She crossed her arms over her chest, pumping up the perfect swell of her breasts. He tried not to let it distract him. The school uniform looked tatty and faded in the glare of the camp light. Outside the groaning went on and on.
She took her sweet time in answering. His molars would be a distant ground-down memory by the time they were done. Never in his life had a woman yanked his chain with such ease. Which would have been funny in another time and place, given the chain on her ankle. Or not. Humor required him to be more then semi-conscious and not suffering from a head wound.
When she wavered in and out of his vision he got a little concerned. He rested his head back on the pillow. Bloody hell, falling on his face wouldn’t strengthen his position.
Her gaze settled on some point behind him. “I was going to sleep underneath the bed.”
The woman just looked at him, mouth a bitter line. Dark smudges sat beneath her eyes. He wasn’t the only one in need of sleep.
“Roslyn. Why would you do that?”
She flung out her hands. “Why do you think?”
“You’re safe here.”
“Nowhere is safe,” she said. “Sleeping on that bed, out in the open … it feels too exposed. The storeroom I used to sleep in was very small. And locked.”
“We’re inside a locked building.”
She just looked at him.
Nick sighed and slowly sat up, pushed off his blankets and scooted across the bed. When he swung his legs over the side of the mattress she danced back a step or two, almost tripping on the chain. Not like he wasn’t dressed. He’d changed into a T-shirt and some sweatpants to sleep in. The odds were good if he’d left anything hanging out she would have tried to cut it off.
He set the light on the bedside table and gave her a small, tight smile as his head spun queasily. “Easy. We’re just talking.”
The nasty glance she gave him seemed pretty fucking unnecessary, really. Not like he wasn’t proving himself willing to discuss things. Also, not like he could do much, what with the condition he was in. Though she didn’t know that.
He cleared his throat, took a deep breath. “Do you really think I would bring you here without making sure you’d be safe?”
Her face lifted in a mocking grin. “Oh, I’m sorry. Is my fear of dying a horrible, bloody death bruising your ego?”
“Ros, be reasonable …”
“I’m so glad this is all about you.”
“Wait, okay? Let’s just stop and think this through,” he proposed, leaning his elbows on his knees. Propping his chin in his fingers stopped the world from sliding south. “You are very valuable to me.”
The sides of her lips turned down in disgust. “Yeah, a van’s worth of valuable. I saw.”
He ignored her baiting, still hopeful they could get some sleep tonight. Please God, let them get some sleep tonight. “Be logical, Ros. You like logical, don’t you? I will not let anything happen to you. I went to too much trouble to lose you now.”
“Aah, the power of the pussy.”
“Exactly,” he agreed with a smirk. Which was a mistake. If the woman hit him now, he really might be down for the count. “Calm down. It’s the truth. You have it. I want it.”
“I hate you so much.”
“Because I’m honest?” He sighed. “No, Roslyn. This should comfort you. You’re pretty much worth more to me than my own life. You and your pretty pussy.”
Shouldn’t have said it. Couldn’t help himself. Wasn’t like she didn’t hate him already.
It was a little surprising when she actually hissed at him, though. “I mightn’t even be any good in bed. Have you thought of that?”
“I’m willing to take the risk.” He grinned. “I’m also willing to teach you. I’m actually quite a good instructor when I put my mind to it. You’d be surprised.”
Her jaw shifted restlessly like maybe he wasn’t the only one wearing away teeth. “I desperately need you to go fuck yourself.”
“Roslyn,” he tutted, and the fury in her eyes exploded. She was a lot of fun all stirred up. Pity about the reason. Still, it pleased him to know he could get to her as much as she got to him.
A long, low growl came from outside and her shoulders jerked. He hated seeing her afraid, for reasons even greater than his ego. There’d been enough fear and death. By locking this bird in a golden cage, he’d save her from experiencing more. Perverted, but true.
“You’re safe,” he said in a softer tone.
“I’m here. I’m clearly not going anywhere. We don’t need to be discussing this any longer. Why do you even care?”
“I don’t want you sleeping beneath the bed.”
Blue eyes stared back at him, unhappy.
He smothered a yawn, searched for something to put her at ease. With his brain pounding, he couldn’t have set himself a harder task. He’d promised not to jump her no matter how much he wanted. The place was locked down. The evidence on that front was obvious. His headache left little room for thought. Didn’t put off his dick, but then his dick had no sense. It had gotten him into trouble for most of his adult life.
