Maybe it was the novelty factor. She had only been on the road for a day. For him, the great outdoors had boiled down to flies during the day, mosquitoes at night. There’d been summer storms that whipped up the dust and debris and turned the earth to mud, making the going slow. The glare of sunlight toasting him throughout the day, followed by the long, long nights on his lonesome.
At least he had his girl. Something was going on with her, however. Something he hated to be left out of, needy fuck that he was.
Daniel crouched down behind her, not touching uninvited, though hovering damn close. “Quiet, isn’t it?”
Another nod. A desperate mind might see it as gaining ground.
“What are you doing?”
She glanced over her shoulder, swallowed, and licked her lips with the tip of her tongue. “There is nothing to fear but fear itself.
Ah. Right. Sort of. “You’re afraid?”
One terse nod. “Terrified. Have been al day.”
“Oh. That’s what the snarky was about. Got it. Okay. Now I’m understanding.” He shuffled closer, daring to storm the fortress. He lined up the back of her arm with the front of his, leaning in til his mouth was next to her ear. “Keep talking. I’m listening.”
She turned back and her eyes flew open. Her brows shot up, startled at finding him right there. But she didn’t move away. Score one for his team. “It wasn’t all me being snarky. You were being unnecessarily stubborn and pushy at times.”
“I humbly apologize. Keep going.”
“I’m starting to think it’s just your nature.” His girl almost smiled, the corner of her mouth compressing. “Uh … I don’t know. It felt so exposed out there on the road but now, stuck in this place, I feel weird. This was someone’s home. And they probably died here.
It’s … it’s all so messed up now, isn’t it? The whole world. Or what’s left of it.”
He nodded and smiled.
The brows descended further than necessary. “Why are you smiling?”
“Because, for the first time in my adult life, I’m getting where an equally adult female is coming from without bursting a blood vessel or something. It feels like a breakthrough. You’re talking to me. I love it.” Daniel ignored the scrunched-up face his honey dealt him. He dropped his shoulders with a sigh and smiled some more, relaxing into the conversation. “Yes, it’s all messed up. And no, my nature is delightful. More importantly, however, this place has a flat roof. Once the sun sets, we could climb up there, star watch. Get a different perspective. What do you say?”
“The roof?” Her throat worked and her eyes searched the floor. “Ah. Wow. I don’t think I could do that. Be out in the open again.
An infected stumbled onto the street outside; a long, low groan echoed across the empty landscape. A shiver slid down her back.
Her hand, fingers trembling, fished for the shotgun sitting by her side.
“Ali, it’s okay,” he said, earning another nod. Actually, it was closer to a jerk, and far from convinced.
He had searched the place thoroughly, barricaded the door downstairs and the stairwel both; he’d junked them up with furniture.
Nothing was getting near.
“You really think we could go up on the roof?” Her plush mouth was set in a super straight line of disbelief. She stirred up all sorts of tender in him. It shouldn’t have been a surprise.
It had been a long day, and apart from riding him on each and every decision made, she had been a trooper. She questioned, but she didn’t whine. A delicate line to tread, but one he’d begun to appreciate.
Especially since she kept checking him out when she thought he wasn’t looking. Talk about life affirming. Turning around to find her focusing on a lower level, say where his ass had been. It made everything much more than all right. He loved it. The hitch in her breath and the telltale spike of those nipples through her t-shirt made life superb.
On the bike she had settled against him more with each passing kilometer. She held on good and tight, leaning into his back as they wound through build-ups of once upon a time traffic. He doubted the cuddling was conscious on her part, but it meant she was relaxing.
“We can definitely go up on the roof,” he said. “It would even be safer than staying down here, when you think about it.”
She paused, cocked her head. “You’re smiling again.”
“You make me so happy.”
She snorted a laugh, which was quite possibly the cutest thing he’d ever heard.
“You know, I think you ran out of words,” he said, earning another small smile. “You certainly used up a lot on me today with all the constructive feedback. Which I appreciated very much.”
“Mm hmm. Happens to guys all the time. We have less words per day than women. I know this for a fact, saw it on TV once.”
Ali darted the tip of her tongue across her lips, eyes flitting between him and the world outside. Like anything was happening out there. “I don’t have a penis. In case you hadn’t noticed.”
