“If I remove the ball gag, do you promise not to scream?” he asked.
His lips tightened. “Do you realize that by screaming you alert everything to our presence here? That you put us both in danger?”
Huh. Well, no. It hadn’t occurred to her. Thwarting him and escaping had been the only things on her mind, and rightly so. Because if she stopped to think about it, there wasn’t anyone out there to hear her and come running to her aid, was there? No. There had been absolutely no point in hollering her heart out. It had been sheer instinct. And his face seemed deadly serious, giving her pause. Had she put them in danger?
“You need to think before you go making a lot of noise again.” Nick leant over and released something on the side of the gag. The pressure eased and he slipped the rubber ball from her mouth. Oh yes, what sweet relief.
Her jaw cracked as she slowly worked it back to normal. It ached. To think that some people did this for fun. Clearly, they were crazy. She’d stick with the vanilla sex and leave the kinky crap to the couples in her smuttier books, thank you very much. She swallowed hard and wet her lips, tried to shift up the bed. Partly to ease the tension in her shoulders and neck, but also because she hated having him that close.
“Thanks,” she croaked.
“Let me get you a drink.”
“I need to visit the bathroom.”
Nick reached for a bottle of water and unscrewed the lid, carefully filled a glass waiting on the bedside table. For ages it had sat there taunting her.
“I have a solution, he said. “But you’re not going to like it.”
She jerked back and the water splashed on her neck. Cold shivers skittered across her skin. “If it involves something disgusting like golden showers, then you’re right.”
The man stopped and stared. “You have a hell of an imagination.”
“Says the guy who ball-gagged me.”
“No. Of course it doesn’t involve anything like that.” With the glass of water in hand he sat on the edge of the bed beside her. There was nowhere for her to go. His spare hand reached out, to lift her head or something, and no, no, no. She panicked, rearing back again and hitting the bed-head. Which smarted.
“You wanted a drink,” he said.
“I don’t want you touching me.”
Nick’s gaze narrowed but he moved back a smidgeon. He took his sweet time before speaking. “Alright. My solution is to put a chain around your ankle attached to the bed. But it won’t stop you from trying to attack me again. It still requires a level of trust. That’s the problem.”
“You want to leash me like a dog?” she gritted out.
He studied her, face blank.
“You were right. I don’t like it, Nick.”
He placed the glass of water on the bedside table and set his ankle on his knee, his big body hunched over. If it was to try and make him appear smaller, less harmful, it didn’t work. The guy seemed no less dangerous, especially without a shirt on. The tattoos on his shoulders were old school, black and gray ink. Nicely done, if you liked such things. Normally, she really did, but not this time.
“Roslyn, what were you going to do if you got away from me?”
Good question. Her mouth stayed shut.
“That’s what I thought,” he said. “You can’t go back to the school. Those idiots just about pissed themselves when I showed up. They’d hand you straight back to me. And even if I was willing to let you go, you know you can’t trust them now. Don’t you?”
Being cuffed, she couldn’t stick her fingers in her ears and sing or something to block him out. But it didn’t mean she had to listen to him. It was a nice, high ceiling—infinitely more appealing than him and his words.
“You wouldn’t be able to survive out there on your own,” he said. “Not for long.”
One dark brow rose in response and then he winced. She hated people who could do that with their eyebrow. Such an arrogant and unnecessary, supercilious thing. Actually, she just hated him. Him and his cool tattoos and practical words. What a grunting, heaving Neanderthal. And this was his cave.
Which made her the bitch being dragged back by her hair, didn’t it?
“Do you even know how to shoot a gun?” he asked.
“Yes. My father taught me.”
“Still going to think that after I put a hole in you?”
The side of his mouth kicked up. “No, probably not. You actually trying to convince me to remove the cuffs, here? ’Cause it’s not working.”
Her bladder made its presence known once more, like a boulder residing below her belly. “Nick, I need to pee. Please.”
“Are you into humiliation?”
“No. Humiliating you is not the goal.” He looked so sincere, dark eyes serious and mouth set. She almost believed him.
“And yet, the ball gag,” she said.
He shrugged. “I explained about the screaming.”
