“Wow. It’s lucky that you’re a doctor.”
The woman grimaced. “Actually, I’m a dental nurse.”
“You are?” Roslyn nodded slowly. “Well, good job. Hang on. Did you say Nick was locked up?”
“Yes,” confirmed Sean. “He’s in a holding cell at the police station.”
“What!” she screeched, wide awake now.
The Viking’s eyebrows headed high.
Lila frowned. “You don’t want him locked up?”
“No, of course not,” said Ros. “Why? Why would you do that?”
“Because he’s dangerous,” said Sean.
She scrunched up her nose at him in disbelief.
Sean in turn scrunched up his forehead, looking less sure of himself by the minute. “Because he hurt you?”
“Nick didn’t hurt me. Justin shot me. Pete and him wanted to rape me. Nick risked his life to get me out of there.” She shuffled up, wincing all the while. Fuck, it was uncomfortable. Getting shot was distinctly unpleasant. She would never do that again. Plus her chest hurt. She took a peek down the front of her tank top. A dark, nasty bruise crossed her chest where the seatbelt had been. “What a mess.”
“Roslyn, you can’t get up,” said Lila.
“Yes, I can.” It hurt. It would never be her idea of a good time. But she could definitely do it.
Lila jumped up and helped her with a hand beneath her good arm. “Hang on. Take it slowly. The pain meds are going to make you groggy.”
“Damn.” The room spun and she wobbled a step forward on weak legs. She clung onto the other woman. “I need to go to the bathroom. Then I need to go to Nick.”
“Roslyn, you got shot two days ago,” said Lila, her brown eyes full of concern. “What you need to do is rest.”
“I’m fine.” Her knees trembled, defying her words. Stupid knees. “Bathroom?”
“Wait.” The woman fussed. “Let me get this sling on you. We need to keep the weight off your shoulder.”
Lila helped her into the loopy length of padded material. It kept her left hand up high, taking the weight off that limb as promised. The woman frowned but helped her to the bedroom door. They were in a small wooden house, an old cottage by the look of it. Across the hallway sat a bathroom. God, it felt good to empty her bladder. It was awkward to rise again, but well worth the effort.
She worked one-handed while Lila hovered with her back turned. Roslyn splashed some water on her face and finger-combed her hair. Nothing would save that bird’s nest. It’d grow back eventually. Nick could take her as she came. An eager need to see him built inside her as she started moving about, gathering her meager reserves of energy. She felt stronger already, less shaky. Sort of.
“Are my boots around?” she asked.
“You’re serious about this?”
Lila nodded and opened the door. “Sean, can you carry her to the police station, please?”
“I should be able to walk,” she said. Though, on second thought: “Is it far?”
The big man frowned at her, too. Then he put an arm beneath her knees, another behind her back, and picked her up without comment. Also without the slightest show of strain. The Viking had to be made of solid muscle. She held herself rigid, trying to keep some distance between her and him on account of his being a complete stranger. A complete stranger who had locked up Nick, which made no fucking sense.
“You might as well relax,” he said.
She wearily did as she was told. “Thank you for this.”
“How well do you know him?”
“Well enough to know you shouldn’t have locked him up.”
Little lines appeared beside Sean’s eyes as he gave her a worried look, but off they went. Sunlight dazzled her as they stepped outside. It took her a moment to adjust. There were people, quite a lot of them. Many stopped what they were doing and gave her curious looks. She smiled back uncertainly. Neat rows of houses lined the street, with vegetable gardens filling the front yards where grass would once have been. Further down the road some kids played footy. Somewhere nearby a baby cried. It was all so normal, so right. This place was everything they’d taken for granted before the plague hit. Her eyes felt hot, gritty. Suburbia had always sort of peeved her previously, but now it was like nirvana. Growing up in cities, she’d never seen the beauty in this sort of scene. People building their houses a couple of meters apart from each other, everyone getting into everyone else’s business. Her father had moved them here there and everywhere, but there had always been tons of people around. Those days were gone. She’d never again expected to see a community. It’d only been half a year, but everything had changed so much.
“So this is Blackstone,” she said.
