“Where can we go?” she asked, trust burning bright in her eyes.
Thought he’d had it all figured out, but he didn’t know shit. There was the truth. He had no business demanding she believe in him and rely on him. Not with the way he treated her.
“There are no bullets in the gun,” he said softly.
She paused. “What did you say?”
“The gun I gave you. It’s empty.”
Her words, when they came, were slow, careful. “Why would you do that, Nick?”
“I don’t know.”
“Yes, you do. Was it some kind of test?”
“I don’t know. Maybe.”
She nodded and looked away, face carefully set. No surprise, though. That’s what was wrong with this picture. Shit.
“You knew?” he asked, voice incredulous.
She gave him a grim smile. “I told you I knew about guns. You emptied the clip when I was gathering clothes in the shop, didn’t you?”
“This is never going to work, is it?” Her lips looked pinched and she stared at her hands for a long moment. “Of course it isn’t. I was so angry at you but now … I’m, um, I’m tired.”
“You know, I wondered how long it would take you to admit it. How much guilt I’d have to heap on you till you cracked,” she said. “If you’d crack …”
“I know.” She slipped the half-eaten cookie back into its plastic bag. “You always are, Nick. But things stay the same.” Her face turned away from him and she crawled onto the bed, placing the remains of the cookie on the bedside table. “You can’t possibly guarantee you’ll always be there for me, because accidents happen. You don’t know what the future will bring. But you won’t help me to protect myself. You say you want me, but what you really want is some pathetic doll, completely dependent on you and available to fuck at your convenience. That’s the truth.”
The quiet in the room was complete when she stopped speaking. She lay down on her side, facing away from him. A pretty obvious message that he chose to ignore.
“I don’t want a doll,” he said. “I just don’t want you to die.”
“I have made some bad decisions, I’m not denying it. Thing is, those situations will keep occurring if we don’t change what we’re doing. The way we’re behaving toward each other has to shift. Either that, or we need to part ways.” Her voice sounded scarily matter-of-fact. “I don’t see any other choices.”
Panic stirred inside him. Without thought, he moved to her side, lying down behind her. She stiffened, but didn’t otherwise object to the arm he put around her waist. The sunlight had started to fade, the room dulling down to shadows. There’d been a torch out the back of the shop they’d raided and some girly scented candles in the drugstore. All of them sat in their packs in the back of the pickup. He should go get them. But for the moment, he needed to stay with her more. He needed to fix this.
Problem was, in the past he’d always bailed at times like these. Chances were he’d say the wrong thing now for sure. His mind scrambled to come up with something he could use. Something to soothe her.
“Thank you for trying to come back yesterday,” he said, getting close enough to press up against as much of her as possible, his front to her back. “It does matter.”
“It didn’t work out so well.”
“No. But you tried.”
She made a humming noise. “I am sorry about the cabin.”
“I know,” he said, fingers daring to toy with hers. “We’ll find somewhere else.”
A small nod.
“Here’s what I’m going to do,” he said. “I’m going to go out to the truck and bring in our stuff. Then I’m going to put the bullets back in your clip. Tomorrow, we’re going to start talking over scenarios. Situations you might face and how you’d deal with them. Stuff like that. I’ll teach you some skills. Okay?”
She didn’t answer for a moment. “Do you mean that?”
“Yes. We might even work our way to looking at clearing a room together. Maybe. When I judge you’re ready, and not before.”
Ros wriggled about, rolling over to face him. Cautious eyes studied his face. “I can’t tell if you’re serious or not.”
“Be warned. If you’re lying to me, I may actually shoot you this time.”
He sighed. “Yeah, I know.”
Slowly, he laid the palm of his hand against the soft skin of her cheek. That she didn’t turn away or try to stop him was humbling. But then, Ros could be far too kind and forgiving for her own good.
“Honestly,” he said, “I only want you available at my convenience. Not a doll. Not anyone else.”
The corner of her mouth curled just a little. “Wildly romantic, Nick.”
“Not everything you accused me of was bad. I kind of liked that idea.”