“Maybe. And I’m just not supposed to ask why you had the gag in the first place, hmm?” She pushed the back of her head into the pillow, turned her gaze back to the ceiling where it belonged. Clenched her thighs tight and hoped she didn’t wet herself.
Man, oh, man.
“Well?” he asked.
“Well, what, Nick? You’re not exactly leaving me any options, are you?”
“You haven’t left me any either, Roslyn.” He bent and reached beneath the bed. The insidious sound of metal slithering, the clinking of chain, left her no doubt as to his intentions. “Remember that.”
“Yeah, right.” She gave a rough laugh. “You had the chain there the whole time.”
He watched her, face bland, fingers fiddling with the padlock’s small key. The other end of the chain had already been secured to a bed post, ready for use. Fuck him. “Of course I did. I just hoped I wouldn’t have to use it.”
Cold metal touched her skin and the chain was wrapped around her ankle. She gritted her teeth. It was all she could do to stop herself from kicking him. Violence raged inside her.
She was tethered.
Roslyn had been a long time in the bathroom. Nick tried not to worry. Not like she could get into any trouble with the lock disabled and the window boarded up. Still, it’d been a half hour at least. He shoved a hand through his hair, careful to avoid the fresh wound. The pounding in his head continued despite the painkillers he’d popped.
He busied himself with chores as evening set in, lighting candles and closing up the fancy bi-fold glass doors leading out onto the balcony. Those he had reinforced with slats of wood, front and back. It made them heavy and awkward, but the extra layer was necessary for security. Nothing would get past him. He’d keep her safe whether she wanted it or not.
Whether she wanted him or not.
The side windows were boarded up, the door locked and barricaded. He started a fire in the pot-belly stove to warm the place up.
What the hell could she be doing?
He drifted by the bathroom door again, about-turned and hovered, antsy. His knuckles rubbed at the palm of his hand and his foot tapped. Like every other part of the place, he’d stocked the bathroom with the sort of shit girls liked. Bottles and tubes. Creams and lotions. But seriously … how long did it take? It wasn’t like she’d give a fuck what he thought of her appearance.
The beauty of the eco-chalet was it had been good to go despite the meltdown. Composting toilet and plenty of water in the tanks located beside each of the buildings. Spare tanks of gas for the stove sat waiting in the shed. They could be happy here for a long time. Or at least, content. Stupidly, he’d hoped she’d appreciate all the effort he’d put into making a home for them. That had been the idea. The reality was a little different. A shitload more difficult.
He scowled at the door and his temple gave an agonizing throb. Maybe he had a mild concussion. It wouldn’t have surprised him. This beat the worst of his hangovers, easily. And after everything went to shit, he and some of his buddies had spent days loaded. Weeks. With all the booze at their disposal and plenty of pills to be popped, why not? But those days were gone.
Nothing would distract him from protecting and providing for Roslyn.
Nick gave in and knocked lightly on the bathroom door. “Ah, Ros? You alright? Need anything?”
From within came the sounds of water splashing and the shuffling of feet over wooden floorboards. There was also the occasional jingle of the chain running beneath the door, connecting her to the bed. At the expected signs of life something loosened inside of him, unwound. He breathed easier.
“I’ll be out in a minute,” she said, her voice sounding off. Flat.
Yeah, well. Who could blame her for being mad about the chain? Or the ball gag? Some sucking up was required.
“Are you hungry?” he asked.
The bathroom door opened. Her unhappy face appeared, eyes rimmed red. Damn it.
“Maybe,” she said.
“You’ve been crying?”
“No,” she snapped.
Her puffy face emerged further from the shadows, the evidence obvious. Bloody hell.
Maybe this wouldn’t work after all. The world was so messed up and he’d been so sure. Given a chance, she might see the benefits of the situation. But what if she never did?
No. She would. He could be charming. Numerous exes had said so. Still, his throat constricted, fingers clenching and releasing at his sides. He’d spent months on his own, trying to get his shit together and figure out what came next. Because after a while, surviving day-to-day didn’t cut it. In fact it became fucking meaningless. Just going through the motions: breathing and eating and pissing and shitting for the sake of it. Living long past when he should have been dead with the rest of them.
He’d spied a few other groups of people during his months on his own. But only Roslyn had tempted him into giving people another go. To set his shithouse attitude aside and try being social.