“I’m fine,” she said. “Let’s go.”
The man tipped his chin, turned toward the van and pushed back the side door. No ninjas, but lots of supplies: canned goods and blankets, a couple of guns, some knives, and one shiny aluminum baseball bat. Her hands itched to wrap around the smooth handle and exorcise some fear and frustration.
He reached inside for a backpack, threw it over a shoulder. His gaze returned to hers, assessing. The corner of his mouth rose and little lines deepened beside his eyes. Ah, she’d apparently amused him. Her scaredy-cat shaking hadn’t stopped. She clearly wasn’t kidding anybody with her evil eye.
“I’m not going to hurt you,” he said.
And for once, Roslyn didn’t say the first thing to come to mind. Something along the lines of his shoving a can of soup up his ass to keep his false words company. Nor did she start in on the hundreds of questions sitting on the tip of her tongue. Instead she sucked in a deep breath, let it out slowly, and lied to her new arch-enemy. “Alright.”
“What’s your name?”
“Roslyn Stewart. Yours?”
“Nick,” he said. “There’s a pickup we can use just down the hill. Let’s get a move on. Sun goes down soon. The infected’ll be coming out.”
Nick watched the woman out the corner of his eye. She was pressed against the pickup’s passenger-side door like she’d melded herself to the metal. Physically as far from him as she could get without actually leaving the vehicle. He’d put the child lock on, jammed the window shut. She wasn’t going anywhere.
It had actually worked. He had her. Fucking amazing.
The skirt of her gray school uniform had hitched up one side, caught on the seatbelt. She’d been too busy staring out the window, trying to ignore him, to notice. What a very nice slice of skin. Her thigh tempted him big-time. Shot his concentration to shit.
And he needed to focus on driving.
The old farm truck rocketed along the road leading out of town, flying past overgrown orchards and vineyards, swerving around debris and the occasional abandoned car. Using older model vehicles was best. Newer ones with their fancy electrics were a bitch to deal with.
Behind them, Bald Rock sat in the distance. No signs of life. No one followed.
He had been observing the school for the past two weeks, monitoring the nine inside. Scaling the stone wall had been simple. Taking her would have been just as easy, but this was better. She needed to know those supposed friends of hers weren’t trustworthy. Needed to know she’d be better off with him.
Roslyn was definitely something with her choppy, auburn hair and pointy chin. In her mid-twenties, most likely. She had a pretty mouth like a doll’s, only she wasn’t tiny or delicate, she was just right. That school uniform … fuck, he couldn’t get his head around it. Filthy thoughts, the sort bound to reinforce the pissy looks she’d given him, kept bubbling up inside his brain. The things he wanted to do with her. The things he would do with her. Just a question of when. He needed patience. Timing was everything.
A zombie stumbled out of a lone farmhouse as they drove past what would have once been a man. Blood or dirt or some gory mix of both caked its chest, arms and chin. Its mouth yawned wide, an arm rising in some macabre version of a wave as they cruised by. Only the hello had more to do with its desire to eat them than anything friendly.
Roslyn gasped and bolted upright in her seat, the whites of her eyes flashing.
“You haven’t seen one before?” he asked.
“This is the first time you’ve been outside.”
“Shit. You really have no idea how bad it’s been, do you?”
“They don’t like sunlight, but they’ll come out if they think they can get a meal. Noise always attracts them.”
She gave him another questioning glance, then settled back into her seat, face pale and eyes wary.
She definitely didn’t trust him. Sure as shit didn’t believe him when he said he wouldn’t hurt her. It made her smart. He would never hurt her, but anyone who trusted strangers these days was an idiot destined for a short life. He would provide for her. He’d prove himself to her.
But first, he had to get her home and stay put for a while. Make sure their back trail kept clear.
“Nearly there,” he said.
She nervously licked her pink lips. “Where is ‘there’?”
“You’ll see.” He offered a smile.
She didn’t return it.
The pickup rattled along the gravel drive leading up to the Serenity Eco-Chalets. The property sat on the edge of town. Far enough out to avoid the bulk of the infected. It backed onto kilometers of bushland and farms. She’d be safer out here. He’d done his homework, prepared. Everything and anything she might need to keep her comfortable for the foreseeable future.
Roslyn’s knuckles were white where she gripped the door handle, the injured hand still clutched against her chest. She’d almost dropped the guy back at the school. Who could blame her?