“Why don’t I go back to my side of the mattress and you come lie down?” he said.
She didn’t move.
“Roslyn, I spent weeks making this place safe for us. Reinforcing every door and window. Testing them. Nothing is going to get you. Not in here.”
One slender, bare foot rubbed at the hardwood floor. The cold hardwood floor. She had to be cooling off fast, out from under the blankets. He knew he was. It had been hours since he’d seen to the fire. Stanthorpe in the winter could chap your ass, and that put it mildly.
Nick gave her a long, steady look, making sure he had her full attention, before crawling back over to the far side of the bed. Retreating to gain ground in the long term. “Your turn.”
No movement. Maybe she had already frozen.
“It would be good if we both got some sleep tonight,” he said.
“You said you wouldn’t force me into anything.”
“That only applied to sex. Sleeping on a cold, uncomfortable floor is wide open to intervention. Try it and see.” Fuck, he hoped she didn’t.
All the little subtleties of her face amazed him. The slight curl of her lip and wrinkling of her nose to diss him just so. Dangerously close to cute. He looked forward to learning her, in more ways than one. But first up, they both needed their shut-eye.
Please, let the cuffs stay put away. There were dark marks around her wrist from her tugging on them earlier. Bruises. Not good. He suffered twinges of guilt every time he saw them. Not that she’d given him a choice.
“Please,” he said, trying for humble, if not trustworthy.
“You’ll stay on that side.”
He held his little finger aloft. “Pinky promise.”
She rolled her eyes, checked out the windows, the balcony doors. Each and every one he’d fortified. They were safe. He’d swear his life on it, and hers too. And he didn’t take it lightly, being responsible for her. Despite what she might think.
She moved forward an inch. No more. “They can’t get in?”
“No. They can’t get in.”
Her mouth opened then closed. “Alright.”
Roslyn shuffled back to the bed with shoulders slumped and climbed beneath the blankets. The mattress shifted as she tossed and turned before finally settling on a position. With her back to him, as if it had ever been in any doubt. She flicked off the camp light and darkness descended. Outside the noises seemed to have calmed down. Maybe the bastards felt the cold. Who knew?
“Thank you,” he said. Because there was no need not to be polite, not when he’d gotten what he wanted.
He closed his eyes and listened to her breathing. Roslyn was beside him, safe and sound. Unhappy, but that couldn’t be helped. At least she wasn’t attacking him. Tomorrow he’d make it up to her, win her over somehow.
His limbs felt like lead. He needed to wait till Roslyn fell asleep, but he doubted he could do it. So fucking tired. Sleep stole over him, fast gaining ground. He could only hope he didn’t wake up dead.
Sunlight was flooding the room when Roslyn woke. The big balcony bi-fold doors stood open to reveal nature in its entirety. Lots of glory right there. Birds were singing outside, there was plenty of blue sky and a light breeze blowing. She lay buried beneath a mound of blankets.
Nick was nowhere in sight.
Then she heard whistling. Not a bird. A six-foot-something male strode in the back door, arms loaded down with sticks of all shapes and sizes. Today he wore jeans and another T-shirt, along with a sporty pair of sneakers.
“Good morning,” he said with a grin.
What the fuck did he have to be so happy about? Oh, right. He wasn’t chained to a bed by a whistling lunatic.
The lunatic dumped the load of kindling in a basket by the pot-belly stove, turned and brushed off his hands. “Such a pretty face to be so grumpy.”
“I’m not a morning person.”
“Then you have no excuse. You’ve missed the morning. It’s almost one in the afternoon.”
“It is?” Roslyn sat up, rubbed her eyes and scowled at him some more.
“You must have needed the rest.”
She hedged, pushing back her blankets. At some stage he’d obviously piled them high to keep her warm. Accepting anything from him felt wrong, even after dinner last night, the heat of the fire and the comfort of the bed. She did not want to owe this man a single damn thing if she could help it.
“It’s just coffee, Roslyn.” He appeared highly amused, lips raised on one side, brown eyes bright. Bushy-tailed bastard. The war wound she’d given him was impressive. A black egg sat above his brow with a pink line neatly bisecting it. “Coffee comes free.”
“Comforting to know you’ll inform me when I’m trading for favors.”