Checking out the group at the school for safety’s sake, he’d seen her grinning at something some old guy said. Something inside him had woken up. For the first time, he’d actually felt lonely. But he’d felt something else, too. Hope.
Then he’d spied her a time or two through the school library windows and hope had turned to need. He had always had this librarian fetish—embarrassing but true. And he had one Miss O’Connell with her sensible shoes and tight sweaters to thank for that. It had been an epiphany to his preteen mind each and every time she went up on tippy toes to retrieve a book off the top shelf. Good God, the woman had been stacked. When Roslyn had done the same, reaching high with reading glasses perched on the end of her nose, he’d been converted to the cause instantly. The cause being to seduce her as soon as bloody possible … that, and keep her safe.
“There’s a fire?” she asked, eyeing up the pot-belly stove.
“Yeah.” He sucked in a deep breath. “Look, I know this is unusual. But I’m really not going to hurt you. You don’t need to worry about that.”
“I’m not. Despite the chain.” She shook her leg, jiggling the metal links. It sounded almost merry.
“No. I nearly brained you with a bottle of Pinot. If you were going to hurt me, you already would have.” She sniffed. “Which doesn’t mean that I trust you. Or that keeping me like a household pet is acceptable. You’re still very much on my shit list. Holding someone hostage doesn’t exactly endear you to them, Nick. You’re wrong to do this. And if you’re waiting for Stockholm syndrome to kick in, then you’re going to be waiting a hell of a long time.”
“Right.” He pinched his lips with his thumb and forefinger, thought it over. She was right, in a way. But admitting it wouldn’t get him anywhere. It would be best to sidetrack her for now. “I'm sorry I made you cry.”
“It's not that,” she sighed, held out her hand. A busted pair of reading glasses lay in her palm, one lens cracked in the corner, the frame badly bent. “They were in my pocket during my great escape.”
“Let me see …”
Another shrug and a snuffle, but she let him take them. “You said something about food?”
“Just a sec.” One of the arms had broken off, but the bend in the central part of the frame could be dealt with easily enough. “Mind if I hold onto these?”
A third shrug as she wandered closer to the fire. He bet it had been bloody cold up in the old school.
He took a deep breath. “We need to come to some sort of agreement.”
Nick sat on the edge of the bed, watching her. How best to come at it? She was smart. She’d gotten the drop on him. But still. All of the screaming had been her reacting without a single thought. That sort of behavior could get her killed. “Think you could climb a tree if you had to?”
“What?” Roslyn squinted at him over her shoulder. She looked better. Her blue eyes were clearer and some color had returned to her cheeks. The pretty mouth, however, remained an unhappy bow.
“You don’t look like you’ve got a lot of upper body strength to me. If you had to climb a tree or a building to get yourself out of trouble, do you think you could?”
She held her hands out to the flames to warm them. “Oh, I see. We’re back to talking me out of my ability to survive on my own.”
He didn’t bother to answer.
“You’re army, aren’t you?” Her voice was thick with distaste.
“Yeah, I was. What’s that got to do with anything?”
“So was my father.” She gave him a contemplative nod. “I’d manage alright, Nick. Trust me.”
“Would you? How fast do you think you could move if you had to? How far could you run before you had to stop?”
“Infected aren’t exactly swift.”
“True. But if there’s enough of them it doesn’t matter.” Nick set his elbows on his knees and clasped his hands together. “So, running and climbing are limited. You know how to hot-wire a car?”
“Must have missed that day of school,” she mumbled. “I’d find one with the keys still in it. There’re enough sitting around abandoned.”
“And they’ve been sitting there for six months now,” he said. “Not good for an engine to be idle so long. What are you going to do if it doesn’t start? Do you know how to do anything past checking for oil and water?”
“I’ll ride a bike if I have to. Hell, I’ll skateboard.”
He ignored her devil-may-care grin. “If you actually manage to kill me next time you attack me then you run the chance of dying here, Ros. Either in here, chained up, or out there from the infected.”
“I’m really sure concern for my wellbeing will keep you awake at night.”
“You have no idea.”
