Ros would be alright. She would be. She was tougher than she looked.
He swallowed past the rock in his throat. “Down near Stanthorpe. She was holed up in a private school with some other people.”
“You joined them?” asked Sean. They really had been friends once, sort of. But Nick hadn’t trusted him enough to include him in the plot against Emmet. Of course, if he had, Nick wouldn’t have been thrown out of town and set on his way to meet Roslyn.
Funny how things worked out.
“Join them?” Nick coughed out a laugh. “Not likely. They were pricks. She wasn’t safe with them. I offered them a van full of supplies for her and they took it.”
The two men exchanged looks. Fair enough. It didn’t sound so fucking fantastic now that he came to think about it. But it was the truth. There was no point lying, not now. Maybe if she died they’d put him down, save him the trouble of having to do it himself.
“I figured she needed to see those people for what they were,” he said. “For what they’d do to her, how little she meant to them. One of the bastards was going to hurt her before too long. Now … I don’t know. They messed up not long after, got wiped out. At least she wasn’t there when that happened.”
“What did you do after you picked her up?” asked Finn, fingering the safety on his pistol. He was a good-looking bastard, late twenties, blond and pretty. Roslyn would probably like him. If Roslyn would wake up and be okay, Nick would live with it. He’d give her up. Whatever price he had to pay, so long as she lived.
“I had a cabin set up, took her there. She attacked me.” He grinned at the memory. “Swung a bottle of wine at my head. She can be so fierce. I kept her chained to the bed.”
Something popped in Finn’s jaw. The sheriff looked at him with murder in his eyes. But he’d play by the rules. Finn wouldn’t put a bullet in him here and now. The fucker believed in law and order and all that shit.
“You raped her?” Finn asked.
“Fuck no,” he spat, then calmed his voice. “No, I talked to her. I looked after her. I tried to … I tried to explain to her what life was like now. She’d never been out of the school. Not since the plague first hit. She didn’t know shit. On her own she wouldn’t have lasted five seconds.”
Lila swabbed the crook of his elbow and stabbed him with a needle. It stung. He didn’t really blame her for putting a bit of extra zest into the job, though. The little pump between the two lengths of tubing made a sickly sucking noise as she worked it.
“Take whatever she needs,” he said.
Lila nodded, not arguing.
A dental nurse. Fuck.
“What happened next?” asked Finn.
“We were doing okay, but our cabin caught fire and we had to move. Then we ran into Pete and Justin just a few hours out from here. They had plans for causing you guys trouble. But also, they wanted her,” he said. Damn, but he wished he could kill them both all over again. Only slower this time. “I said I’d talk her into it. That it would be better if she was on board then trying to keep an eye on her all the time. Told them she was a sexually liberated girl. Better yet, that she was in love with me, would do anything to please me. I promised them I could talk her around.”
“So you were in a sexual relationship with her? But it wasn’t rape?” Finn stared him down, disgust clear in his eyes.
“No. Never.” Nick shook his head. The silence that ensued was accusation aplenty. Fuck them. Ros knew the truth.
“So, how did she get shot?” asked Finn.
Nick gritted his teeth. “I got her out a window, told her to get in the car and drive until she got here. I figured you’d take her in. So long as she wasn’t with me, right?”
No one answered. Yet again, it was answer enough.
“She wouldn’t leave me. Drove the pickup into Justin, killed him. He was the one that shot her.” Nick stared at Roslyn, lying unmoving on the bed. Nothing else mattered. Everything in his world burned down to just this. This one woman, living or dying. “She should have left.”
No one said anything. Lila picked up what looked like tweezers and carefully probed the hole that the bullet had made. He wished he believed in God. Maybe he should say a prayer, just in case. Sean took over pumping the blood transfer. Nick could feel it, drawing the blood from his veins, giving it to her. Please let it be enough.
“Back at the cabin, she got away from me after a while,” he said. “Stole the key and escaped.”
Sean stared at him, face blank. “What happened?”
“She came back.” He didn’t doubt it now. The last few days he’d been wondering, unsure, but no longer. Ros had made her choice and turned back. She’d chosen him.
“Why?” Sean asked.
“Honestly?” He gave the man a grim, unhappy smile, and told him the absolute truth. “I don’t know.”
