Call of Water, Madame Tan's Freakshow, book 1
“Where do you live?” I asked Zeph.
After finally releasing me from his arms, he gave me his address and I texted Fleur, but I couldn’t tell from the street number alone where about his place was located in the relation to the rooftop patio where we stood.
“Just three buildings that way.” He gestured left. “On the very top floor.”
“So, we’ll need to get down then go back up again?” I braced myself for the long climb of the endless stairs.
“Or we could take the shortcut.” Zeph tipped his chin up. “The rooftops.”
“Are you serious? You want us to climb up the roof?”
He glanced down at my shoes. “Well, you’re not wearing high heels, it should work.”
Leaping over the side railing, he landed with both feet on the pitched metal roof next door. Thankfully, the buildings in this part of the city stood flush with each other. There were no gaps between their walls, whatsoever.
“Come.” He stretched his arm over the railing to me. “We can see the Eiffel Tower from the ridge of the next roof.
“Is that how high we’re going?” I asked, intrigued but not without some trepidation.
“I promised you the view.” He beamed at me.
Taking his hand, I climbed over the railing.
Leaning into the pitch of the roof, we then climbed up to the ridge. It turned out to be not as scary as it looked. There was even a metal railing running along it, although only on one side. Holding on to it, I caught up with Zeph’s steady pace.
“How do you like this?” He stopped in the middle of the ridge.
I gasped in amazement, gazing above the rooftops all the way to the horizon and taking in the bright lights of the Eiffel Tower then the rectangular shape of Arc de Triomphe and Sacré-Cœur Basilica on the other side.
“You can see the entire city from here.”
“Yes. The three-hundred-sixty-degree view. Can’t be any better.”
“And you live up here.” I smiled, meeting his eyes once again. “Lucky you.”
“Definitely lucky.” He stared at me for a moment longer before getting us back on our way.
At the end of the roof, Zeph jumped onto a built-in patio on the next building.
“The one after this is mine,” he explained, gesturing ahead.
“The next one?” I asked as we passed by the dark windows facing the patio. “Then who lives here?”
“People.” He shrugged, carelessly.
“Do you know them?”
“Nope. We’ve never met.”
“But they don’t mind you walking through their property like this?”
“So far, no one’s complained.” He climbed over the railing onto the ledge of the next building then helped me do the same.
“Well, this is home.” Zeph lifted open the frame of a large bay window, positioned right under the roof. “Come in.”
I followed him through the window then stepped around a huge oval bathtub inside.
“Is this your bathroom?”
“No.” He turned on the water in the tub then flicked on the light. It illuminated a spacious room, tastefully decorated in light grey and breezy blue.
This appeared to be a studio apartment. A couch stood in the middle with a TV set mounted in front of it. A few tall bookshelves lined the walls. Partially hidden behind a painted-silk screen, a large bed stood to the side.
“You have a bathtub in your living space,” I stated, a bit confused but not overly so. With much of the architecture in this city being there for centuries, some of the more modern elements had often been added in unconventional ways over time.
“Yes,” he replied simply, as if used to being asked this question, then headed to the kitchenette in a niche to the left.
“A glass of Champagne?” he asked, taking a bottle from the small fridge under the counter and a couple of champagne flutes from the cabinet above it. “Sorry, this one hasn’t been anywhere near strawberries.” He glanced at the label. “Just good, old Moët.”
“Thank you.” I accepted the glass from him.
His fingers brushed mine when he handed me the flute. Anticipation fizzed though me like the bubbles in the glass.
The one time I’d been with a man hadn’t left me with a great opinion about sex. I preferred my own hand to anything my one and only sex partner had had to offer. He’d never made me light up with anticipation by merely touching my fingers with his the way Zeph just did.
There was something extremely sensual about Zeph that my body responded to.
It was in the way he moved, with almost feline grace and confidence.
In the way he looked at me from under the strands of his silvery white hair. How the color of his eyes changed from the lightest blue to a rich turquoise, depending on his mood and the lighting in the room.
In the way he talked with that crooked grin of his—teasing, warm, and playful all at once.
And definitely in the way he sang. The moment I’d heard him sing destined me to end this night in his arms. His voice had tethered me to him, stronger than any chain.
