“Oh, you’ll definitely know when we’re trading for favors. Rest assured,” said the smirky jerk. “Milk and sugar?”
“Yes. Please.” She swung her legs down, bracing for the chill of the hardwood floor. There were socks on her feet: thick, woolen, distinctly foreign ones. “I didn’t go to sleep with socks on.”
“I didn’t want you to get cold.” Nick had his back to her as he lit the gas kitchen stove and put on the kettle. However, the stupid know it all look was clear when he turned to face her. “I hope you don’t mind.”
Of course she fucking minded. “You promised not to touch me.”
“That was only with regard to sex,” he said. “This was to keep your toes warm.”
She stood up, wide awake now. Anger did that to a woman. “No, there was no such caveat in place. You promised not to touch me and you broke your word.”
His brows reached high. “Caveat? What a big word before breakfast. Are you going to explain what it means to me?”
“It means you’re an asshole.”
“Ah.” He nodded. “Would you like eggs? Only powdered, sorry. Porridge, perhaps? Or I have some fresh apples I found in an orchard not far from here. Chemical free, I promise. You look like the type to buy organic.”
“Funny.” And true. But he didn’t need to know that. How childish would it be to tear off the socks and throw them at him? They were nice. Thick, brown hiking ones. Her toes were toasty warm. It quite possibly made the situation worse. The thought of his hands on her when she was unaware had sensation creeping down her spine, spider-style. “Don’t touch me again without permission. At all. For any reason.”
He didn’t answer.
He crossed his arms over his hard chest, muscles moving enticingly beneath his skin. “You know I’m not going to agree. Why upset yourself?”
“How mad were you at me last night when you thought I’d broken my word?”
“I promise I will never touch you with the intention of hurting you.” He held his fist in the palm of his hand. “Unless you’re a naughty girl. Then there will be repercussions. Guaranteed.”
“You’re threatening to hit me?”
“What?” His eyes flared wide with surprise and his hands dropped back to his sides. “No. Of course not.”
“Right.” She wished she could do the one-eyebrow-raise thing. It would call down just the right amount of skeptical upon his bullshit. “This is never going to work. Whatever you think is going to happen here, it’s not. You might as well just take me back to the school.”
The man set his big hands back on the kitchen bench. His long body looked fully at ease as he watched her with an amused smile. How many women had gone for his particular brand of crap before the plague? Been tempted by the floppy brown hair and square jaw? The absolute confidence he had in his own propaganda?
Plenty. Heaps. She’d bet on it.
There was a certain appeal to him, if you were desperate. But he wasn’t half as charming as he thought he was. Not when she wore a fucking chain around her ankle.
Not one iota of doubt sat in his dark eyes. It was unsettling. Her hands felt clammy, stuffed beneath her armpits.
“You’re going to have to take me back,” she said. Because belief was half of being.
“I guess we’ll see. Why don’t I fix you breakfast while you wash up?” he suggested, moving toward the kitchen.
The power he had over her. She hated it. The infuriating lack of liberty, just like back at the school only worse.
Her chin wobbled and he gave her his calm little smile, obviously taking her silence as assent. The look alone made her want to brain him with something hard. Again. He was hard to pin down. There were so many different smiles. She should number them, index them, all the better to keep them in order. Study him and defeat him. But she honest to God didn’t want to know him that well. The thought was repugnant. He’d bought her, for fuck’s sake. Bought her and fed her and put socks on her cold feet. Piled blankets on her and kept her chained to a bed. Her pride lay in tatters. Her eyes became inexplicably hot, sandy.
She had to get out of this.
But he was always watching. Getting the drop on him again wouldn’t be easy. And then she’d do what, hack off her foot? Who knew where he kept the key.
“Go on and wash up,” he said impatiently. “We don’t have to fight about everything.”
She fled into the shadowy bathroom and shut the door. The door lock had been disabled, the window barricaded. A bucket of cold water sat on the benchtop. It chilled her hands and stung her face as she began to wash. The fingers of her punching hand throbbed. Icy drops slid down her neck and soaked into her stupid dress. A hard shiver wracked her spine.
The woman in the mirror stared back, slack-jawed and dazed, confused and not so confident.
“Is that really necessary?” he asked.