“What is this place?” she asked, looking all around, eyes full of curiosity.
“Eco-chalets, for the environmentally conscious weekender. Or it was.” Nick drove the vehicle straight up to the back of the Wattle cabin. Home sweet home. He threw his door open and grabbed his rifle from the back, rounded the pickup to open the door for her. Some weird kind of nervous energy coursed through him. He just about jittered. “Come on in.”
She gave him another tense attempt at a smile and climbed out, hands smoothing down her skirt. Her eyes darted everywhere, preparing. Not long now before she tried to make a run for it. He could practically smell it.
Damn it, there was no reason why this couldn’t work, given a chance. He was a reasonable man with an offer to make. Besides, the world wasn’t exactly normal anymore and she had been set to starve inside those school walls. Either that or risk a trip into town and possible infection from a bite.
No. Not happening.
This was right for her. He’d be right for her. Those bastards had been wrong, making him leave Blackstone all those months back. He wasn’t one of the bad guys.
He’d been part of the remnants of a military group wandering the countryside after everything went to shit. When they’d stumbled across Blackstone, a walled township with nearly a hundred survivors, it had felt like a fucking miracle. But their psychopathic captain, Emmet, had wanted to rape the women and burn the place down. Kill anyone left over. Some of his ex-army pals had staged a coup and put a bullet in Emmet’s brain, and thank God for that. Blackstone had accepted the men who’d topped Emmet, but the remaining three, including him, had been booted out of town. Threatened with death if they ever showed their faces again.
He couldn’t blame the townspeople for not trusting Pete and Justin. They were slimy bastards full of plans for revenge. But exiling him? That he could blame the folk of Blackstone for just fine.
No one had been able to openly stand up to Emmet. He’d crucified men for less. But Nick would never have let the captain’s plan come to fruition. Not a fucking chance.
No, he wasn’t one of the bad guys.
Eventually, she’d understand. He’d spoil her. Comfort her. Make life as easy for her as he could. Give her whatever the hell she wanted. If she’d just give him a chance.
“This way,” he said, ushering her toward the long wooden ramp leading up to the cabin.
“Mmhmm.” Her nod looked spring-loaded, like a bobble-headed doll.
Shit. What was she going to try?
Her sneakers squeaked noisily as she stepped onto the wooden ramp, stopping at the edge of the meter and a half of platform he’d removed. Like a moat with a drawbridge, it effectively cut them off from attack—by infected, at least. Other survivors were another issue altogether.
“Clever.” She sounded surprised.
He took it as a compliment.
She peered down at the ground a good three to four meters below. The cabin sat up on stilts at the edge of a rocky outlook, positioned to make the most of the view. Handy now for defense reasons, since infected couldn’t climb. Nick knelt and carefully extended the thick wooden plank he kept handy for crossing the gap. She jumped at the thump of the wood falling into place.
With a smile he held out his hand to her. “Ladies first.”
“Thank you.” Her fingers were warm and damp, and they didn’t remain in his for long. She gripped the banister nearest the plank with her other hand and carefully crossed with tiny geisha-type steps. Maybe she didn’t like heights. It wouldn’t hurt his cause. Yet another incentive for her to not tear off on her own anytime soon.
Everything would be fine once she got inside. Once she saw the effort he’d gone to on her behalf.
“You’re doing great,” he said.
The minute she cleared the end he strode across, throwing her a quick smile. He pulled the plank back from the gap and ushered her into the waiting cabin. A cold wind shook the trees. The skirt of her uniform fluttered above her knees, her bare legs ripe with gooseflesh.
“Let’s get you inside and warmed up,” he said.
She blinked and gave him a forced smile, staying a step ahead of the hand he would have put to the small of her back. Keeping herself out of his reach.
The sun had slowly begun to sink in the west. For the hour-long drive home he’d taken the most convoluted route possible, mostly to be safe but also to chew up some time. They were right on schedule.
Roslyn wandered inside, head turning this way and that, taking it all in. “It looks nice.”
“I think we’ll be comfortable here.” His chest warmed at her faint praise. Back in the day the cabin would have been on the more expensive side of things. There was a spa bath in the bathroom off to the side and, more importantly, a composting toilet. The kitchen sported black granite benchtops and all the shiny mod-cons. Though they didn’t much matter now with electricity long gone. “Have a look around. I want you to feel at home.”