She kept smiling, though few smiled back. In fact, no one did. Some people passed by with their faces downturned, but some stared openly, their eyes hard. What the fuck? It felt a long way from nice to be studied that way. Ros did her best to be calm. So not everything here was Pleasantville. There seemed to be a whole lot of tension in the air. Fear lined people’s faces.
“What’s wrong?” she asked. “Why are people so …”
Sean didn’t meet her eyes. “How much did he tell you about the night we came here?”
“Um, that you killed your leader, Emmet. That he was a psychopath,” she said. “Nick wanted him dead too.”
Sean snorted. “Did he? Guess we’ll never really know, will we?”
“Nick is not a bad person.”
“He’s not a good person either.”
They passed through what a street sign designated Main Street. Crops grew where asphalt would once have been. Big, graceful jacaranda trees stood along the median strip running down the middle of the road. Shop windows were covered in curtains, now homes for people to live in. But a huge hardware store stood open, packed to the rafters with various goods. The place looked to be a veritable Aladdin’s Cave of survival treasures.
“You’re wrong,” she said.
Across the road a group of people stood gathered deep in conversation. Sean gave them a long, wary look. A sturdy, muscular young man turned and scowled at Roslyn and Sean. At Ros in particular. His face tensed and he looked at her like she’d personally massacred millions. Inspiring such hatred in someone she didn’t even know felt bloody unnerving. Being in Blackstone seemed like a truly bad idea all of a sudden. This place didn’t feel safe, no matter the wall keeping the infected out.
“What the hell is going on here?” she hissed.
“Quite a few people died that night. One of them was a man named Sam Cotter. He’d been holding the place together, but he got bit,” said Sean. “There’s been a lot of internal fighting since then. Seems like he was the only person that could get everyone to agree. Since then, the welcome mat hasn’t exactly been laid out to new comers.”
At the end of Main Street they turned left. The police station was surrounded by flowering bushes. A man with a sawn-off shotgun stood outside the front door on guard duty. Not so normal or pretty.
“Why do they need a guard?” she asked.
Sean shot her a look she couldn’t read. The guard nodded to Sean and held the door open. Inside it looked like a typical country police station. A counter and some chairs, and beyond was an office area. Lots of white walls and filing cabinets, a collection of old wanted signs. Off to the side, she could just make out the bars of a cell. Sean carried her straight through. Behind a desk a handsome blond young man sat cleaning a gun. But more importantly, where was Nick?
“Put me down, please,” she asked.
“Hey, Finn.” Carefully Sean set her down on her feet, holding her elbow steady while she found her feet. Sean was nice. “She wants to see him.”
“Why?” asked the cute, albeit serious, blond. His face was curious but not unfriendly. How refreshing.
Knees wobbling, she circumnavigated the Viking. Nick sat on the wide cot pushed up against one wall, his chin braced on his hands, staring off at nothing. Giddy delight filled her at seeing him.
He blinked and turned his head. He didn’t smile back at her. “Roslyn. What are you doing here?”
A new big black bruise took up half his temple, sitting out in a swollen lump. He made no move to come to her, just sat on the stupid mattress giving her closed looks.
Like she couldn’t read him by now.
“What the hell happened to your face?” she yelled.
Nick sighed. He rose and strolled toward her, bracing a hand on the bars. “Calm down. It’s not like you haven’t done worse.”
“That’s not funny.”
“Don’t pout.” His fingers stroked over hers, wrapped around a length of cold metal. This was ridiculous. Unacceptable. “How are you feeling?”
“Why are you in here?” she asked. “What’s going on?”
“I wasn’t supposed to come back,” he said. “But, you know, this cell is better than being shot on sight. What are you doing out of bed, hmm? You still look really pale.”
He frowned at her. Why not? People had been frowning at her all day. She’d started to get used to it. Hell, she frowned right back at him. “They threatened to shoot you on sight and you willingly chose to come here?”
He just looked at her.
“Ms Stewart.” The pretty blond man who’d been cleaning the gun stood close by, his mouth a set in an unhappy line. “Nick informed us he kidnapped you and held you against your will.”
“Nick!” She turned back to the idiot in the cell, moving too fast. Her head felt topsy-turvy. “That was personal. How could you tell them that?”
“It’s the truth,” he said calmly, like he was resigned to his dire circumstances. People heading to the chopping block probably had a similar joie de vivre. “What I did was wrong.”