“Pussy-whipped. Very nice.” Something stung her knee. Wincing, she lifted the razor from her skin. Great. She’d nicked herself due to focusing on the view instead of shaving.
God, but he filled out blue jeans. His ass was paired with the strong line of his back, framed by a set of broad shoulders encased in a t-shirt that fit right. She tried to ignore him, but her girl bits lacked the moral fortitude, apparently.
And lacked priorities.
It had been a very long time between dates.
And he did have a stellar ass.
Her nipples pebbled from more than the damp. It was surreal to feel feminine. To feel human … A drink would have worked, right about then. “You sure have a way with words.”
“I can’t hold back. You’re such a receptive audience. You love me.”
She snorted and hated herself for it.
“And it’s great to have someone to talk to. Even if I can’t face you while we’re talking, which is plain rude. My mother would have been appalled.” Daniel reached up and leant an arm against the top of the doorframe. His fingers tapped a beat against the old hardwood. Mary’s house wasn’t sized for him. He was going to knock himself out on a doorway if he wasn’t careful.
“Give it up,” she said.
“No chance. Not so long as my pathetic state of affairs amuses you.”
It did. He wasn’t even particularly funny. Probably stress.
Then the thing at the back door went thump. Ali jumped, slicing the side of her ankle. Proving the stress theory right. “Shit.”
“What?” Daniel spun and his face screwed up tight in disbelief, brows drawing together. “You were wearing a towel? For how long?”
He snatched a facecloth from the counter and dropped to his knees, dabbing at the small cut oozing blood. “And you call me untrustworthy.”
“You were fine where you were.” Her hands clutched the top of her towel. “Going from being alone to having you around is an adjustment.”
Daniel grunted. “Question. Have you even fired that gun before today? Not that I’m worried you’ll kill me in my sleep or something.”
“No. Today was the first time.” She held still and watched him tending to the cut. In truth, she had survived more by cowardice, hiding in her attic hole, than cunning. “I probably couldn’t hit a house.”
“You did hit a house. You would have hit me just fine.” Daniel smiled up at her.
There were creases at the edges of his baby blues, faint, paler lines against the tan of his skin. He was maybe forty. He wore it well.
Lovely, faded, denim-blue eyes that held her rapt for a time. If in days gone by he had smiled at her from across a crowded room, she would have smiled back. That much was true.
“I nearly did shoot you,” she said. “Why would you smile at that?”
“Because you didn’t shoot me. Also because you’re wil ing to defend yourself. Taken in the right context, both of these things make me happy.” He grabbed a tube of antiseptic cream from the first-aid kit spread out on the bathroom counter and squeezed some onto his fingers. “Might as well deal with your knee while I’m here. Stay still.”
He frowned and clucked his tongue, thick fingers stroking over the jagged cut on her knee. His touch was extraordinarily gentle.
With his face at her crotch level, she started to sweat. The old towel offered little protection. He was a stranger, although an attractive one. She had stopped sleeping with strangers years ago. Had stopped sleeping with anyone almost a year ago. A woman could be content with her own hand. Shower jet. Toys. It had seemed the simplest solution after the great breakup.
The jumble of emotions tumbling through her was al too much for one day.
“Probably just a nail going under the fence. I can do that.” Ali made a grab for the antiseptic, but Daniel stayed ahead of her, tucking it behind his back. “Personal space?” she asked.
“Hush. This is not good.” He continued administering to her, shuffling closer on his knees. She could feel his warm, damp breath on her leg where the towel skirted her skin. It tickled. “When was your last tetanus shot?”
“I don’t know,” she admitted. Another thing to worry over. “There might be some antibiotics in the cupboard. I’ll have a look. I think we’re done here.”
“How does it feel?” The corners of his mouth lifted, slowly, and she stared for a moment, bedazzled.
Past time to pul herself together.
Nice face by no means changed the facts. He had barged his way into her safe place. Denied her liberty, yaddah, yaddah.
And oh yeah, she had lost it, big time. Hugely. Right up close and personal.
Enough of her normal self remained beside the chunk of space the cowardly rabbit inhabited to wonder if she should be embarrassed or angry or what. He made her feel exposed in a way that had nothing to do with her missing pants.
The thing at the back door started up a dull, constant hammering. Maybe more than one of them, by the sound of it. They were out there, waiting.
