Carved in Stone: The Q Collection, book six
All day I’ve watched Chloe trudge boxes from the truck to the house, moving her entire life one cubic foot at a time.
I don’t know how many years I’ve waited for her to return home. How long has it been since she discovered her imaginary friend wasn’t imaginary, since she blabbed about it to her parents, who promptly shipped her off to boarding school, then sold the house and moved far, far away?
Admittedly, the way Chloe found out I was real could have gone better. I hadn’t meant to startle her, and I certainly hadn’t meant for her to fall off the damn roof, but she’d tried to kiss me! And call me old-fashioned, but a girl’s first kiss should be with a boy her own age, not an ancient lump of rock like me.
Although, as I watch the seductive sway of her hips as she carries a chair up the front steps and into the house, I know I wouldn’t mind if she kissed me now. Little Chloe isn’t so little anymore. Only a full-grown woman walks with that much swagger, and I wonder with a smile if she’s still as gloriously weird as she was as a child.
You see, that’s how Chloe and I became friends all those years ago. Imaginary friends, but still. Children her own age thought her peculiar. And yes, I could see why they’d think that. Collecting animal skulls and sleeping with jars full of spiders beside the bed is not exactly usual behaviour for a child, especially a young lady, but Chloe never cared what anyone else thought and simply did it anyway. Just like she defied her parents and climbed up to the roof at every available chance to sit at my side and chatter away about the people buried in the graveyard behind her house, to wonder at the lives they must have led.
Not that she knew I was listening. Not really.
She was a special child—one of the last of her kind, if I had to guess—for she carries the blood of the masters.
The people who created me and my kind.
Some people call us gargoyles. Some people are idiots. And before you get all pissy and say, “I know a fucking gargoyle when I see one!”
Firstly, no you fucking don’t.
Secondly, a gargoyle is a glorified waterspout designed as a part of the plumbing. Don’t believe me? Fine. Take another look at my cover. Go on, I’ll wait….
Now you tell me: Do I look like a fucking waterspout to you? No, didn’t think so.
Shit. Where was I?
Oh yes, humans are stupid, and I most definitely am not a gargoyle.
I am a grotesque. And contrary to popular belief, we don’t all have wings and horny bits. Well, not the horny bits you’re probably thinking of.
Grotesques are guardians who protect the people and ward off evil.
It’s an unusual name, I grant you, for someone as spectacular as myself, and not the name given my kind originally. When we were created, when the masters carved us from the purest marble and gave us the faces of angels with bodies to match, we were known as something quite different. For you see, Winchester may have had his geese, but Canterbury had his wolves.
Confused? I don’t blame you. So here’s a quick history lesson.
It is universally acknowledged that even in the toughest of times, prostitutes make money, and in the twelfth century, the churches and the bishops knew a good thing when they saw it and taxed said prostitutes, taking a little—or a large—piece of the pie for themselves. But here’s the thing: humans in the Middle Ages were not the cleanest of individuals, and if the missus didn’t kill you for visiting the stews, the syphilis would.
And the bishop of Winchester took his cut either way.
That’s where Canterbury came in.
The archbishop was a clever man, and using his knowledge of courtier life and who was—or was not—sleeping with whom, he had the idea to keep the money coming in by tapping into a frequently overlooked and underutilised source of capital.
After all, what’s good for the gander is good for the goose. But, ever aware of the scandal that would arise if the fairer half of his flock suddenly contracted an STD, or worse, fell pregnant while their husbands were otherwise occupied with one crusade or another, he gathered the best sculptors money could buy and gave them a task.
Me and my stony brethren.
But it didn’t matter how exquisitely carved we were, every detail of our marble bodies painstaking and precise, we were still lifeless lumps of rock. No better than statues. But it turns out all those secret societies the conspiracy nuts are always banging on about were actually a thing way back when, and not only were the masters handy with a chisel, but some of them knew their way around the art of anthropomorphism too. One by one they breathed life into us, gave us emotions and thoughts and a sense of touch, and before we even knew what we were, we were being instructed in the finer points of pleasuring a woman for coin.
Yes. That’s right. I was a medieval man of the night.
A Canterbury Wolf.
A lady knew when she entered our den that she had no chance of contracting the pox or falling with child. Safe from the fragility of male egos and assured a night of pleasure, she was the most important woman in the world, even if only for an hour or two, depending on the size of her purse.
And now you’re scratching your pretty little heads and thinking, “But, Arnaath, how did you go from prostitute to pigeon post?”
That’s my name, by the way, in case you missed it at the top of the page. Arnaath. I have no idea why my master chose it, but I’ve never liked it. Personally I think it looks like how you’d spell the sound gas makes as it escapes the confines of your arse.
But I digress.
The way we came by our name of grotesque was violent and painful and cruel beyond measure. I mean, really, there’s a reason most of my brethren are as anatomically correct as a Ken doll, and it has nothing to do with the ravages of time. No, as educated as we were in the ways of women and their pleasure, we were innocent of the ways of men and their petty jealousies.
They attacked us.
Resentful husbands and outraged fathers smashed and hacked and shattered us. And when they had disfigured us beyond repair, they hunted down and murdered our masters, ensuring we remained broken and damaged and ugly—grotesque. Ensuring their women would never seek comfort in our arms again.
But I was one of the lucky ones.
