“It wasn’t going to be forever,” he said. “Just until …”
She waited for him to finish but he didn’t.
“Until what?” she asked.
He shook off the question. “You acted without thinking yesterday and you nearly died. And I dunno how to make sure that never happens again.” He crowded her, but her days of backing down were done. “So I can’t keep you safe. Can I?”
“Chaining me isn’t an option,” she said.
“I guess not.” He looked away. “Get moving. We shouldn’t stay here too long.”
There were bruises beneath his eyes, dark circles. How hadn’t she noticed that before? “You look tired. Didn’t you sleep at all?”
“I had a lot on my mind.”
“I’m fine, alright? Enough talk, Ros. Get dressed. Standing there arguing with me in nothing but a towel isn’t smart.”
“Am I rattling your cage, Nicky?” she asked, deliberately being painful. The slit-eyed look he dealt her only spurred her on. “Deal with it, big boy.”
His gaze dropped down her, doubtless taking in the state of her hard nipples on the way. Damn obvious despite the towel. “You’re getting cold.”
True, but she was also a lot turned on, oddly enough. Because having him stand so close with his eyes taking her in so matter-of-factly worked for her. Or maybe it was the argument, all those heated words. Whatever it was he did to her, he did it with ease, just by being his own sweet self.
Which meant she didn’t know whether to kick him or kiss him, but she wouldn’t be rushing anything. Truthfully, she wanted his mouth on her. She wanted the heat of his kisses and the comfort of his touch. After what they’d been through, she needed it.
“Ask me,” he said.
He came closer. “Whatever you want. Just ask me and I’ll give it to you.”
There were a lot of things she wanted. Half of them were vague, unformed ideas, but they all involved him. But there were priorities to consider. “Promise me we’re equal partners from here on in.”
“No more denying of liberty or any of that crap. Promise me.”
He took a deep breath. “And you’ll just believe me. After everything?”
He hesitated where she hadn’t. It hurt.
“You’re getting cold.” His hand reached for the bra on the counter, the sensible black one. He threaded it over first one of her hands, then the other. The straps were drawn up her arms and positioned on her shoulders. “Turn around.”
She did so, part bemused and part bitter. “You can’t do it, can you? You can’t give me your word.”
Warm fingers eased the bra cups over her breasts, fastened the hooks at the back. “You nearly died.”
Next came the flannel shirt. A good choice on his part, because he’d been right, she was getting cold now. Standing there in next to nothing, waiting for him to do something he couldn’t. But also wanting him to take the choice out of her hands so she wouldn’t have to feel torn and frustrated and stupid. Wanting to grab onto him and yet unable to, so uncertain what the price would be. What part of her pride and self-respect would she have to sacrifice this time?
“I can do this,” she said, gesturing to the pile of clothes.
“I know. Arms.”
She put her hands into the sleeves and he dressed her. Reached around from behind and started doing up the buttons from bottom to top. He paused halfway and she almost held her breath.
“Promise me, Nick.”
He was hard against her back and he didn’t bother to hide it. His pelvis rubbed against her rear. Not gratuitously, exactly, but more than enough to let her know the state of affairs. Nice to know she wasn’t the only idiot being led astray by her hormones.
What was he going to do? So many possibilities. She waited.
When he hesitated, she raised her hand to move her boob. It didn’t feel right.
“Let me.” One of his hands held open a bra cup while the other slid down inside it. His palm brushed against her aching, tight nipple. Fingers cupped and lifted her breast, positioned it.
“Thank you,” she said.
“What would you do if I tried to leave again, Nick?”
“Why would you?” His hands did the same with her other breast, plumping it up within the confines of the cup. She let him. Hell, she liked it. The warmth of him at her back and the touch of his hands made blood rush to all her best bits. He made her feel alive. Her body responded amply, but her mind held back. Her heart was wary.
“You won’t survive out there on your own,” he said. “Didn’t you get that last night?”
He did up the last of her shirt buttons and reached for the simple black cotton underwear beside her. His hands skimmed down her sides as he dropped to his knees. The feel of him touching her was electric. Still, this wasn’t getting them anywhere.
