When was the last time he’d spooned with someone? Never. Spooning had never been a priority before.
“This isn’t going to work,” she whispered.
“We’ll see,” he whispered back to her. “Are you warm enough?”
She gave a little nod.
No point telling her to go to sleep. Expecting her to relax with him wrapped around her would be sheer stupidity. Her shoulders inched forward, or tried to. His arm didn’t let her get far. Outside the moaning went on and on. You could pretend it was the wind if you tried. It didn’t always work.
“So do you think,” she asked, “if we’d actually met somewhere back in normal times, you’d have been interested in me?”
Nick stopped and thought it over—or at least pretended to. “Yes.”
She muttered something along the lines of “fucking liar” beneath her breath. She was so cute sometimes.
“You’re a smart, good-looking woman,” he said. “I’d have been all over you.”
“Bollocks. I bet you went for the mouth shut, legs open, easygoing lay nine times out of ten.”
He tried not to laugh. “Of course I did. I’m male. But you grow up and your tastes mature.”
“Oh, please. Admit I’m here because I’m the only uninfected female under fifty in the vicinity.”
“You forget your friend Jeanie.”
Roslyn’s sock-covered foot kicked back, catching him in the shin. “Janie.”
“No kicking.” He threw a leg back over hers for good measure. “She’s your friend. What does it matter if I get her name wrong? Said she didn’t interest me.”
“Are you jealous?” he asked.
She snorted. “Of what? That you didn’t kidnap someone else?”
He shifted a little closer and sniggered in her ear. “I’d take you as my hostage every time, Roslyn. Promise.”
“Hate you,” she said, sleep blurring the edges of her words.
“I know,” he said soothingly. “I’ve got the scar to prove it.”
Roslyn woke up alone in the bed again. Beyond the wide-open bi-fold doors the sun shone bright and birds were singing. Again. Also, an axe was swinging. Took her a while to place the noise, but that’s what it had to be. Having grown up in the city, hearing axes swinging wasn’t exactly the norm. She’d only moved to the country a year back when the job at the school had come up. It had probably saved her life.
The idea of a tree change had intrigued her, but it had been a career move. All part of her plan to work her way to the top and be the big boss librarian in an elite city school by thirty. Her precious life plan had been shot to shit.
The noise broke her out of her pity party.
Thunk. Thunk. Thunk.
It came from somewhere beyond the back door, presumably where Nick was. Next came whistling. Something by AC/DC, maybe? Nothing she recognized.
She rolled out of bed and headed for the bathroom, where she brushed her hair and washed her face and so on. The chain clinked cheerily behind her the whole way—he’d put it back on her as she slept.
God how she hated this. Him touching her, the chain, all of it.
The scent of him lingered, reminding her she’d woken up once or twice during the night and each time he’d been there, plastered to her back with an arm thrown over her. It made for quite the desensitizing program. The second time she woke, her cheek had been mooshed up against his bicep, skin damp with sweat. No need for so many blankets with him right there, invading her space and treating her like his teddy bear.
She didn’t want to cuddle. Not with him.
On the kitchen bench her breakfast was laid out for her. All knives, fire pokers and anything else she might have thought to use as a weapon were absent, as per the usual. She should dig his heart out with a soup spoon. Nice and blunt and messy.
She slathered her still-warm floury roll thing in jam and ate it. Because of course he’d been baking. Proving himself to be an excellent provider wasn’t going to convince her. No matter the buttery brilliance of the breakfast.
What to do with herself for the day? The shelf of dusty classics sat on the wall, taunting her. If only she had her glasses. Already she missed her books. A big fat copy of War and Peace sat staring back at her. It wasn’t like she didn’t have the time to read it again.
The back door stood open and her chain reached just far enough to let her stick her head through. He’d moved the pickup, likely to get it out of the way so he could bring firewood inside.
The industrious man stood beside a tree stump with axe in hand. No shirt on. Dirty marks stained the side of his blue jeans, as if he’d been wiping his hands there. He had just the right amount of chest hair and his sweaty body gleamed appealingly.
Even sunlight was against her.
The axe rose high above his head, the handle held tight in both hands. Muscles moved in his arms, his shoulders, flexing and shifting in an amazing manner beneath his skin. His face appeared the picture of concentration. Eyes focused entirely on his target.
And down it came. Thunk.
