TRUST


"DO YOU TRUST ME?" he asked.

His hand moved against the small of her back, splayed fingers branding flesh. In the night, touch took the place of vision—his skin, his scent, and his voice all that she knew.

Warm breath ghosted across the back of her neck, sent heated shivers down her spine. She drew in a sharp breath at the flick of a tongue against her ear. His hand climbed the ridge of her hip, followed the curve of her belly.

"Do you trust me?"

She shut her eyes. The darkness was no darker than before, her fears no lighter.

"No," she answered.

He closed the distance between them so that she felt him against her back. Hard flesh and hot skin, and now his mouth on her throat. With each touch she dissolved into someone else.

He covered her hands and said, "Put the lamp away."

At once her hand relaxed, as if there was no longer any part of her that was not under his command. The striker slid from her fingers and clattered over the edge of the table. In the darkness she would never find it; she could not even see the lamp a hand's length away. She ought to care, she knew that, ought to feel some distress at the loss, but she could not bring herself to feel anything but a trembling anticipation.

His hands closed around her wrists. They were large hands, strong but not roughened. She did not think he worked as other men worked. Who was he then, to possess such strength? Where did he take himself off to when the sun rose?

"Psyche..." He turned her to him, and the murmur of his voice melted any last thought of fear.

She tried to reach out, to touch him, but his grip remained firm. "Please." She curled her hands into fists, leaned as near as she could, and still could not close the distance between them. "Please."

His mouth lowered over hers. He drew her to him gently, with soft caresses. The instant he released her hands, she wound herself more tightly around him and moved with a desperate hunger. His kisses were meant to be sweet and drugging as the milk of a poppy, but sweetness was not in her. She burned. Her heartbeat pulsed in a low place within her, stronger and stronger until she thought she would die.

She slipped her fingers between the hot press of their bodies and took him in her hand. A groan passed from his lips into her. His kiss roughened, and his hands. He lifted her and carried her to the bed, his stride as smooth as if his feet had no need to touch the floor. She heard a sound as of wings beating the air. Yet when she searched him with her hands, she found nothing but skin.

He dropped her onto the bed. She crawled to the center of silk sheets and began to turn back for him, only to find him already crouched over her, his arms a cage.

"Do you trust me?" he asked again.

She lifted a hand and touched his cheek. It was smooth as marble, flawless and warm. She slipped her fingers around the back of his neck and ran her nails up and down until he shuddered. "No."

"You will."

He kissed her again, and she lost herself. He entered her like sunlight.


SHE LIFTED A HAND to shade her eyes against a cloudless sky. Wind swept off the high mountains, carrying the smell of hemlock and waters running cold and clean. She tracked the flight of a raven and imagined herself in its place, rising to infinite heights, leaving the mountain meadow far below.

"He could be anyone. He could be a decrepit old man."

She smiled, squinting. "He isn't."

"A murderer. A monster. You don't know anything about him."

She looked back over her shoulder at her sisters, perched shoulder to shoulder on the stone bench beneath the olive tree. Four black eyes studied her.

"He loves me," she said.

"Not enough to show himself to you."

"He will. It's only a month since I came."

"You act like a child. The truth displeases you, so you pretend not to see it."

The wind tore at her hair, lashed her cheek. She remembered the rustling of feathers, and the edges of fear.

A monster.

"Poor dear." Her eldest sister stood. The hand she laid on Psyche's shoulder was uncomfortable in the midday heat. "You've had no time to think, have you? One moment you're cursed and no one will have you. Then this marriage offer… But you can't blame father for accepting. After all, it isn't as though you didn't bring the curse on yourself."

Psyche said nothing.

I am Aphrodite! Worship me!

A child's boast. No more than a jest. But gods were petty beings, without humor or mercy. Drought, famine, and pestilence; these things were not too much vengeance for a goddess and her wounded pride.

"Come." An arm circled her shoulders, pulled her close. "We will tell you what to do."


SHE STOOD OVER HIM in the dark, lamp in one hand. In the other she held the fire striker, its sharp edge cutting into her palm.

He is a part of your curse, her sisters had said. One day, when you have lost yourself to him completely, then you will see the truth of him. But then it will be too late.

Too late for what?

Sisters could be monsters as easily as a man could be; she knew this. Jealousy made tongues sharp with deceit and bitterness. She had been demanded by the stranger on the mountain, not they. She lived in the palace with marbled halls, with a dozen servants, with silk and furs to line her bed, and the man who came to her each night. With each kiss, her curse and her penance drifted farther away, and with each caress she forgot the foolish child she had been, and knew only the woman who came to life in his arms.

But he had put a wedge between them. This secrecy—what was the point of it? What was there in his appearance that he so feared to show her? She needed to know the truth, and to move past it. She needed to see.

He was asleep. His breath filled the air softly, deeply.

Her fingers trembled as she struck the steel. Once, twice, and sparks flashed in the darkness.

The lamp wick caught. Light flared up hot and bright, like fear, like judgment. At last it settled, and for the first time she saw him.

He was everything she had imagined, and nothing. He glittered like the dawn. His beauty was golden, and it was terrible. She had suspected, all these nights, and turned the suspicions away, but now she knew he was no mortal.

Cold blew in from the window, and the curtains flapped with a sound like wings. Trembling, she began to back away from the bed. But no more than a step had she taken when her heel caught in a drift of discarded silk, and she stumbled. The lamp jarred, and three droplets of oil flew up and shimmered as they arced through the air. They fell on her sleeping lover's wrist.

His eyes flew open and fixed upon her. At once, she was lost. In the blue depths of his gaze she saw all the stars of the heavens circling, gleaming hot and bright and unreachable.

He had chosen her, but why? She could never be anything to him, and every word he had spoken was a lie. Her worth, his love. Lies. But gods were petty beings.

He cringed. He half-rose, and hesitated, and then stretched out his hand. "Put out the lamp, Psyche. Come to bed."

But she could not stop staring at his wrist where the oil had splattered. The three drops had burned straight down into his flesh. But there was no blood, nor any reddening at all. Only a brightness like the lamp's flame, pouring out from within him. Fear froze in the hollow of her throat.

"Why?" The corners of his mouth twisted but remained beautiful even in bitterness. "Did I ask so much of you? Only trust. Only that one condition, and we might both have been free of our curses."

He turned his face from her.

And the spell, if a month could be a spell, broke.

He sprang up from the sheets, and as he did the skin of his back split open, and a pair of swan white wings unfurled. In two steps he swept past her. The third step carried him up onto the windowsill. Then the immense wings spread wide, and as he let himself fall, they beat once, twice. The curtains flew back, flapping and cracking, as the air caught him and twisted him away. For one moment he remained visible against the darkness. Then, like a flame winking out, he was gone.

The chamber went silent. The curtains stilled.

She dropped the lamp and ran to the window, crying out for him. But the night was black, and she could see nothing, not any trace of white or gold moving through the dark, though she stared long.

She turned. The empty room faced her, the room and the bed that still held the imprint of his form, and on his pillow, a single golden thread of hair tangled around a feather. She climbed onto the bed and lay watching the window, and waiting.