My creator survived and managed to restore me. Well, most of me. Definitely all the parts that matter.
And upon inspecting the carnage and seeing what had become of those who could not be repaired to their former glory, the archbishop offered us a different life from the one we’d known, and like so many eunuchs before them, my brothers resigned themselves to a life of duty within the church. They took to the rooves, to the steeples and belfries, so they could watch over their lovers, protect them from afar.
And perhaps take a little pleasure in haunting their attackers, reminding them they would never satisfy their wives as well as a broken-down lump of rock. And even though my creator had left me mostly whole and hearty, I joined my brethren at their post and settled into the new life the archbishop had granted us.
But time really is the enemy of the immortal. Endless, ceaseless, mind-numbing time. Watching each excruciating second slip into the next and the next and so on and so forth….
God, I was bored.
I went from pleasuring women every night, hearing them sigh and moan and cry out their ecstasy, knowing I had done my job well and would be rewarded with another willing female the next night and the next, to being the medieval equivalent of a hood ornament for the archbishop’s pimp-mobile.
I lasted less than a year before I decided the church was not for me and struck out on my own.
Now, I know you’re wondering what the fuck this has to do with anything and how the hell I ended up on the roof of a reclaimed country church in the middle of buttfuck nowhere, and I’m getting to that.
It turned out the world wasn’t ready for anthropomorphic sculptures who loved fucking, and not long after I liberated myself from the cathedral in Canterbury, I went back into hiding, tucking myself up in the back of a tithe barn where I figured the local priest wouldn’t bother to look for me. And while in hiding, I kinda, maybe fell asleep for a century or two.
You know how it is when you wake up after a really weird dream and it takes you a moment to get your bearings and realise you’re still in bed? Well, don’t fall asleep for seven hundred-plus years and expect to wake up where you fell asleep.
No, I woke up just as I was being offloaded from a ship. And when the crate they’d boxed me in was opened, a man who looked vaguely like my creator told me my whoring days were done, then brought me to this church-come-quirky-country-cottage I now sit upon and told me to behave myself. Which begs the question: What the fuck did I do when I was asleep that he felt the need to chastise me?
Shit. I got so lost in my musings I didn’t hear Chloe climb up to the roof. I dare not move. Not yet. If I had a heart, it would be beating its way out of my chest right about now. If I had breath, it would be stuttering in and out of my lungs.
I’m nervous, though I’m not sure how I know that. I don’t think I’ve ever been nervous before.
“Arnaath, I know you can hear me,” she says, her words hesitant, like she doesn’t fully believe what she’s saying. Her voice is richer than the last time I heard it. Fuller, more grown-up. More sensual. It makes me shiver, and my cock starts to rise. The tentative touch of her hand sliding over my shoulder, the warmth of her soft skin, makes me smile.
I forget to be nervous. “You’re not allowed up here, little mason,” I say. “What if you fall off the roof again?”
Slowly I turn to look at her. I can’t not look at her. I’ve watched her all day, wanted to reach out and touch her all day.
Standing with her arms akimbo and one brow cocked, she says, “I didn’t fall. You pushed me.”
If it wasn’t for the cheeky glint in her eyes or the lifting of one corner of her mouth, I’d be insulted. “I didn’t push you, wench,” I tell her, folding my arms across my chest. “You surprised me.”
“Surprised you.” She scoffs. “I kissed you.”
“You saying there was something wrong with my kiss?”
“Since you think I pushed you off the roof afterwards, you tell me.”
For a brief moment, Chloe’s expression resembles that of a gasping fish. Then she bursts out laughing and shakes her head. “I knew you were real. I knew I wasn’t crazy. And my father knew, didn’t he? Or he wouldn’t have made us move house when I’d insisted you’d saved me. I can’t believe he actually tried the old ‘you were dreaming’ trick. As if that would ever work.”
Grinning at her indignation, I nod, confirming her suspicion. “Yes, your father knew,” I say. “And he was none too happy with me after that little incident.”
Her eyes widen. “He was unhappy you saved me?”
“He was unhappy that my allure caused his only child to put herself in harm’s way. And thankfully all he did was move you away from me. Especially after he threatened to take a hammer and chisel to my cock and balls.” I can’t quite suppress my shudder. “Forcing me back into endless slumber was definitely the lesser of two evils.”
Her brow pulls down, and I have the urge to reach out and smooth it away. Or maybe any excuse to touch her will do. “What do you mean by ‘endless slumber’?”
I yawn and stretch, the vestiges of my latest sleep still dissipating. “As I discovered many moons ago, when I am apart from my creator’s bloodline for too long, I fall into a deep sleep. I become the statue you know and adore. A fail-safe, so your father told me, to prevent me and my brothers from running amok. So as it was with your father when he first shipped me here from merry ol’ England, being near to you has awoken me again.”
Chloe looks unimpressed by this knowledge and folds her arms across her ample bosom, drawing my gaze to follow the contours of all that softness. My cock stiffens against my thigh, and I lick my lips.
“That’s the excuse you’re going with? Really? You didn’t once offer to help me unload the truck because you were what? Defrosting?” she says, but again there is a teasing lilt under the surface of her words.
So I tease back. “You want me to pitch you off the roof again?”
She looks pointedly at her full, lush figure, then back at me, the challenge clear in her dark blue eyes. “I’d like to see you try.”