“Here,” she said. “Give them to me.”
“No.” Fresh knickers were held before her and she stepped into them, a hand on the counter for balance. He drew them up her legs, onto her hips.
“Nick, I’m not a child.”
“I know. Hand me the jeans,” he said, his voice low.
“I can dress myself.”
He looked up and caught her gaze. His voice dropped to somewhere below ground level. “The jeans, Ros.”
The deep, no-nonsense tone really did something to her. Something she probably could have done without. Life was complicated enough. She swallowed hard and steadied her legs. Deliberated for about a second, then passed him the denim. Doing as she was told, for some reason. Because you had to pick your fights. And also, because some part of her wanted to give into him. Something about it worked for her.
Maybe he was right. Maybe she did like him telling her to do sex things. But she sure as hell didn’t need him making all of her choices for her. Which was exactly what they’d been discussing before he started putting his hands on her and scrambling her wits.
“I need to know what you’re going to do,” she said.
“Lift your foot.”
She lifted first one foot, then the other. Slowly he pulled the jeans up her legs, stopping shy of her torso. The muscles in her thighs were taut and she had the worst feeling her new knickers were already damp. How bloody embarrassing. Having a serious conversation under these conditions was unfeasible.
“Ask me for something else,” he said. His breath heated her belly and his hands curved over her hips. He rubbed his face against her, beneath the hem of her shirt. She could feel the soft of his cheek bone then the scratch of his stubble. His facial hair was longer today. Not so sharp on her skin. “I know you want to.”
“Alright.” Her hands trembled as she gripped the counter behind her. “I want a gun. I want to be able to defend myself.”
“Why couldn’t you just ask me to give you head, hmm? It’s obvious you want me to.” He pressed his face against her covered mound, making her stomach dance. “You smell so good. You make my mouth water.” His hands slid beneath the cotton of her underwear, cupping her ass cheeks. He shredded her will, decimated it. “Ask me, Roslyn.”
“No.” Oh God, yes please. Her sex throbbed, needy and desperate. Her fingers itched to get grabby with his hair and make him deliver. But it was a battle of wills she couldn’t afford to lose. Let him off the hook now and he’d never take her seriously. “Give me the gun.”
“No.” He lifted his face and his eyes met hers. “You go off on your own, you’ll die. I won’t let that happen. I can’t.”
She could have kicked him, the stubborn bastard. “I need to know the choice to be with you is mine.”
“Bullshit,” he growled. “You want to be with me. You said so.”
“I need to know I’m with you of my own free will.”
He grunted and kept his eyes on her as he kneaded her butt cheeks, dug his fingers in and spread them just a little, enough to wake every last nerve in the area. God help her. Her toes curled into the scratchy carpet.
“Stop it,” she whispered.
“Let’s see who gives in first. Better hold onto the counter.”
Her fingers clutched at the smooth glass edges, hanging on for all she was worth. “Nick, this is not a game.”
“You said you chose me,” he said.
“We still have things to work out.”
“No. We don’t.” His tongue traced circles around her belly button then blew over the damp skin. Her breath hitched.
“You’re complicating something simple,” he said.
“Nothing is simple about this.”
He bit at the waist of her underwear and her stomach muscles quivered. The man bordered on feral. It was wildly exciting.
“Yesterday afternoon …?” he started.
“What about it?” she asked, her voice uneven. His lips were so damn close to where she needed them, and yet not there. It took all of her willpower not to just shove herself in his face.
“When I woke up and you were gone …”
“Then seeing that thing about to bite you. Shit, Ros.”
“So give me the pistol. I know how to use it.”
He growled and kissed her mound, drew a deep breath. “Ask me. Put us both out of our misery.”
“Give me the gun.”
“I bet you taste perfect.” The heat in his eyes almost undid her.
“I-I’ll pick one up somewhere. You know I will.”
He nipped at her inner thigh. “Don’t you want to come on my face? Wouldn’t you like that?”
“Stop it, Nick.” Oh no, not a visual like that. Not fair. “This isn’t a game.”
He did something; something involving his tongue and the seam where her sex met her thigh and holy hell. Her whole body trembled.