Zeph placed his wine glass on the wooden bench that stood between the tub and the window. A stack of blue fluffy towels lay on the other end of the bench next to a few toiletries. After pouring into the tub something from one of the bottles, he started unbuttoning his shirt.
“What did you just add to the water?” I asked, trying to distract myself from the fact that he seemed to be getting ready to take a bath, that very moment…and that the tub was large enough for both of us to fit in comfortably.
“Sea foam.” He slid the shirt from his shoulders, then tossed it on the grey rug on the pale-wood floor. “At least that’s what the label says it’s supposed to smell like.”
“Is it a bubble bath?”
“Yes.” He unbuckled his belt then slid the zipper open. “Do you like bubble baths?” He shoved his dress pants down, taking the underwear with them.
“Sure.” I quickly averted my eyes to the dark window and took a large sip from the glass in my hand to steady my nerves.
My attention did not stay on the window for too long, though, drawn back to Zeph’s tall, muscular body.
He had the figure of a swimmer, with long strong legs. Wide in the shoulders, his torso tapered elegantly to a narrow waist and trim hips.
The lightning speed with which he’d undressed, left me unprepared and slightly anxious. I breathed faster, suddenly finding myself one on one with a completely naked Zeph. The sight of him filled me with lightheaded excitement.
He turned around, stepping into the tub. The scars on his arms came into view. A much longer one ran along his spine from his neck down between the two dimples on his lower back. A pair of matching silvery stripes were visible on his calves.
“What happened?” I took a step closer, momentarily forgetting about the tension of attraction sizzling in the air. “Your scars?” I explained when he glanced at me over his shoulder. “Scars like that, I imagine, would come with a story.”
I really wanted to hear it if there was one. In fact, I wished to know everything about him—more than could be learned in just one night, I realized.
“There is no story.” He stood in the tub. “I just…was born like this.”
A kind of skin depigmentation, possibly?
The pale lines on his body appeared to be too straight and perfect for birth marks, as if made by man, not nature. I didn’t press for more, though, as he didn’t add anything on the subject.
Instead, he offered me his hand, inviting me to join him, “Come?”
All thoughts immediately scrambled in my head, my focus shifting entirely to what was about to come. Despite the nervous apprehension, I wanted to be close to him again.
With a brief nod, I handed him my glass, and he set it down on the bench next to his while I took off my top over my head. I was glad I wore a pretty bra and panty set that day—white lace with cute pink polka dots.
The lingerie didn’t stay on for long, though. I took the bra off, feeling Zeph’s gaze on my skin. My nipples hardened with the awareness of him staring at me, although I stubbornly kept my eyes focused on the grey rug under my feet.
Next, I shimmied out of my shorts and panties and rolled my fishnet stockings down, finally stepping out of my crystal-studded flats.
Drawing some air in, I raised my gaze to his, realizing that my apprehension had nothing to do with doubt—I had none. I wanted to be with him. If his kisses were anything to go by, the night with him promised to be one I would never forget.
What worried me was my own inexperience. I was afraid I’d do or say something that would make it painfully apparent.
“Come,” he repeated, holding out his hand.
His warm, easy smile was encouraging, holding my gaze. Using his hand for support, I stepped into the bath. The soapy water rose above my ankles, the bubbles caressing my skin.
Zeph released a long breath. Hands on the edge of the tub, he lowered his body into the water. I carefully crouched down, too, aiming for the opposite end of the tub, but he caught me around my waist and placed me between his spread legs, my back to his chest.
“This is good,” he said in an unusually somber tone.
The water kept rising, enclosing us in a warm cloud of bubbles.
“During the day,” Zeph said above my ear, gesturing at the huge bay window that was now straight ahead of us. “When the sky is blue, with not too many clouds out there, I can almost pretend I’m looking out to sea.”
“Do you like big water?” I asked, leaning my head on his shoulder. He was right, sitting like this and talking definitely felt good.
“It calls to me,” he replied enigmatically, wrapping his arms around me. The warmth of the bath water around us and the strength of his body behind me felt comforting, finally calming my nerves completely. “One day, I want to live on a coast somewhere.”
“Why wait? What’s holding you in the city?”