“Great.” She smiled but then her gaze dipped, avoiding his. “Don’t lie to me again, Nick. Please. I don’t think I could take it.”
“You just shot me again,” Nick griped at her. Honestly, the man could be such a big baby.
Roslyn sighed somewhat dramatically. “I did not shoot you.”
“Yeah, you did. You flinched and your finger squeezed the trigger. If it had been loaded, I’d be dead.”
“Oh, please.” She rolled her eyes and slumped against the motel room wall. It had to be close to midnight. They’d been doing the same damn clearing-a-room exercise for hours, with him picking on every little last thing she did. She’d nagged him into starting immediately. “Nag” being his word choice, not hers. But she forgave him for being short-tempered. Amazing how benevolent she could be when she got her way for once. Nick, however, had brought highly strung and crabby to a whole new level.
“It was an accident,” she said, not really bothering to keep the smile off her face.
The eyebrow went up. “That makes me feel a lot better. I mean, I’ll be dead, but still, an accident.”
“You surprised me!”
“I’m meant to surprise you,” the man growled. Nicky had quite the temper once he got going but, fortunately, he didn’t scare her. Not in that way. If anything, his getting all riled up could be rather thrilling in the right circumstances. Blood warmed his face and his eyes were narrowed on her in irritation. Her body heated in response and she bit back a grin. Really, right then, life wasn’t so bad. In fact, it could be pretty nice with the right company, apocalypse or no.
“Zombies will surprise you coming out of hiding,” he said, much in the manner of one handing down a sermon. “But I’m going to be around, too, and you might not always know exactly where I am. It’d be great if you didn’t just react but thought about who you’re aiming at and what you’re doing. You clear your immediate right, then work your way across the rest of the room. You do not shoot until you’re certain of your target. Is that understood?”
“Yes, Nick.” She tried for contrite but he kept right on scowling.
“Why are you smiling?”
He definitely thrilled her. Maybe it was the lecturing. There’d been a professor back in her university days who’d filled her fantasies for months. The “thou shalt do as I say” attitude had a powerful pull on her, apparently. Maybe he was right and she had daddy issues or something. Or maybe it was the way he worked with her for once, instead of against her.
“Why are you smiling, Ros?” he repeated.
“No reason,” she said airily.
He just looked at her. Candlelight didn’t soften the harsh lines of his face, accentuated by his present pissy mood. Nick wasn’t handsome, exactly, but he had presence. Which by no means meant she’d roll over and take his bossiness like a good girl.
“And why are we even using guns?” she asked. “I mean, if they’re so loud and dangerous, then why not replace them with something more suitable for the job?”
“What, you want a sword now?” he asked, voice heavy with disbelief.
“Maybe, or a machete or an axe … a crowbar would work, right?”
“It would.” He strolled toward her. “But, Roslyn, what do you think would happen if you got splattered with infected blood? What if your mouth was open and some got in, hmm?”
“It would be bad. I know that. But to kill them effectively with something other than a gun we’re going to need to get within a reasonable distance.”
“And? They move slower than we do. What is your point here, Nick?”
“Close-quarters combat is dangerous. Didn’t you learn that yesterday?”
“Everything is dangerous!” She threw her arms wide and he caught her hands, held onto them. He swung them back and forth by their sides as if they were children. Then he stepped closer. There was a distinct gleam in his eyes, something other than anger but every bit as heated.
“Did I please you?” he asked in a low voice.
“What?” The sudden change in topic threw her, that and his nearness. His scent enveloped her, warm, male, and familiar. It lured her libido right in. And the way he’d phrased the question—his words circled inside her head and held her in thrall. His eyes had also darkened. So … everything. Everything about him threw her. “What do you mean?”
“You wanted to start training immediately, so we started. I kept my promise.”
“Ah. Yes,” she said. “You did. And you pleased me. I am officially pleased.”
Nick slowly nodded. “Okay.”
“Okay,” she repeated, because she was apparently a brain-dead, sex-hungry parrot with damp panties. Lust filled the air with the promise of hot times ahead. She couldn’t be imagining it.