“We should go upstairs, see if there’s food,” Finn said.
She shook her head. “No.”
His high forehead creased, and his nostrils flared as he drew in a deep breath. “If we’re quiet, keep our heads down, we’l be okay.
It’s a risk we need to take.”
Like magic the thing upstairs chose then to bump and grind, as if it knew it were the topic of conversation.
“Shit.” Finn straightened himself and stretched, rolling his good shoulder in slow motion. “Give me a sec. We’ll try the neighbor’s house.”
“Finn, there’s no need. This lot was getting ready to run. The car has a box of groceries, not all of them have gone off. There’s not much else, a couple of blankets, some bottled water and beer. A stack of photo albums …” She cast her eyes toward the second story, wondering. Not a good place to go. “Anyway, we’re good for the immediate future.”
“Alright.” This one word finished on a weary sigh. It seemed to say this man’s reserves were running low, and the blame lay with her.
Dark shadows sat beneath his eyes and lines bracketed his mouth. They were stil in danger because she refused to move on without Daniel, and he might not be coming.
Except he was. Nothing else was acceptable.
“He’ll come, Finn. You don’t know him. Dan is very resourceful.”
Finn did the raising of one brow thing, giving her a long look. The type that said nothing and everything. The type bound to piss her off.
“I know you think he’s—”
“We should put a sign out, something only he’d recognize. What do you think would work best?” He cut her off neatly, face expressionless. Nothing to see here, move along.
“Oh. Wel , I already took care of it,” she admitted.
His green eyes hardened, lips flat lined. “Al …”
“I think we have a decent water supply. The tank seems to run in to the laundry.” She waved a hand in its direction, a blatant bit of distraction. Who had the energy for subtlety? There was no softening of his glare. “Don’t go there, Finn. I was careful. It needed to be done. You needed to rest.”
The man raised a knee, draped an arm over it. It had the feel of another cop thing, the silence and watchfulness as he waited for her to stumble into his trap. He observed her, elegant face cool and composed despite the dirt and stubble.
Two months ago, his level of scrutiny would have shaken her down to her shoes.
Now, not so much.
Things took on a different perspective when you knew what real fear was. A good cop face wouldn’t send her running for cover anytime soon.
“Do you have a spare shirt I could borrow? I want to give my clothes a wash while we have the chance.” Ali stood, brushed off her hands and butt. Like a few specks of dirt would make an imprint on top of everything else they’d been subjected to. “Anything you want done?”
“Yes, laundry wise.” She needed to keep busy, keep her hands occupied.
Ali wandered over to the basin, said a silent prayer and pushed in a plug. Slowly, she turned the tap. There came a trickle of rust-colored water. A dirty dribble could be accounted to water sitting in the system, nothing to get excited about yet.
She turned the knob farther. Oh, yes. Out it came. Stupidly, her eyes welled. Daniel was missing, and she was crying over running water. How messed up. Everything inside her had been rewired wrong.
Her entire life, running water had worked just fine, her love life, not so much. Where was the balance? It served her right for letting Daniel be her crutch. Now her weak knees were quaking.
Running water didn’t begin to fix the wrongs. But, it did give her hands something to do. A bar of old yellow soap, cracked with age, sat on the sink just waiting for her. She set to it with a vengeance.
Ali scrubbed her arms and hands, built up a lather to attack her face. The need to get the grime was all consuming. When he walked in, she would be waiting, in one piece, not looking as if she had been rolling in mud.
Fuck no, she would pretty herself up for her man. Hope was a sly bitch.
Strands of hair stuck to her wet face and Finn’s hands were there, puling them back. He resurrected her ponytail. She could feel the warmth of him at her back, not quite touching, but near enough to soothe and scare.
She wanted Daniel, and she wanted to feel safe. These days, she wanted all sorts of shit she couldn’t have.
Finn took a step back and she breathed easier.
“I get that you needed to do it. Just wake me next time. You can’t go out on your own, Al.”
“Shit. I’ve got soap in my eyes.” Ali fumbled around for the threadbare hand towel that had been hanging from a hook beside the trough. “Damn it.”
Something soft and dry dabbed at her face. She dared blinking. That was one thing that hadn’t changed – getting soap in your eyes still sucked. “Thank you.”