“Pacing back and forth.” Nick sat at the table. His long fingers dealt ably with the various parts of a gun, then got busy cleaning and oiling. So far he’d sharpened three wicked-looking blades before moving onto things that went bang! He was an industrious thing, his hands constantly busy. “It’s annoying.”
“Is it?” Roslyn sat on the arm of the lounge and kicked the chain to and fro, noisily. It slithered across the floor, metal clinking. She added a little extra oomph to the movement just for fun. Nick looked less than impressed, his eyes all flashy and dangerous. Bad luck, buddy. Chalk up one small, pathetic victory to her team.
The trimmed beard covered a lot of territory, but his eyes said plenty. Mostly she’d avoided looking in them since he’d laid out brunch on the table. He’d sat down across from her and dug into the porridge and chopped apples laced with brown sugar. Of course he knew how to cook, as he’d demonstrated with dinner last night. How typical. She tried not to be impressed. Also, she tried not to relish the food. A hot breakfast, however, proved to be worlds away from a ration of stale crackers at the school. At least her captivity would be passed in relative comfort.
“Why don’t you read a book?” he suggested, gesturing to the shelf of dusty classics above the bed.
“I don’t have any reading glasses. My spares are back at the school in my handbag.” For fun she wrapped the chain around her foot and bounced and jiggled it on the floor. “Why don’t you take me back so I can fetch them?”
“I’m not really in the mood for a drive. Aren’t you tired of wearing the uniform?”
She barked out a laugh. “I think I’ll keep my dress on, thank you.”
“There are fresh clothes in the cupboard.” He carefully set down a piece of his pistol, steepled his fingers and rested his chin upon the point. “That’s all I meant. For now.”
“What sort of clothes?”
“So suspicious. Go see for yourself.” The look on his face would have made anyone think twice. A gleam had returned to his eyes. He sat perfectly still, watching and waiting. Vipers probably sat that still when sizing up their prey.
The chain jangled as she kicked it aside and stood. “Alright.”
She wandered over and threw open the double-door cupboard, embedded in the wall opposite the open-plan kitchen. It backed onto the bathroom, obvious due to the big white water heater sitting in one corner. But there was a wealth of things packed around it and a whole lot more filled the shelves. All selected with a woman in mind. There were sweaters and jackets, shoes and shirts, jeans and underwear. Lots of underwear, far more than one person could ever possibly require. A veritable bordelloful of the fluffy stuff lay before her.
She poked a finger at the clutter of lingerie. A colorful mess of ribbons and lace fell at her feet, busting free of the cupboard’s crowded confines.
“You’ve been busy,” she said, dryly. “Where did all this come from?”
She picked up the topmost item of filmy, ivory-colored silken nothingness. Took her a moment to figure out what it was. “Tie-on panties. Nice, Nick. Very practical.”
“There’s a matching bra for that one, I think,” he said, his voice directly behind her. So damn close his breath warmed the back of her neck.
“Shit!” Her spine almost shot straight out of her. “Don’t sneak up on me.”
“Sorry.” He smiled. It wasn’t the least bit sincere.
“Would you mind giving me some room?”
“Not at all.” He took one step back. Not even a very big one. God knew his legs were long enough.
“Better?” he asked.
She didn’t deign to reply.
Instead she rifled through the nearest stack of clothes, a selection of jeans. Beside sat some woolen vests and a couple of long-sleeve T-shirts. They looked like they’d fit. So did the shirts still wrapped in plastic packaging. And the neat stack of sensible boyleg knickers. Nice to know they weren’t all see-through. Cotton appeared here and there. She rather liked certain girly things. But there would be no parading that particular predilection in front of him.
Never, ever, ever.
Pretty much everything in the cupboard looked like it’d fit her. A weird twinge tickled her scalp. Like her skin was on back to front.
It wasn’t him. He hung back, for now. Leaning against the kitchen bench, face neutral and eyes beady, waiting on her reaction, no doubt.
A black pair of cargo pants in her size. A set of sturdy brown boots, a pair of sneakers, similar to his. Both were the right size. Even the bras were close, a C cup instead of her actual B. Huh, he’d been hoping.
“How did you know?” she asked. A stupid question. She already knew the answer.
“You’ve been watching me,” she said.
A creepy smile lit his face. He didn’t even bother to deny the accusation.
“God, Nick. That’s awful.”