The thought of it made his guts burn. Maybe she’d given him a stomach ulcer. But maybe Blackstone was the only choice.
Had their cabin burnt to the ground yet? Probably. Place had gone up like someone had poured on kerosene. What a balls-up. All of his plans had turned to shit. How would he protect her now?
“Were you really coming back?” he asked in a hard voice. He needed to know for sure. Inside of him felt like a fucking mess. He couldn’t make sense of the feelings.
“Yes,” she said.
“Why? You finally got away from me.”
“I told you. I realized we needed to talk things over.”
“Like everything.” Her voice was so quiet that he had to strain to hear her.
“Because we fucked?” he asked, choosing his words with care.
She sighed. “Honestly, Nick, I don’t know.”
Roslyn stood patiently on the curb and watched as Nick broke into a clothes shop. They’d already gone through the drugstore across the street. Or he had. She’d been instructed to stand outside within view and wait. Like a dog being trusted off its chain, barely.
He still wouldn’t give her any more of the details of what had happened at the school. It had obviously been bad. The lost look in his eyes when she’d asked had stalled further questions, for now. It seemed surreal. Her brain wouldn’t quite wrap around the information.
The last of the people she’d known were gone.
Grief crept over her in waves. Crashing down on her and then withdrawing again. She didn’t know how to feel one second to the next. Her throat would tighten and her eyes tear up, and then, poof! Gone, as her mind busied itself once more in dealing with the here and now. Trying to figure a way out of the maze of this messed-up situation. A time or two she caught herself about to giggle hysterically. Maybe she was losing it.
She and Nick were half talking to each other. Sentences consisted of the smallest number of words possible and a meaningful flick of the hand. Sometimes he varied it, doing a grunt and a chin-tip instead, which was big of him.
The soles of her feet stung from the freezing cold concrete. She bounced her bag full of drugstore goodies off her legs, rattling the contents. Fidgeting always had helped distract her.
“Stop it,” he said. “You’ll break the reading glasses.”
“Oh. Why don’t you break the glass in the door?” she asked, then realized the answer. “Oh—the noise.” He paused for a moment and his shoulders tensed. Then he resumed tinkering with the lock, apparently foregoing the opportunity for a snarky reply. A moment later the door swung inward and he rose to his feet. He jerked his stubbly chin in the direction of the shop’s interior and gave her a meaningful look.
“Sorry?” she asked, maybe because contrariness was becoming her nature, at least when it came to him. And maybe because she was sick of the half-assed silent treatment.
He turned back to her with a pained expression, and looked at her from beneath dark brows. “Come inside. Please.”
“No problem.” Asshole. And to think she’d had sex with him. Never let your private parts dictate your choices. Therein lay the path to destruction.
Lay. Ha. Bad word choice.
Inside, the shop looked immaculate. Farm wear-type stuff, mostly, men and women’s. A bit of kidswear and some school uniforms, as well as bathmats and towels. There was an impressive amount packed into the neat little space.
Nick shut and locked the door behind her, then strode past, obviously going to check out the back room. His rifle was slung over his shoulder and he’d tucked a pistol into the back of his belt. She’d asked him for the gun and he’d just given her a nasty look. She hadn’t bothered to ask again. Couldn’t be that hard to find her own and she knew how to shoot. Her dad had insisted she knew enough not to shoot herself in the foot.
There was a counter topped with glass, displaying purses and scarves beneath. But more importantly there was a water cooler standing at the end and it was three-quarters full. Oh, yes.
When Nick strode back in she was covered only in goose bumps, busy washing herself as fast as humanly possible with soap from the drugstore and a hand-cloth fresh off the shelf. He stopped dead and stared at her breasts. Suddenly being cold didn’t seem to matter so much.
“What are you doing?” he said, sounding like something choked him.
He said nothing, just continued to stare.
“Give it a rest, Nick. You’ve seen it all before.”
His gaze jumped to hers and his face heated. He could blush. Who knew? She’d have laughed, but her teeth were chattering and it wasn’t really a laughing kind of day. Besides, laughing would probably lead to crying and she needed to keep her shit together.
His jaw did some strange side-to-side thing. Suddenly he got busy on the other side of the room with his back to her. But she hadn’t missed the bulge in his pants.
