Roslyn blinked and scooted up, backing into the headboard. Her red hair stuck out like crazy. Bed hair, from his bed. A strange sort of satisfaction rolled through him.
“You mean it?” she asked.
“Of course.” He rose and retrieved the key, stashed beneath the mattress. Unoriginal, but close by if needed.
She cautiously stuck her foot out as though she were half afraid he’d chop it off. For bed she’d changed into a pair of truly unattractive sweatpants and a gray sweater large enough to swallow her whole. It left everything to the imagination. He’d still take her over Junie—or whatever the hell her name had been—any day of the week.
Nick picked up the padlock and unlocked it, slipped it free of the links of chain. The long length of metal clattered to the floor and lay silent. Ros made a small noise and looked at him, mouth slightly open, holding perfectly still.
“Um, thank you,” she said eventually.
The woman stared at him like he was suddenly a stranger. One she clearly didn’t know how to take. Her eyes were wide but the little line was back, sitting between her brows. He’d baffled her. Confused would work fine. He could use that. She stretched her toes, rolled her ankle.
“Better?” he asked.
“Yes.” With a tight nod she slipped back beneath the blankets. “Night.”
The cuffs were likewise stuffed beneath the mattress, waiting. Her arm lay atop the blanket, hand curled into a fist. He snapped one end around her left wrist before she knew what had happened. Locked the other around his own limb and they were a done deal. Her elbow jerked back and smacked into his arm. Her fist flew at him, the one she’d bruised bashing Neil. He caught it midflight before she could do herself any further damage.
“What are you doing!” she screeched.
“What are you doing?” She tugged hard on the sudden, unwelcome connection between them. Lips drawn back, enraged.
“You didn’t think I’d just let you run loose?” He didn’t smile, kept it matter-of-fact. “Ros, you did attack me. And I am holding you against your will.”
“Of course, we’re going to have to sleep closer together.” He slid across the bed, laying their joined hands down between them. Or his half of the pairing, at least. Hers wavered in the air, unsettled. “There we go. More comfortable?”
“No. I want the chain back.”
Her jaw hung open and her eyes were bright with hate. He’d seen it often enough from her to know it. “No. Nick …”
“Actually, I sleep on my side. Just a minute.” He lay down on his side and wound his arm around her middle, pulling her toward him. From this close her flowery scent gave him a headspin. “You can lie on your back with my arm over you, or you can be on your side with my arm around you. What would you prefer?”
“Why are you doing this?”
“It’s done, Ros. Move on.”
Her eyes promised murder. A brutal death without a hint of remorse.
“Well?” he asked.
Her lips screwed up like a cat’s ass. With a growl she turned onto her side, presenting him with her back, because she always slept on her side too.
“Good choice.” Nick moved in for the kill. He molded his body to her back, keeping his arm tight around her. Of course she squealed and scrambled to try to escape him, getting nowhere. “Easy. Take it easy, Ros.”
She continued to fight, squirming and kicking back at him. He trapped her feet beneath his legs. Slid his other arm beneath her neck and held her against him with both arms. Without bringing his dick into it, they couldn’t have been humanly closer. His beauty bucked, twisting and turning for a few moments more. Pointlessly. The back of her neck dampened with sweat.
Shoulders heaving, she panted for air. “You fucker, you promised! No touching in a sexual manner.”
“I won’t take it any further.”
“How can I trust anything you say? You’re a goddamn liar.”
“This is your second night with me, Ros. It’s time to move things on a little. We’re sleeping together. Only sleeping. Nothing more.”
“So you’ll move it on until you’re raping me?”
“No,” he said. “Never.”
Fingernails dug deep into his arms as she tried to work her way free, again getting nowhere. “I repeat. A fucking liar.”
“Hush. Go to sleep.”
“Nick …” A pleading tone intruded on her anger. He already knew what she would say, or close enough to it. Either way, things were staying the way they were.
“It’s done. Sleep.”
She growled again, low in her throat. If there’d ever been a sexier noise, he hadn’t heard it. He shifted his hips back from her ass to hide the tell-tale state of his dick. It involved loosening his grip on her a little, but not a lot. Her hair smelled nice and the back of her neck even better. Salty-sweet perfection, not helpful at all to the state of his libido. “Is that better?”