“Lero has the cabaret here.” He nuzzled the spot above my ear. “And I need to work.”
“You could work elsewhere, couldn’t you? I can’t believe some huge record label hasn’t discovered you yet. Have you ever been offered a recording contract? With the voice like yours—”
“Oh, I have.” He waved me off. “A number of times. I’ve turned them all down, though.”
“Contracts come with too much publicity, which brings a lot of unwanted attention. And Lero says—,” he cut himself short. “Well, it doesn’t really matter what he says. Once you’re in the public eye, it’s impossible to blend in.”
“Why would you want to blend in?” I wondered how much control Lero had over Zeph’s career. They were a family. Was he also his manager? Why would Lero hold Zeph back? “Doesn’t everyone want to stand out from the crowd? Nature made sure you could by giving you your gift.”
“So, you like my singing?” he asked softly in my ear, obviously trying to steer me away from the subject of his career.
“I love your singing.” I allowed myself to be led away since he didn’t seem to be willing to discuss his future with me. Why should he be? We were practically strangers. Though, I wouldn’t mind getting closer, both physically and emotionally.
“Good.” He crossed his arms over my chest, bringing me near.
Starting with a soft hum of the introduction, he crooned the first four lines of “The Way You Look Tonight” in English.
The smooth velvet of his voice curled around my heart.
I’d heard this song performed by Frank Sinatra and later, by Michael Bublé. Never had it rung this true to me before. From Zeph’s lips, the emotions seemed to seep from his chest straight into mine via the water around us.
The lyrics suited perfectly, as if he were reminding me that tonight was all we had, singing he would keep a warm memory of me.
Lowering his head, he kissed an errant tear off my cheek.
“It’s not a sad song, Ivy.”
“Maybe,” I agreed, rubbing my cheeks dry. “A song is just a song.”
It was what it meant to me that made it special. Zeph’s singing opened my heart, made me feel vulnerable. At the same time, when Zeph was holding me like this, I felt safe and secure. Unguarded.
“So,” I chose to change the subject, needing a moment to get my emotions under control. “You speak English?”
“Fluently,” he said in English. His slight accent stroked my ear, resonating through my chest.
I loved the sound of the French language. It was called “the language of love” for a reason. But there was something especially alluring about an attractive Frenchman speaking in my mother tongue to me.
As if I needed Zeph to get any more alluring, really.
“How many languages do you speak?” I asked.
“Just two. French and English. But I sing in many more.”
“How does that work?”
“It’s easy for me to memorize the lyrics, no matter what language the song was written in.”
“Interesting.” I recalled reading somewhere about opera singers performing in German, Russian, and Italian, without actually speaking any of those languages. So, it wasn’t just Zeph who sang in more languages than he spoke.
Having this conversation had further relaxed me. Being with him felt like breathing, simple and natural, even as he actually took my breath away.
No matter what tomorrow brought, tonight he was mine, fully and completely.
Turning my head, I kissed the corner of his mouth. “I’m glad I discovered Le Loup Solitaire today, and…you.”
He shifted me in his arms to fully capture my mouth in a kiss.
“Tell me what you like, Ivy?” he whispered against my lips a moment later. “What would you like me to do to you?”
I had no answer to give him.
The fact that well into my twenties, I still had no idea about my sexual preferences felt embarrassing. So far, my experience had only taught me what I didn’t like about sex.
The extreme awareness of every clumsy move of mine or my partner’s.
The painful awkwardness that intimacy had brought to me.
As Zeph caressed my neck with his lips and stroked my arms with his fingers, I finally realized what I did like: the fact that none of the things I disliked happened while I was with him.
When Zeph touched me, I didn’t think about the exact position of our bodies or our next move. Instead, I focused on the sensation of his skin gliding against mine, the strength of his arms as he held me, the emotions that churned and grew inside me.
He made me lose myself in the pleasure he created, leaving me only half-aware of the world around us. His touch proved intoxicating.
“This, Zeph,” I murmured, reaching behind me to sink my fingers into the hair on the back of his head as he kissed my neck. “I like all of this. Your hands on me.”
Without skipping a beat, he leaned over to turn the water off. By now, it had reached under my breasts, with the thick layer of foam burying me up to my neck.