Two hunks of wood toppled to the ground. Nick pushed his brown hair back from his forehead, shoving his fingers through the sweat-dampened mess. The axe dangled from his hand as he breathed deep and stared off into the distance. He looked like an ad for testosterone.
He was unaware that he was being perved upon. Thankfully.
Everything inside her felt in flux. Something about the sight of him half naked stirred her up, stupidly. Her only defence was that it had been a bloody long time between dates. Her body warmed to the view, an all too willing traitor. She could actually feel her pussy flutter with interest. Shit. No. Not him. She needed to gird her loins. Close her eyes and picture him as another version of Neil. Or worse, Heathcliff. She’d never been a fan of that abusive bastard.
Nick’s head lifted and his gaze snagged hers. “Morning.”
His lips widened into a smile, a cautiously warm one. The wound on his forehead was a blue-gray mess and yet he attempted to be friends.
The chain looped around her ankle sparkled silver in the sunlight, an all too pertinent reminder of her situation. She should retreat back into the cabin. But damn, she hated being in there. The walls were closing in on her. Even the chain felt tighter, like it was rubbing at her skin.
“I want to come outside,” she called out.
“Alright.” Nick leant the axe against the tree trunk. Six feet worth of capable male strode in her direction, up the walkway and across the gangplank.
Excitement at having the chain removed far outweighed her nerves about having him near. She shifted aside, ankle at the ready. Her heart beat double time. To get it off for more than five minutes’ respite. Yes, yes, yes.
Another brief smile as he walked straight past her toward the bed. Not removing the chain from her foot. Not even a little. She’d foolishly fallen for his shit again. Disappointment drowned her.
A pistol butt stuck out of the back of his jeans. She should shoot him in the ass with it.
“You’re going to tie me up outside?” Her voice sounded strangled. “Seriously?”
He looked up from where he was crouched at the end of the bed, busy undoing the padlock. “I don’t feel like running after you when you attempt your next great escape. Sorry.”
“But there are infected somewhere out there. It’s not safe.”
“I’ll be right there the whole time, Roslyn. I won’t leave you alone for a second.”
Breakfast tossed and turned in her belly.
“No,” she said. “Don’t worry about it. I’ll stay inside.”
Nick let the chain slither through his fingers and fall onto the floor. He remained crouched by the end of the bed. “Ros.”
“Really, it’s fine. Forget about it.”
He licked his lips and made a pained expression, brows drawn down. “Come on. You want a change of scenery, don’t you?”
Would have been easy to throw out an insult, because God, yes, she wanted away from him. Didn’t want to be looking at him another moment, him or his bare chest. Inside she felt small and cold and defeated. Her shoulders slumped. She hated it, but it was true. Not as if anything had really changed, though. The chain would remain and she was stupid. Hope sucked. To put it poetically, it was a motherfucking sucker punch. Not necessarily the words Austen would have chosen, but germane just the same.
“Look at me.” He wandered toward her. Eyes narrowed and head angled as if in scrutiny. She could smell him and the scent was warm and rich and male. It scattered what remained of her wits.
“Roslyn, promise me you will not try anything.”
Her mouth opened but nothing came out. She hadn’t thought of escaping him. Instead she’d been all over the idea of blue sky and fresh air. And the chance to watch him at work. It was entirely possible she was the worst hostage ever.
“I’m serious, Ros. You stay where I put you and you do not pull any shit. Understood?”
She nodded furiously. “Yes.”
“Do you see this?” He got right in her face, finger pointed straight at Exhibit A, the big gray lump and long crusted cut on his forehead. “This says I shouldn’t trust you, loud and clear. Doesn’t matter why you did it. You did it. To me. Didn’t you?”
No denying the evidence. She nodded again, fingers twined tight. Bone-breakingly so. It lay on the tip of her tongue to say sorry. But it would be a lie. Deep down where it really counted it would be a big, fat whopper because he had deserved it, and eleven times out of ten she would do it all over again.
“Because it really fucking hurt, sweet,” he said. A muscle in his jaw danced.
Another nod. She tried for contrite, really and truly tried with sad puppy eyes and everything, but she struggled to hold back an ecstatic grin at the idea of heading outside. Damn her lack of acting ability.
He scowled so hard that little wrinkles appeared beside his nose. “Okay. You break our deal, I’m going to take a belt to your ass. Hard. You will not sit for days.” He dropped to his knees and dark eyes glared up at her. “Understood?”