Finn’s face was solemn, mouth set and eyes decades older than they should have been. His gaze made her feel juvenile, foolish. Like she had hurt him somehow, disappointed him.
Making the mad dash outside had seemed perfectly reasonable at the time. Why did she feel yet more guilt creeping up on her?
“What sign did you put out there?”
“Oh, it’s subtle. Don’t worry.” Her eyes were hot, stinging from more than suds. Ali scrubbed the soap off her face, searched for a distraction to stop the tears. Every damn subject felt razor-edged. “Thanks.”
Finn tipped his chin, accepting the meager show of gratitude. “You’re welcome.”
It was wildly insufficient on her part, and she admitted it. “For everything, I mean. In case I haven’t mentioned it before. You’ve been
… amazing, Finn. Real y.”
Finn nodded again, set the requested t-shirt aside. His face was calm but somber, lips slightly parted and eyes ful of concern. She blinked back tears like crazy, refusing to let them show. As if he was fooled.
Not even a little.
He was no more fooled than embarrassed. “You need to be more careful, Al.”
“I know. I understand.”
“Good. Because you need to give me the opportunity to watch your back. You need to trust me.” And then he turned his back, gave her a chance to shut down the waterworks. What a gentleman. After a moment or so he cleared his throat, giving her warning. “How about you wash my back and I’ll do yours. Deal?”
“How about I clean yours up, and help put on a new bandage. Deal?”
He gave a gruff nod and showed her his back.
The intimacy of it unnerved her. So, she talked. “When I ran into Daniel I had been hiding in a neighbor’s roof for months. No baths.”
“So I’m getting off easy?”
“I was … fragrant, let’s leave it at that. Once upon a time, I never bathed with veritable strangers at al .” The smile felt awkward, strained.
“Small-minded of you. There’s nothing wrong with sharing a shower with new friends.” He flashed her a grin as he glanced back over his shoulder. There and gone in a moment.
“You know, the Japanese have public bath houses, have done for centuries,” he continued on when she failed to pick up the thread of the conversation.
“I don’t believe the men and women actual y mix in those.” Ali rubbed her hand against the slab of soap, working up a lather for round two. “I’l get the dried blood off your back while you tell me sordid tales of your youth.”
“I have two older sisters. My adventures couldn’t even begin to compete.”
“I’m sure you underestimate yourself.”
He flashed his teeth again.
“So you were the baby of the family.” She ran her fingers over his back, aiming for impersonal. She rubbed at the build-up of blood and dirt. Reddish-brown soap bubbles trailed down his spine, soaked into the top of his low-slung jeans. Her throat closed at the sight of the bloody gash in his shoulder. A hand-span lower and the bullet would have killed him. No Finn. The thought of it had her tearing up once more. “You’ve lost a lot of blood.”
“Got some hard evidence to the contrary back here.” Her voice wavered. Damn it.
The look he gave her over his shoulder made no sense but it froze her in place. Finn held her gaze for a long moment. And then turned away. Said nothing.
She had no idea what it meant. Her hands hovered, hesitating, waiting for enlightenment. He kept his face averted. “Finn?”
“We should eat soon.”
“Okay,” she agreed, letting it drop.
He nodded. Mission accomplished apparently, whatever the mission had been.
She couldn’t read him for shit. Then again, she’d always been clueless when it came to the other sex. Men were complicated.
Straightforward one minute and riddles the next. It irked the crap out of her. In the face of her new upfront and open frame of mind, she wasn’t letting it go after all. “Finn, what was that?”
“Nothing.” His tone of voice firm and flat.
Okey dokey. Apparently she hadn’t grown enough to chase it down. Awkward feelings flooded her.
“It’s a good thing you had antibiotics,” she said. An innocuous enough topic, surely.
“Got the bag of wonders.”
“Yes.” She offered him a smile. He looked over his shoulder and almost returned it. The corner of his mouth hesitated at the last.
“Your bag of wonders rocks, I must say.”
“Personal preparedness. I was a Scout.” He braced his arms on the edge of the basin and dropped his head forward. She scrubbed at his back and neck, gently pushing her fingers into solid muscle. “Can you do it harder?” he asked.
“Sure.” She dug in, keeping a safe distance from his shoulder, wanting to soothe, not harm. From her, it was the least he deserved.