his own thoughts, and dismissed them with a shrug. "The house is facing some danger at the moment. I don't intend to be a member there again, but I couldn't refuse a request for help."
"And did it go well?" I asked.