Briggs has an endless reserve of stories and dirty jokes. Sometimes that laughter is the only thing that makes me feel human. We’re chained like dogs, fed only once a day. There are no showers or teeth brushings. The only relief we get is the occasional dust-off with the baby wipes that Hiyam provides. I can feel the caked dirt in my pores and beneath my nails. My hair is so matted and weighed down by dirt and grime that I’m certain it will need to be shaved when we get out of here. If…If we get out of here. My hope for ever leaving this bunker is dwindling fast, but I will never let Briggs know it.
I push all thoughts of Gavin and Noah away because it hurts too much, and I can’t afford to break. I need to be ready for whatever comes our way, and they are my greatest weaknesses. I live in the present, in this prison with Briggs. He’s weak, but his words contradict the way he looks, how he must feel. Every single day he rallies, and I know it’s for my sake. My breaths are still painful, and I work my legs and arms daily and make him do the same, to try to escape further atrophy.
“You’re a runner?”
“I will be,” I counter. “It was never my thing, but now it seems like a freedom I took for granted.”
I glance at his leg, which has healed nicely. Hiyam had managed to find the solution and kept it irrigated for the first couple of days. There isn’t a smell or bad color, which is a good sign.
“I’m sorry,” I whisper. “That was insensitive.”
Ignoring my apology, his lips upturn slightly. “So, you’ll run.”
“What’s your full name?”
“It’s Christopher Paul Briggs.”
Her lips curl.
“Is that funny?”
“No,” she answers. “I like it. It suits you.”
“Well? Don’t I get to know yours?”
“It’s Kathryn Nicole Scott.”
Somehow exchanging names at this point feels a bit ridiculous, considering how long we’ve known each other and all that we’ve endured together, and I catch myself smiling. “It’s nice…but, you’ll always be Scottie to me.”
She looks up through her lashes, and her blue eyes hold mine. “Good.”
“I thought you hated it when I called you that?”
“I did,” she says, nibbling on her lip, “but not anymore.”
Her words cause warmth to spread throughout my chest, and suddenly I need to put our roles back into perspective. I’m getting too close, but when we’re literally depending on each other to survive, it’s hard not to. “How’d you meet your husband?”
“We…umm—we met at a bar on post when I got to my first duty station in Fort Hood. I had no clue then that Gavin was a freaking captain.” She laughs, and although it’s a little difficult to take the dreamlike look on her face as she recounts the memory, her obvious happiness makes me happy too, even if it does sting.
She’s not yours and never will be.
I cough to clear my throat. “He’s older then?”
Her head bobs. “He was so handsome. Mullins dared me to approach him.” She rolls her eyes. “She knew exactly who he was and sent me on a suicide mission. Thank God, he was in the mood to humor the new boot.”
Swallowing hard, I nod for her to continue.
“See what I mean? She’s a part—was a part—of everything good. Fuck.” She hangs her head and shakes it. “Sorry.”
“Take your time.”
She straightens her shoulders, and her eyes glaze. “I gave him some cheesy pickup line, and he turned it on me…started speaking in German, the ass. And then we danced. We danced till there were blisters on my feet, and we were the last to leave the bar that night. We’ve been inseparable since.”
“How old are you, Scottie?”
“Twenty-five,” she answers, smiling knowingly. “I had Noah when I was nineteen. Captain Walsh and I were married as soon as I discovered that I was pregnant.”
“You didn’t take his name?”
“No…you know how it is in the military. Everyone calls you by your last name. I was already known as Scott.”
This new information has my wheels turning, and I have to know. “If you hadn’t been pregnant—” I start, but she cuts me off painfully quick.
“We were already engaged,” she supplies, knowing full well where I’m headed with this. “Finding out we were having a baby just helped speed things along.”
“What about you?” I ask, curious about Briggs’s life outside of the army. He’s never mentioned his family. I know that he’s single, but surely there’s been someone in his past.
Briggs’s hand lifts to squeeze his chest as he shifts uncomfortably. “Told ya already, I’m married to the job. There’s no one.”
“Okay, well, tell me about your mom, then.”
There’s a flash of something in his eyes when he answers. “Fuck if I know.”
My head jerks back in surprise, and I instantly regret prying into his life. If he wanted to share, he would. Obviously, he doesn’t.
“It’s okay,” he offers, reading my expression perfectly. “She was messed up on drugs and in and out of prison. When the state contacted my grandparents to see if they’d take me, they cut all ties with her. She could be dead, for all I know. I don’t really think of her much.”
“And your father?”
He shrugs. “Never knew him.”
A knot forms in the pit of my stomach. “Jesus, Briggs.”
With a shake of his head, he dismisses my concern. “Don’t feel bad for me. I had a great childhood.” His lips curl into a devastating smile, and I can’t help but return it.
“Tell me all the good stuff.” I pull my knees to my chest, settling in to listen.
“I grew up training horses and ridin’ bulls on my grandparents’ ranch in Chappell Hill.”
“You’re lying.” I just can’t picture Briggs a cowboy. It’s the last thing I expected him to say.
His hearty chuckle fills my soul. “Why would I lie?”
I shrug. “To sound cooler or sexier than you really are.”
Briggs’s face lights up as that infuriating smirk returns, and I already know what’s coming. “You think I’m sexy, Scottie?”
“No.” Yes. “What’s your horse’s name?” I challenge, quick to change the subject.
“Wha—? Why would you name your horse that?”
“He’s a bastard, that’s why.” Briggs pulls his lower lip through his teeth. I don’t think he has any clue how gorgeous he is when he does that, even when covered in filth. Or maybe he does, and that’s why he’s doing it. The appearance of his teeth confirms as much.
“That little asshole was constantly escaping the pen. Gramps kept sendin’ me out to fetch him. We were supposed to be selling him—”
“But you fell in love?” I tease, cutting him off.
“Somethin’ like that.” Briggs looks deep in thought. “I’m not really sure what happened. He just became mine.”
A giggle erupts from my chest, causing Briggs to look at me with amused concern. “I’m just trying to picture you in Wranglers with a belt buckle bigger than your head.”
“Don’t forget the cowboy hat, while you’re daydreamin’ about me over there. The ladies love the hat.”
I roll my eyes, enjoying this conversation far too much. “Speaking of ladies…there’s never been anyone special in your life, Briggs? I have such a hard time believing that.”
“I used to fuck around with some of the ranch hands’ daughters in the hayloft. Asked Emma Jo Wiley to senior prom and got caught deflowering her by the cops in the back of my Ford pickup at the city park.” He smirks at the memory. “That’s as close as I got to love, and I’ve never had a true relationship with romantic feelings or anything since. Career soldier, remember? Guess you could say I fall in love once a night on every leave.”