What the fuck was she going to do?
“Hey. It’s okay.” His eyes were full of warmth and affection. It was the sort of gaze you got jealous over when another woman was on the receiving end.
How bizarre, he didn’t even know her.
“No need to panic. We’re safe,” he said. “Everything’s locked tight.”
“Yeah.” Her chin bobbed like a cork on the water. She was safe. In her head she knew it. But in the depths of her rabbity heart, she didn’t believe it. “I should get dressed.”
“Which makes it my turn to clean up.” The big man rose to his feet, taking up all available air space in the tiny bathroom. She tried to withdraw, but the back of her heel connected with the bottom of the cabinet door with a thump. That smarted.
Luckily, Daniel didn’t seem to notice her lack of grace. “Another question. Why were you heading for the roof when this place is locked up tighter than a vault?”
“The last news reports said they didn’t climb well, so it’s safer up there. They said to get onto rooftops, knock out staircases if you could …” Ali shrugged and twisted her lips.
Why had she remained in the dirt and dark when there was a whole house at her disposal? It wasn’t something she cared to review.
“I felt safer up there. Can you move, please? You’re in my way.”
“Yeah, but …”
Daniel said nothing and didn’t move, he stood and stared back down at her from on high, his mouth open slightly. The look he gave said she was a hair's breadth off being loony bin material, but he was too kind to say so. Screw him. Ali bit her cheeks and fought the fear. Being cornered set her off in the worst way and the pushy bastard just kept doing it. He didn’t understand shit. Why she cared what he thought was beyond her. But she did.
“Look, they could stil get in. You don’t know what could happen. If enough of them beat against the door, they could break it down.
Last time I checked, no one had put out a survival guide for this particular scenario so you can keep your fucking opinions to yourself, okay?” The words poured out in a hot rush. Damn. Not good. Maybe she had lost it. “I want to get dressed now.”
“O-kay.” And if that wasn’t said using a “don’t spook the crazy lady” tone of voice, she would eat her big toe.
Ali shoved her wet hair back from her face, then took a breath and tried to calm down. “Can you move …”
“We can find a safer place out west, you know.” With no warning Daniel whipped his t-shirt off over his head, dropped it to the ground and started in on his belt buckle.
Like it was no big deal.
Holy hell he was fit. And standing way too close. His upper body was perfectly defined. What the hell had he been doing since civilization fell apart?
The oxygen had long since left the room, for her at least. She needed a paper bag to breathe into. Now would be good. “Wh-what?”
“Yeah, yeah. Something with a decent fence we can build up so we can be safe out and about during the day. Be able to see anything coming at us from a distance.” Busy hands made short work of belt and button and zipper. Her face went nuclear. She held up her hands to cover her cheeks while his jeans dropped and his plans grew.
It was difficult to know which alarmed her more.
“I’ve been using a trail bike, but we could switch to a small four-wheel drive. We can just switch cars when we hit a roadblock we can’t get around. What do you think?”
Think? Yes, she needed to think. To do that he had to stop. All of it. He had to stop pushing. “Wait.”
“I say we head out tomorrow. You can get packed up by then, yeah?” He propped his hands on lean hips, thumbs tucked beneath the waistband of his black cotton boxers like a threat, or a promise. She wasn’t sure which. His big hands framed the ridges and planes of muscle from abdomen up to his chest, fancy tattoos sitting atop each big buff shoulder, done in shades of green and gray and blue. He was a work of art.
Her knees wobbled.
With a particularly pained expression, he asked, “What’s wrong now?”
“You. You need to back off.” The flats of her palms connected with the heat of his chest as she did her best to shove him. “Give me some space. Now.”
The big guy gifted her one small step backward and hung his head. Lips compressed and jaw stern, he looked up at her from beneath dark brows. “Ali …”
“No. You need to back off. This isn’t going to work.”
The big man swore. Repeatedly. “You’ve been living up in the roof for what? Six, seven weeks? Coming down to scavenge when you have no other choice? That’s not living, and we both know it. The world may have gone to shit but we’re still alive, don’t you think it’s time to start acting like it?”
Her face must have conveyed her doubt over the pep talk because he groaned and ran a hand over the choppy, badly cut, short dark head of hair. He seemed beyond irate with his eyes narrowed. It wasn’t her damn fault he barged in and took over without a thought.