Roslyn woke slowly. Someone was talking nearby, a woman. A man answered her, his voice low and smooth. Neither voice was familiar. Her brain felt floaty-light and her mouth tasted weird. Above her sat a white ceiling and below a bed with clean cotton sheets. She had a drip in her arm.
“Wha—?” Her tongue didn’t want to work. She swallowed and tried again. “Where am …”
“You’re awake.” A woman appeared above her, blocking out some of the ceiling. She had long black hair and a kind smile. “How do you feel?”
The man wandered closer. He looked like a Viking. A big, blond, frowny-faced Viking. How funny.
Roslyn tried to grin. The most she could manage was a lazy smile. Her face wouldn’t follow directions. “Hey.”
“Let me get you a drink.” The woman grabbed a glass from the bedside table. Roslyn heard water being poured. Beneath her the mattress moved as the woman sat down. “Slowly, alright?”
Water had never tasted so good.
The room was spartan, basic but clean, with a bed and a table, a couple of chairs. A butt-ugly picture of puppies hung on the wall opposite. Who could make puppies ugly? How did someone even do that?
“Roslyn?” The Viking hovered at the end of the bed, handsome face still very serious. “We need to talk to you about Nick.”
“Nick?” She tried to sit up. It took a few goes with the woman assisting her before she made it upright. All of her strength seemed to have been sapped right out of her. “Where is he?”
“It’s alright,” said the man. “You’re safe. He can’t hurt you anymore.”
Viking dude looked so concerned, eyes intense. It made no sense to her. “What?”
The pretty black-haired woman huffed. “Now is not the time for this, Sean. You’re distressing her.”
Ros opened her mouth to intervene, to explain she wasn’t distressed, just clueless, but they were already off and arguing. It felt as though she wasn’t even there.
“We need to know what happened,” said the Viking. “I’ve explained this to you already.”
Lila faced down the big man, hands on hips. “Sean.“
“I’ve explained this to you already, too. It can wait.”
“No it can’t. It’s important.”
“What’s important is giving her time to recover. You’ve got your priorities wrong, buster.” Lila gave him the evil eye. Clearly Sean was used to this, since he stared back calmly. Neither of them made much sense. But then nothing about this did. Her head felt useless and her body little better. What the hell was going on with the world now?
“Can I have some more water, please?” she asked when she could get a word in.
“Sure. You’ve woken up a couple of times, but always drifted back off to sleep straight away.” Lila held the glass once more to her lips. “Do you remember?”
“No.” Everything in her head was a muddy haze.
“Don’t worry. It’ll come back to you.”
“Where’s Nick?” Ros repeated for like the tenth time. Tingles raced across her skin as she tested her limbs, rolling her feet and scrunching her toes, shrugging her shoulders. Pain rolled through her. “Oh!”
“Be careful,” said Lila. “Don’t you remember? You were shot. Two days ago now.”
Someone had shot her? Seriously? Oh, yeah. She remembered it vaguely, distantly. There’d been a fight.
“Ri-i-i-ght. When I drove the car into the wall.” She was dressed in a plain white tank top with soft gray flannel pyjama pants on her bottom half. A square white bandage sat taped onto her skin below her left collarbone. It all came back slowly, sinking into her foggy head and falling into place. There was a crinkly little bandaid on her left ear, too. Shot twice—right. “We were with Justin and Pete.”
They both watched her, waiting.
Justin and Pete and that horrible little house she’d basically destroyed—now there was an unpleasant memory. Even buffered by the drugs, it turned her stomach. “They were … nasty bastards. I killed one of them. I’ve never killed anyone before. There was a lot of blood.”
She searched herself for a hint of remorse and came up short. The lack of guilt made her feel guilty, but she’d live with it.
Sean scowled. “I should have killed all three of them when I had the chance.”
Whatever. “Where’s Nick?”
“You’re safe. They locked him up,” said Lila. “How’s your pain? Do you need something more? Give me a number between one and ten.”
It hurt, but it was more of a dull ache than anything. It had just caught her by surprise at first. Plus, something more would probably throttle her last coherent brain cell. Her inability to think in a straight line bugged her worse than the pain. “I’m okay. Someone took out the bullet?”
“I did,” said Lila. “We gave you a blood transfusion and you stabilized. Fortunately the bullet came out pretty easily and there’s no sign of infection.”