“I had. I’m very grateful, in case you hadn’t noticed.”
“Actual y, I had.”
He nodded, shuffled a little closer. Close enough so he could see the goose pimples on the side of her neck rise when she felt his breath there. And she stil didn’t move away. “Thought you might have.”
Outside, the sun sank, slowly turning the world to gold, then gray, then black. A solid black these days, being minus electricity. The kind of darkness you only used to get out in the middle of nowhere.
The first star twinkled hopefully through the slice of life the curtains afforded.
“Make a wish,” he said.
Daniel dragged over his backpack and cracked a can of soup. She had to be hungry by now, no matter how taken she was by the scenery. He fished out a clean spoon and filled it up with the cold and gelatinous but nutritional goop. With all due ceremony, he held it in front of her pretty pink mouth.
“Time to eat. Open,” he said and she did, making him feel all sorts of good. Purring in her ear and rubbing up against her wasn’t out of the question. Though he doubted she’d appreciate it. He alternated spoonfuls, one for her, one for him. It satisfied some primal caveman thing in him to feed her.
He wanted to do all sorts of things for her but, for now, he was stuck with what she would allow. The whole quiet, meditative state seeped into him and everything was good and mellow. He could roll with this.
His girl sat, frowning out at the horizon. Little lines sat between her brows and her concentration was absolute. It seemed like she was daring herself not to blink or turn away. Forcing herself to face up to the world. During the day there had been distractions, but not so now. She struggled but didn’t back down. The least he could do was to be there for her.
When her hand strayed back to rest on his knee he stayed perfectly stil and just let her. He doubted she knew she had reached out to him. That she touched him. His dick more than realized, the hair-trigger her presence inspired kicking in.
He thought about cold water. Ice-cold water. It almost worked.
Soup gave way to bottled water. Then he cracked open a bottle of fifteen-year-old scotch he had been saving up for just such an occasion. A celebration of being alive, drawing breath, being together. A celebration of her hand on his knee. “Drink.”
She put her lips to the bottle, and he tipped, sending the very fine amber liquor straight down her throat.
Ali sputtered and grabbed at the bottle, shoving it away before covering her mouth with a hasty hand.
“Damn it, sorry. I didn’t think.” Daniel set the precious bottle aside and rose up on his knees, pried her hands from her face. Hard to see much in the darkness, but her eyes were glossy. She choked and laughed in equal amounts. At least he’d made her laugh. “I should have warned you it wasn’t water.”
“Holy shit, Dan. It sure wasn’t.”
“I’m sorry, I was trying not to ruin your Zen silence overcoming fear thing. I thought we could have a drink, you know?” He settled back on his haunches, carefully wiped away the shining trail of tears on her cheeks. Second day in a row he had made her cry. At least this time it was due to well-aged scotch firing up her throat and not a panic attack. Or he hoped it wasn’t a panic attack. Fuck it, the thought made him panic. “You’re okay right? You’d tell me if you weren’t? I mean, I know you’re spooked, but you’re not too bad, are you?”
“I’m fine. Be calm.” There was a smirk in her voice. He could taste it.
A low chuckle escaped her and her hands patted down her t-shirt, most likely an attempt to brush off the spilled scotch. He did his best not to get distracted by the lure of her jiggling tits.
He was so easy for her, so head over heels it was ridiculous.
“Be calm,” he growled. “Don’t quote me to me, missy.”
“I’m fine, Dan.” She smiled, the white of her teeth cueing him in to the fact in the dim light. “You don’t have to worry about me. I can keep myself together, despite earlier demonstrations to the contrary.”
“I know. You’re strong. Self-sufficient. I get that,” he murmured, and she looked back to him. She was close enough to kiss, and he wanted her mouth.
“Hmm?” His gaze lingered on her lips, waiting.
After an eon, he had to admit to himself, it wasn’t happening here and now. Okay. Alright. Stil , there had been ground gained today.
He could feel it.
“Dark enough now we can climb up onto the roof if you’re game,” he challenged, pushing to his feet. “Nothing to fear, remember? I’ll grab the bedroll.”
Her hands finally stopped shaking.
Ali watched as Daniel strode through the house. He was all easy grace with his long legs eating up the hallway until the shadow of him disappeared into a room.