Roslyn studied the skirt of her gray school uniform, her bruised knuckles. She was tough, but not tough enough. Not to go out there alone. Not even just to get back to the school.
“This isn’t going to work, Nick,” she said. “You’re not going to convince me of a damn thing.”
The woman made no sense. After everything she’d seen, the blinkers were still firmly in place.
“You really want to go back to that place and those people?” he asked. “After what they did to you?”
Her top lip curled in distaste. “After what you forced them to do to me.”
“I didn’t force them to do jack-shit. They chose to screw you over with their own free will.”
“They’re not all like that,” she bit out.
He grunted, frustrated but trying to hide it. Probably unsuccessfully. “You like them enough to spend the rest of your life with them? Not that you’ll live long with bastards like them at your back. Especially once you have to start going on raids into town for supplies. How do you think that’ll work out, Ros?”
The line between her brow deepened and her shoulders squared. “I don’t know, Nick. But it sure would be nice if the choice of how and where I spend the rest of my life were mine to make.”
“Those days are gone. No one’s got choices any longer. No one’s where they want to be.”
She flicked out her hand in obvious dismissal of the subject. “Food, Nick. I want food. Or are we bargaining for that too?”
He sighed long and loud, but only inside the confines of his own head, in private. To her he gave the most charming grin in his arsenal. The one that almost always got him what he wanted with women in the past.
Her eyes made like slits. “Well?”
“No, Ros. Of course not. Let me fix you some dinner.”
Nick was sprawled out on the king-size mattress, eyes shut and body lax. Forget sleeping on the couch. She hadn’t been happy. Not even after he’d sworn he’d keep his hands and every other part to himself. Roslyn lay as far from him as she could manage without falling off the bed. But give it time. She was awful close to the edge.
There were infected outside moaning and groaning. Her earlier carry-on had definitely been heard. Who knew how many had gathered? After six months there should have been less of them. They should have been dying off from starvation by now. But they weren’t, or at least, not in any great numbers. The virus somehow kept them going. Maybe they were eating each other or cornering the local wild life. Who knew.
Roslyn lay dead still, her breathing soft and slow. Not asleep, though. Not even a little. He could feel the tension radiating off her.
Fuck. Tiredness owned him. But all he could do was lie there and wait for her to attempt whatever it was she had her heart set on attempting.
Maybe leaving the cuffs off her hadn’t been the best move.
Unlikely he’d get any sleep tonight, either way. His head remained in agony. Lucky he wasn’t particularly vain, given the scar he’d have.
There was a rustling noise, the muted clinking of links of metal chain as she gradually lowered her foot to the floor. Beneath him, the mattress shifted as her weight carefully, sneakily moved. He lifted an eyelid and watched her shadowy form rise off the bed in slow motion.
“Going somewhere?” he asked.
A startled squeak escaped her.
Nick leant over the edge of the bed and flicked on the battery-powered camp light he’d left on the floor. He held it high. His jaw ached from ongoing tension. It didn’t compare to the misery of his forehead, but soon, his teeth would be ground down to nothing. “Well?”
She blinked rapid fire and raised a hand to shield her eyes from the light. “What?”
He snorted. “Like you weren’t going for something to attack me with. Again. After you promised …”
“How can I trust you?”
“You kidnapped me!”
“You made a promise!”
“Would you just—”
“Die?” He kept his voice low, calm. Or he tried to. “I doubt you’re the killing kind, darling. I don’t think you’ve got it in you. But forgive me if I don’t give you a shot at it just the same.”
“You’d be surprised at what I could do,” she seethed. “But, you idiot, I wasn’t going to attack you.”
“Yeah, right.” He thrust the lamp forward like it was a weapon. “Then what were you going to do? Huh?”
The moaning outside rose in volume, no doubt spurred on by their shouting. She gave the door a pained glance and her voice dropped to a hoarse whisper. “I wasn’t going to attack you.”
“You thought you could get the chain off without waking me? Seriously?”
“I wasn’t doing that either,” she said. “I don’t know how to do things like pick locks and hot-wire cars, remember? I don’t have MacGyver skills like you do.”
“Then what were you doing?”