“Awesome, you asshole.”
Silence held for a few minutes. He could almost hear the cogs and wheels turning in her head. Without a doubt, she was the noisiest thinker he’d ever met. Or maybe it was the grinding of her teeth again.
“Let it go,” he advised.
“Inflicting yourself and some semblance of intimacy upon me will not engender any sort of bond between us, Nick.”
“Huh,” he said. “You ever noticed how your words get bigger when you’re feeling cornered?”
She apparently had nothing to say to that.
“Tell me about your father,” he said. “You mentioned he was army?”
She sighed. “He generally wasn’t around. When he was, he was an asshole. A lot like you. So certain he was always right and everyone else could go to hell.” The fingernails digging into his arm eased a little, becoming more like a cat’s claws flexing. Testing, not teasing. “The only thing that mattered was what he wanted.”
“Truth.” She shifted, her feet twisting beneath his. Nick drew back a little, giving her more space. Earning himself a begrudging, “Thank you.”
“What about your family?” she asked. “I’ve told you my messy tale. Turnabout is fair play.”
He cleared his throat. If anything would get his cock under control it was thinking about his family. “My father was a builder. My big brother became his apprentice. I had an uncle in the army. He was always travelling all over the place having adventures. He made it sound so great. So when I was old enough I enlisted.”
“Did you like it?”
“Yeah. Mostly. I didn’t see myself doing anything else.” He smiled in the darkness. He’d been counting on her curiosity. “But I wasn’t interested in settling down then. Priorities change.”
“Do you know what happened to your family?” she asked, ignoring the settling-down comment. “When this all went down?”
He nudged a strand of her short red hair with his nose. The scent of honey swept through his system. “They died. I went back a few months ago to check. To see if …”
Roslyn turned and looked over her shoulder, all the better to give him a pitying stare. “That was brave, going back.”
“Hmm.” His mother had been a good woman. Maybe even a great one. She didn’t deserve that sort of ending.
“My father got bitten,” she said. Her voice was cool, distant. The look in her eyes, not so much. “Mum called me on the mobile, managed to get through. Dad was locked in the bedroom. She’d taken a handful of sleeping pills, wanted to say goodbye. They had a place in the city. No chance of getting out. I can’t say I really blame her.”
“I’m sorry.” Inadequate, but true.
“There was another woman in the school,” she said. “After a couple of weeks, when it became clear help wasn’t coming, she killed herself. Drank a bottle of bleach. The others were furious, but I didn’t really blame her either.”
He stared back at her. “The early days were hard on everyone. What did you do to get through?”
“I had my library. I just kept reading, lost myself in my books. Mostly it worked.”
“I drank. Took pills.” His honesty caught her by surprise—he could tell by the way she looked at him. But he wasn’t going to lie. “I can barely remember January and Feb. Still can’t forget the shit that came before, when the plague first hit, but those months straight after, they’re pretty much gone.”
She was quiet for a moment. “I noticed you didn’t have a glass of wine with dinner. Figured you were staying on the ball in case I attempted another attack. Why did you stop?”
“I realized I wanted to live. Wasn’t sure how I was going to do it, but just giving up … I couldn’t do it,” he said. “So I dried out. Haven’t touched anything in months. Even stopped smoking.”
She opened her mouth, but didn’t speak.
“What?” he asked.
“I can’t be your reason for living, Nick. That won’t work.”
He didn’t answer.
“Can you shift the cuff to the other hand?” Her face was calm, perfectly reasonable. “We’d both be able to sleep on our backs then, with a bit of room.”
With lips slammed shut she turned away.
Behind him the camp light continued to glow. He’d have to sit up and drag her halfway across the bed to switch it off. Stuff it. It was a waste of resources, but he enjoyed watching her. The movement of her shoulder beneath the bulky-ass sweater as she breathed. The red of her hair, so dark in the low lighting. He tried to keep his arm light on her, perched on her hip, not pressing down all uncomfortable-like.