The question had been brewing in her mind since he saved her from the bastards in that stupid bar and the urge to ask it was getting stronger now that they were on their way to what was left of her family.
She flicked her eyes towards him, part of her mind noticing how his sweat stiffened blond curls were blown back by the wind of their passage giving her a perfect view of his high forehead, straight nose and the chiselled lips framed by his short, almost elegant scruff. His blue eyes were narrowed against the sun’s glare and he gazed steadily ahead out of a sun bronzed face that was dramatically good looking even bruised and streaked with blood dried to dirty bronze by rain and sun. A trickle of sweat ran down his neck, leading her eyes to the swell of smooth skin over tight muscle revealed by the torn, open vee of his shirt and an image of him back in the fight tent, tall, half naked and sinfully dangerous flashed through her brain like a tongue of fire licking her skin.
Damn it. He was the enemy. She shouldn’t be noticing things like that, thinking of him like that. Her glance dropped to his hands on the reins.
The fingers were long and hard but well-shaped even with torn nails and knuckles bruised and scarred from fighting, the hands big, strong. The same hands that had swung his swords with such devastating ease, killing those men as though it was nothing.
He’d made it look easy, effortless.
Her teeth tore at her bottom lip as memory made her legs tense, back stiffen and her blood race in fight/flight reflex. Back in the bar, feeling herself falling and helpless to stop it, even with the drugs hazing her mind her heart had nearly climbed out through her throat when he burst through the locked double doors into the dirty, smoky room like some tall, graceful, deadly beast. She remembered her breath rasping in her throat as she watched him weave and stab and slice his way towards her then shove his blade right through the last man, his eyes searing into hers like twin suns just before her horizon went dark.
Deep inside, some fierce part of her still burned bright with a breathless, primal joy and absolute satisfaction mixed with shame because killing shouldn’t be that easy, should it? But she would have killed them herself if she could and that was the cold, hard truth.
In Philly she’d thought him cruel but soft, letting others like that slime Strausser do his dirty work for him. Then she’d seen him fight in New Vegas and Pottsboro and knew he wasn’t soft, knew he was a killer through and through. He’d said it himself and it was true. He was good at killing and she’d absolutely waited long enough to find out why he was keeping her alive.
She sat up straight on the bench seat, the pressure of the question making her voice harsh, demanding, even more than she’d intended. ‘I’ve told you where Miles is, so why keep me with you? Why not just let me go, or kill me?’
His lips tightened under the scruff but he didn’t say anything.
She turned to face him. ‘You don’t need me. Having me there won’t stop Miles wanting to kill you. You know that.’
He still didn’t say anything, just flicked the reins to guide the horses round the rusted wreck of a car. One of them snorted, rearing up a little and he made a little clucking sound, the sound gentling, soothing, his hands relaxed but firm. The horse settled, tail twitching, relaxing back into a steady walk.
It was funny, but the horses seemed to like him, damned if she knew why.
Damn him too. She was pissed now, her eyes spitting, lips curled into a hard smile. ‘I nearly had you back in New Vegas. I had a clean shot and if those fucking bounty hunters hadn’t knocked you out of the way we wouldn’t be having this conversation because you’d be dead.’ She was so angry she jerked forward, the heavy chain around her middle making a rattling metallic sound. She sat back down with a thump, gritting her teeth.
Shit. She’d forgotten it again. He’d rummaged through the stuff in the wagon and chained her to the bench seat after she tried to escape for the third time.
‘And the reason you won’t let me go is because you know that next time I’ll finish the job.’ She jerked up again without thinking and sucked in a breath as the hard links dug into the bare skin between her jeans and tank but she kept going anyway, her voice getting louder with every breath. ‘What happened back there doesn’t change the way I feel or what you’ve done. You’re going to have to undo me sometime and If you want to stop me killing you the next chance I get you’re going to have to shoot me.’
He took a deep breath, sighed it out. ‘Charlotte. Back at the Tower the enemy had you pinned and I saved your life. Do you remember that?’ The words were clipped, controlled, his voice steely as he turned to look at her, his eyes holding hers as tight as the chain around her waist. He looked angry, dangerous, ‘and at the pool you let those two idiots get the drop on you and your smart mouth nearly got you killed again, then back at that shitty little town if I hadn’t found you when I did, you’d have been raped and worse by every guy in that bar and either already dead or wishing you were.’ He shook his head in disgust and turned, checking the road then swung back to her, leaning in too close, less in control this time, his face set in harsh lines and his eyes bright, hard, challenging her to deny it. ‘You’re an accident waiting to happen and the sooner I can hand you back to Miles the better I’ll like it.’
She glared at him, refusing to back away and furious because not only wasn’t he taking her seriously, he made it sound as though she was stupid, careless. ‘I’m not some helpless kid, Monroe.’ Outrage made her spit it out, her eyes sparring with his. ‘I walked all the way from Willoughby to New Vegas on my own tracking you down and I spent plenty of time in towns and bars doing exactly what I wanted without getting drugged or raped by anybody.’
He leaned closer, his face totally calm and totally, completely implacable, his eyes raking her from the top of her head to her toes, lingering on her full lips and the lush curves of her breasts under the threadbare tank then rising to meet hers again, the heat in them making the blue gaze burn.
She swallowed, shocked at the way her body responded to his, her heart pounding, nipples tingling and her pants suddenly way too tight between her legs.
His eyes narrowed, and he leaned even closer, a very male appreciation gleaming in the blue depths. ‘Maybe you did and maybe I’ll agree that you aren’t a kid, Charlotte, but as you obviously suck at looking after yourself right now I’m taking you to Miles and your mom whether you like it or not.’ His lips curved in a smile full of danger and insinuation, ‘even if I have to keep you chained to that bench or to me the whole fucking way.’
She stared back at him, her emotions a roiling, confused mess, his closeness overwhelming her, the thought of actually being chained to him, close enough for her to touch him, close enough for him to touch her if he wanted to going round and round in her head in a weird mix of anger, shame, guilt and a raging, inescapable, visceral desire to find out what it would be like.
Except she’d never let him touch her, never.
She shivered, uneasy...
Because somehow that felt like a lie.