She’d quickly brushed her teeth and hair while he’d been looking out back, but this bathing felt like a whole new level of lovely. She’d cleaned her scratched-up hands, gotten the worst of the dirt and sweat from her body. The bruises on her knuckles from punching Neil had faded. Impossible to believe he’d died, busted nose and all. He’d been a wanker, but he hadn’t deserved that.
Nick stood over by the neatly folded stack of jeans. He selected and discarded, then he moved onto men’s shirts. His back remained to her at all times. The man was dedicated.
She’d started rubbing herself down with a towel when he dumped a selection of clothes on the counter beside her.
“Those should fit,” he said.
A pair of jeans, a long-sleeved shirt, and some matching underwear in plain black cotton. Funny, he’d always been about the silk and lace before. And there were some racier alternatives available. She’d seen them. “Thank you, but I can choose my own clothes.”
Another grunt. His eyes stayed elsewhere at all times. Screw him. He wasn’t making her feel awkward in her own skin. A skin that, until yesterday, he’d been all too keen to jump.
She yawned so hard her jaw cracked. “Excuse me.”
“You didn’t sleep well last night.”
“I didn’t?” It had been a bit cold and uncomfortable, but still.
“No, you woke up a couple of times crying about your friends at the school.”
“I did?” Huh. She had no memory of it.
“Yeah, I talked to you and you went back to sleep.” He shrugged.
For a moment she just studied the unattractive industrial carpet and searched for something to say. He’d chased away her bad dreams and she didn’t even remember it. Mad at her or not, he cared for her and held her when she cried.
And yet, the chain … there was always the damn chain to remember. “Thank you,” she said.
“Your friends died. You had reason.” He wandered off toward the range of sturdy-looking work boots, grabbing a backpack or two on his way. “Besides, you’re a pretty restless sleeper. I’m used to it.”
How long had it been? Five nights? And he was used to it. Used to her waking and used to soothing her back to sleep. Used to doing for her. When was the last time someone had shown the least predilection for caring for her? She couldn’t remember. Whatever weirdness lay between them needed sorting, now.
He turned and his gaze dropped to her boobs before shooting back to her face. She could have covered herself with an arm but she didn’t. Rattling Nick made her feel good.
“Aren’t you going to wash up too?” First thing to come to mind. Hygiene was the best she had. How sad.
His mouth opened but he didn’t speak straight away. “Later.”
He about-faced and strode back toward the selection of boots. There was a whole wall full of them.
He was still mad at her, obviously. The thing was, while she’d started off angry, she got it. He hadn’t told her about her friends out of compassion. She didn’t like it, but she understood. Him choosing her clothes, however, amply displayed he needed to learn how to let her make her own decisions. But he cared and she couldn’t deny it. She also couldn’t deny she’d chosen to be with him. It would have been nice to have ignored the facts, but grown-ups didn’t do that. Or they shouldn’t.
Sex-wise in the kitchen, and then again when she made the decision to turn back on the driveway, she’d chosen him. Then, when she’d needed him, when it was life or death, he’d come through for her.
“It wasn’t because we had sex,” she said.
His whole body flinched and his hand stopped mid-motion, stretched toward a set of black work boots. “Let’s just … let’s just get sorted. Alright?”
“That’s what I’m trying to do. I turned back because I chose you.”
“I don’t want to talk about it.”
“Yeah, I know. But we’re going to.”
He turned to look at her, his eyes stark. He strode toward her and if she’d had a whit of sense she would have been scared. But she wasn’t. No way would he hurt her. Nick didn’t stop until they were toe-to-toe and he loomed over her like a storm waiting to break. The hollows of his cheeks and the tense lines beside his fine lips. The look in his eyes. No one looked at her like he did, whether he was angry or happy or anything in between. It scared her and seduced her equally.
“We’re not talking about it,” he said in a quiet voice. “We’re going to stock up and hit the road.”
As if. “Because you’re still mad about the cabin.”
He shook his head slowly, eyes never leaving hers. “No. Because your stubbornness and stupidity nearly got you killed yesterday.”
She didn’t even bother fighting him over the stubborn part. “It’s not stupidity to reject living as a captive, Nick.” Odd, he’d seemed so worked up about his home the night before. “How many ways can I explain that to you?”