“I'm so upset with you, Christofer!”

“Marta, it's not his fault,” Cloe said, coming to his defense and further shocking him, but Marta wasn’t done.

“You should have-”

“Marta, go to bed!” he snapped, having had more than enough for one night.

She drew up rigid, glaring at him. When she opened her mouth, probably to promise to whack him with her cane if he didn't behave, he added, “Now.”

After a moment of glowering at him, she nodded slightly. “Fine. As long as Cloe is okay.”

“I'm fine, Marta. I'm sorry that I worried you.”

“There's nothing to apologize for,” Marta said, giving him a look that he knew all too well. There would be hell to pay in the morning and God help him, but he would probably just suck it up and take it as long as it meant that Marta got it out of her system. He didn't like to see her upset. Every time she was stressed, her heart worked overtime, scaring the hell out of him. So for her, he would take it, but not in front of Cloe.

Not again.

“Good night, Marta,” he said, not at all surprised when she acted as though she hadn't heard him.

“You didn't need to yell at her. She was only worried,” Cloe said, rubbing her hands up and down her arms, trying to create friction to help warm herself.

“Don't worry about Marta,” he said, gesturing for her to leave the kitchen. “She's fine, just angry. I assure you that she will not hesitate in telling me just how furious she is in the morning,” he said dryly.

Cloe's lips twitched, the first sign of humor since he'd found her. He hated to admit that it calmed something inside of him. Seeing her upset and vulnerable made him feel helpless, a feeling he detested. “She does seem to enjoy doing that,” she said just as a violent shiver tore through her body, making her cringe into herself.

“Let's get you warm,” he said softly as he pushed the guilt away that was threatening to take over. He watched her nod stiffly as she walked past him on shaky legs.

None of this would have happened if it weren't for him. Instead of feeling sorry for himself he should have owned up to his responsibilities, not left them to this young woman. As he followed Cloe up the stairs a sense of shame surrounded him when he realized that he'd once again failed to keep the promise that he’d made to his father.

Chapter 10

“Get in the tub, Cloe,” Christofer said, sighing heavily as he pinched the bridge of his nose as if she were the one acting insane.

She tightened her grip on her towel as she stubbornly shook her head. “Thank you, but no thank you, Christofer. I can handle taking a shower by myself,” she said through chattering teeth, wishing he would get out of her bathroom so that she could stand under the hot water without an audience.

“I'm not leaving, Cloe,” he told her, leaning back against the doorframe. When he'd first followed her inside the bedroom and opened the bathroom door for her, she'd been relieved. Right now she couldn't deal with any enclosed spaces and he seemed to understand that.

That didn't mean that she appreciated the little alpha male routine he was pulling on her at the moment. She was more than capable of taking care of herself. She'd been doing it for more than thirteen years and one night of hell was not going to change that.

“I'm not getting in that shower with you standing there,” she bit out through clenched teeth when he didn't make any move to leave after a few minutes. She was freezing her ass off and so damn tired, but she knew that she wouldn't be able to sleep tonight. Hell, she'd be lucky if she could sleep in a few days when exhaustion finally took over.

“Fine,” he said, shrugging as he pushed away from the doorway.

She nearly sighed with relief. That is until he said, “You're leaving me with no choice but to drag you in there.” As he spoke, he pulled off his sweatshirt and tossed it aside, revealing a simple gray tee shirt that molded to his perfectly sculptured chest and abs, leaving Cloe momentarily stunned.

That is until he pulled the tee shirt off and tossed it to the side as well.

Living near the beach for the past few years, she'd seen some very drool worthy bodies, but none of them, and she meant none of them, had anything on Christofer. Every muscle was perfectly defined and tanned. Even the light dusting of dark hair on his chest and trailing down his stomach didn't mar the perfection. If anything it added to it. Thankfully he dragged her out of her thoughts before she did something stupid like drool.

“Let's go,” he said, picking her up before she realized what he was doing.

“Hey! Put me down!” she snapped just as a violent tremor tore through her body. God, she was so damned cold.

“No problem,” he said, carefully placing her in the shower, just out of reach of the water.

“Thank y--hey!” she may have screeched when he surprised her by snatching her towel away and tossing it over his shoulder.

He ignored her outraged glare and simply pointed towards the water that was even at this distance giving off a delicious warmth. “Get under the water or I'll put you there,” he said evenly and she knew that he'd do just that.

With a small sigh, she gave up and moved beneath the water, making sure to keep her back to the wall. She was too tired to care that she was na**d in front of a man that on a good day made her a little nervous. At the moment the only thing she cared about was getting warm, making sure that he didn’t see her back, and keeping the lights on. Anything else was too much work for her frayed nerves.

“I'm going downstairs to check on my sister. Do you think you'll be okay for a moment?” Christofer asked, reaching over and pushing her now soaked hair out of her face.

“I-I'm f-f-fine,” she stammered through her chattering teeth. “Y-you don't n-need to c-come back.”

Of course he ignored her. “I'll be back in a few minutes, Cloe,” he said firmly as he walked out of the bathroom, leaving her alone.

As the hot water streamed down her body, delivering much needed warmth, she fought against the urge to close her eyes and simply savor it. Although she doubted he would get a chance to come back before she was out of the shower, she didn't want to take the chance of him coming back and getting a glimpse of her back.

He would either react with pity or disgust and right now she didn't have the energy to deal with either. She didn't know which reaction she hated more, but she knew that she didn't want to see either expression on his face. She wasn't sure why it mattered what Christofer thought since it was more than obvious that he didn't want her here, but it did.

The boyfriends she'd had over the years, granted there hadn't been many, either tried to play it off like it was no big deal or flat out lied, but she never missed the looks of pity or revulsion on their faces whenever they saw her back. While most women would probably hide their scarred backs, she didn't. She didn't exactly flaunt it or make a big deal out of it, but she did use it to see just what kind of man she was dealing with.

There were a few guys that took one look at her back and walked away and although their reaction disappointed her, it never really bothered her. If they couldn't deal with the scars covering her back, making her less than perfect, then that was more than fine with her. She wasn't looking for “Mr. Right” anyway. She just wanted someone that she could spend a little time with every now and then to forget her troubles. The guys that managed to pretend that her back didn't bother them had provided her with the only thing she allowed herself, casual companionship.