Hugging me from behind with one arm around my waist, Zeph moved his other hand in front of me, under the surface of the bubbles.
“I love how responsive you are to me, Ivy.” The water swelled in front of me with his gesture, washing over my breasts with a warm caress. “It’s like we’re on the same wavelength.”
The tub must have had jets I hadn’t noticed before, because streams of water sluiced around my body, up my legs, and…between my thighs. I gasped at the stroke of a stream along my folds yet resisted the urge to close my legs as pleasure rolled through me in a thick swell of heat.
“Touching you is like strumming strings of a guitar or stroking piano keys.” Zeph’s voice sounded low and uncharacteristically raspy. Something hard pressed against my back—his erection, I realized, with a thrill rushing through my body. “My touch creates resonance in you. I can sense it.”
He stroked my breasts with his hands, spreading the soapy bubbles along my skin and rubbing my nipples covered with the slippery foam.
“Oh God…” I exhaled sharply, arching my back from another charge of heat shooting straight from my chest to my lower belly.
No man had ever come close to making me orgasm, yet I was fairly certain Zeph was about to change that.
The persistent jet of water between my legs grew stronger. The pulsating pressure from it swirled around that one spot where I needed it the most, not quite reaching it.
Pleasure skirted around, building up, ebbing and rising, but not cresting yet.
I reached down with my hand, desperately needing more contact. Even the potential mortification of touching myself in the presence of another person couldn’t stop me.
Zeph quickly circled my wrist with his fingers, lifting my hand out of the water.
“The song is not over yet, Ivy,” he whispered into my ear, as I arched my back gyrating my hips in search of more pressure from that wonderful water jet, my head rolling on his shoulder. “The build-up is too beautiful to end it yet.”
“Zeph…please,” was all I could manage through my moans as my breathing shuddered. Both of my hands were now in his grip, preventing me from doing anything about the throbbing need between my legs.
The water churned around me, massaging my body. Need and pleasure rolled through me. I writhed in his lap, gasping and moaning wildly.
He brushed his lips along the side of my neck. “Now,” he murmured against my skin. “Crescendo. Come for me, Ivy.”
The jet suddenly pulsed higher, the pressure directed exactly where I wanted it, finally releasing the pleasure and setting off a mind-blinding orgasm.
I whimpered, nearly doubling in half under the onslaught of ecstasy, my inner muscles pulsing. Bliss I never knew was possible rolled through me.
Releasing my wrists, Zeph hugged me to him with one arm, slipping the other hand where the water jet had just been.
“Just like that,” he whispered softly, working me with his fingers to reap every last shudder of the longest orgasm I’d ever had.
I lay in the soapy water, my head on his shoulder, his arm around my middle holding me to him. Covering his hand with mine, I laced my fingers with his.
“I’ve never thought sex could be like this, Zeph…” I breathed. “Beautiful and intense. Like music.”
* * *
Only after Zeph had wrapped me in one of the fluffy, navy-blue towels from the bench and carried me to the bed behind the silk screen, did I remember that mine was the only orgasm that had happened that night.
I recalled the sensation of his rock-hard erection pressing urgently against my backside as I writhed in pleasure. Yet he never acted on it, although we had stayed in the tub, talking until the water started to cool off.
“What do you eat for breakfast?” He tucked the grey-blue comforter around me.
He certainly didn’t look like he cared about getting his own pleasure tonight. I had no idea if I should worry about that or approach it in any way at all.
“Breakfast?” I blinked as sleep started to tug at me. My eyelids felt heavier by the minute. “Coffee and cereal, mostly. A cinnamon bun on special occasions. Why?”
“I want to know,” he said softly, kissing my face. “Sleep, Ivy. I’ll be right back.”
He exited through a door with opal glass, which I assumed led to his bathroom.
The sky outside the window paled with the early sunrise. After a few days in Paris, I believed I had successfully gotten over the jetlag. What Zeph did to my body tonight, however, drained me of energy. Besides, we had nearly stayed up the entire night, and I felt extremely tired, now.
I didn’t remember Zeph returning from the bathroom. By the time he came to bed, I was already asleep, and by the time I woke up, it was bright and sunny.
