The fire crackled and Charlie looked up at him.
“What?” he asked her.
“You didn’t say anything. All of those times, you didn’t say anything.”
Bass feigned indifference. “What are you talking about?”
“Gould. Duncan. Random strangers. They all thought you and I were together. You didn’t say anything. You didn’t correct them; you love correcting people—even if you’re the wrong one. You had multiple opportunities to do one of your favorite things...and you didn’t.”
“You’re the one who knows everything, kid. Why didn’t you say anything?”
“Maybe I was waiting on you to do it.”
“Only smartasses have an answer for everything.”
“Then, you must be king of the smartasses.”
He laughed, but she kept those fiery blue eyes right on him.
“Admit it,” she said. “You kinda liked letting them think it. And by that, I mean you really liked letting them think it. I bet I’m like really awesome arm candy for an old guy such as yourself.”
“And why was your mouth shut?” he deflected. “Maybe you really liked letting them think it. I bet I’m like a really awesome notch on your imaginary bedpost.”
“I don’t know what that means.”
“It means you want me, so you kept silent.”
“No,” she said. “It means you like me so you kept silent.”
“You’re just using my words and adding emphasis in particular places.”
She shrugged. “If you’re bored with this conversation, you can just admit what I called you on and we’ll move on to other things.”
She wouldn’t be stopped. She had that same smug look on her face as that time they were chained together in the empty pool. She was never so smug except for when she was wrong—except, was she wrong?
If he was honest with himself...there was no way he could be honest with himself. But if he was honest with her? He should be honest with her. He should. This would loom over their heads far too long, if he wasn’t.
“I will admit I didn’t say anything.”
“Only if you admit you didn’t either.”
There was almost a smile on her lips, a smile of surprise. Her eyes widened before she relaxed. She knew she’d been caught and there wasn’t much room to wriggle free without making herself a liar or a fool or both.
“I didn’t say anything either,” she said, softer now. “And before you ask why—I don’t know. That’s the truth. No more games.” She looked down at her hands. “What about you?”
He sighed and smiled at her candor. Neither was doing the whole false bravado thing anymore, which was really pointless now anyway.
“I didn’t say anything because I didn’t want to.”
“And where does that leave us?”
“Right here. For once not really knowing what to say.”
And then, in that moment, he wanted to rush across the campfire, take her in his arms and kiss her, kiss her so hard she’d mutter his name every night in her sleep for weeks. He wanted to tear at her lips with his until both were raw and bleeding and neither could breathe for want of air, their bodies and souls devoid of everything but the aching desire for each other.
But he didn’t. He just sat there, like the idiot lump he was. And before he could even begin to formulate a way to make even an ounce of what he wanted to happen happen, his son Connor came up with arms full of firewood.
“Well, that should get us through the night,” he said, chucking two pieces into the flames, which crackled with new life.
Connor looked at his father and their strange girl-companion, surrounded by her five soundly sleeping mercenaries, sprawled like dogs in front of a hearth.
“Have you two been fighting?” he asked carefully, his eyes keenly suspicious. He looked to Charlie. “Your cheeks are awfully red.”
Charlie laughed. “Fighting is how we play.”
“And I’m bored with playing,” Bass said. The words found their way out of his mouth without thought behind them, but he didn’t regret them either. It was a challenge, one he dared to her to accept.
Charlie’s mouth hung open, slightly amazed by him.
He could be the reckless one too.