The sweet scent of cinnamon wafted through the room flooded with sunshine that the silk screen couldn’t block.
I stretched in bed. Then my face flushed with heat as the memories of the last night rushed in.
“You up?” Zeph poked his head around the screen, the longer hair on top of his head tousled in a most adorable way.
“Morning.” I couldn’t hold back a smile at the sight of his wide grin.
“Breakfast?” He placed a tray in my lap, plopping in bed beside me. “I went to two bakeries nearby, they each had a different kind of cinnamon rolls.” He pointed at the plate with two pastries—one like a twisty knot with no icing and the other one round, sprinkled with coarse sugar crystals on top. “Which one looks like those you have in Canada?”
I recalled the brief conversation we had just before I fell asleep. The one where I said I had cinnamon buns for breakfast on special occasions.
Well, Zeph was my special occasion.
“Neither.” I took a bite of the one closer to me. “But that’s not why one would come to Paris from Canada, right? I didn’t come to France to eat Canadian cinnamon buns.” I laughed, taking another bite. “Besides, it’s not about the appearance, at all. This one tastes amazing.”
“Let me see.” He grabbed the wrist of my hand that held the pastry then bit off a huge piece of the roll. “Hmmm,” he hummed, chewing. “You’re right, it is pretty good.”
“Want some more?” I giggled.
Sunshine warmed my face, seeping into my chest.
“Nope, thanks, I already ate.”
Only now had it registered with me that Zeph was fully dressed—a crisp white shirt and black dress pants. Even his shoes were on already.
“What time is it?”
“A little past one in the afternoon.”
“What?” I moved to jump out of bed, but he placed his hand on my arm.
“Do you need to be anywhere right now?”
“No, but…” I couldn’t believe I’d slept past noon. I hadn’t done that since I was a teenager.
“Then there is no rush, Ivy. Have your breakfast. Call your friend if you have to. Take a shower if you want to. Relax.”
“Don’t you need to be somewhere?” I glanced at the polished dress shoes on his feet that he crossed in front of him while reclining in bed with me.
“Just Le Loup Solitaire.” He shrugged. “Normally, I go there early in the afternoon to help set everything up. But I’ve already called Lero and told him I’d be late today. Take your time.”
Despite his reassurances, I finished the breakfast promptly. Taking my things to the bathroom, I got dressed just as quickly, washed my face and brushed my hair, then put on some lipstick and mascara I had with me.
Zeph offered to get me a taxi, but I declined. Taking metro to Fleur’s apartment would be just as fast if not faster, and much cheaper.
He insisted on walking me to the station. Holding his hand all the way there, I forced myself to let go when we reached the entrance and he had to leave.
“Thank you,” I said softly when he turned to face me. “For everything. It was a fun adventure.”
The best in my entire life.
Zeph was my one and only one-night-stand. I had no clue what people normally said in such situations.
How do you say goodbye to someone you really, really do not feel like parting with? The prospect of never seeing him again crushed me.
“Ivy.” He came closer, until his chest nearly touched mine, then lifted his hand to cup my face. I leaned into his touch, closing my eyes.
“What are you doing tomorrow?” I blurted out in one breath. What did I have to lose at this point? Just my pride if he said no.
Keeping my eyes closed, I waited for his answer.
“I want to see you again.” He stroked my cheekbone with his thumb.
“You do?” I opened my eyes wide, needing to see his expression.
“Would you like to spend the entire day with me tomorrow?” He smiled warmly, his eyes full of sunshine.
My heart skipped and sang at that.
“Are you off tomorrow?” I asked.
“I will make sure I am. I’ll talk to Lero tonight.” He wrapped his arms around me, and I linked my hands behind his neck. “I’ll meet you at that café over there, at ten.” He gestured at the row of bright red awnings over the round tables on the sidewalk. “Then I can show you a few more, non-touristy places I think you’d like.”
Everything inside me lifted. Another date didn’t necessarily mean just one more day. I loved spending time with him, and he obviously enjoyed that, too.
What if there was a possibility of more between us?
“I’d love that, Zeph.” I exhaled a happy sigh just before he kissed me goodbye.
Except that now, “goodbye” did not mean parting forever.
Not yet, anyway.