‘Oh, well,’ she began flashing a half-smile without looking directly at him. ‘I suppose even you are not—’ She stopped, a frown forming between her brows as her gaze focused on his lean features. ‘By the time you realised…?’ Her half-smile guttered. ‘You mean you’ve known for miles that we were going to be stranded?’
‘You make it sound as though I had some grand plan.’
‘You said nothing!’ Nell was outraged at being kept in the dark. God, the man had been totally condescending from the moment they had met, he was calculating and controlling, and the worst part was she’d been allowing him to manipulate her!
Her eyes narrowed—well, no more!
‘Hindsight is a great thing, of course. If I’d known I could have been enjoying your hysterical response for the past five miles…’
He flashed a smile of world-class insincerity, but before Nell had an opportunity to respond to his sarcasm he withdrew his head and strolled away into the tall trees. A moment later the dark, sinister shadows in the dense greenery had swallowed him up.
‘I’m not getting out of this car!’ she yelled defiantly out of the window before adding a plaintive, ‘You can’t leave me here like this!’
But he could and he had.
Nell, her face set in lines of mutiny, sat there, her back stiff with outrage. This was a nightmare. It couldn’t be happening.
She lasted ten minutes before, unable to withstand her inner restlessness, she decided that she might as well take a look around. Force of habit made her remove the keys he had left in the ignition, lock the car and drop them in her shoulder bag before she left the car and traced the path she had seen him take along the edge of a stream and into the copse of tall trees. She had gone a few feet when the ground began to slope steeply.
The incline was hard to negotiate and after a couple of graceless trips she kept her eyes trained on the ground. She didn’t see Luiz until she was literally feet away.
‘So you decided to join me.’
‘I…’ She stopped. Luiz was kneeling on the leaf-covered ground fanning a smouldering pile of what looked like leaves and twigs. ‘What are you doing?’ The tables were turned. For once she was looking down on him. She decided to enjoy the moment of physical superiority while it lasted.
It didn’t last. It didn’t even start as she studied his face turned half in profile to her and without warning she started to tremble—nothing that showed on the outside but inwardly at her core.
It reminded her of the feeling she’d experienced once when she’d been caught in the middle of a flat open field during an electric storm and had stood helpless to prevent it as the lightning had struck the ground almost at her feet.
The shadows across his face highlighted the purity and strength of his carved features, but it wasn’t the aesthetic quality of his male beauty that affected her, but the more raw, earthy aspect that was an integral part of this man.
‘I’m building a fire. It will get cold later.’
Nell plucked fretfully at the neck of her shirt. She could have done with some of that cool right now—her overheated skin prickled with heat even though she was shaking with cold.
‘What are you—a Boy Scout?’ The image that formed in her mind was more of a grown-up version and it wasn’t much of a stretch to see him all hunter gatherer, in commando-style camouflage, maybe a hunting knife in his belt.
Her imagination, Nell decided, giving her head a firm shake to clear the image, needed some serious attention! Women had fought for years for equality and what was she doing with her freedom? In sisterly solidarity she was fantasising about a caveman!
Her glance slid of its own volition to the spot where a button midway down his shirt had parted to reveal a glimpse of the sort of chest that no Boy Scout could boast. Not unless the modern Boy Scout was endowed with a precocious degree of muscular development and a sprinkling of dark body hair.
Heart thudding hard, Nell dragged her eyes clear and in the process collided with the dark gleam of Luiz’s glittering heavy-lidded stare.
Emotion welled in her throat as the air between them seemed to thicken. Nell’s stomach muscles, already quivering frantically, clenched viciously. She exhaled hard twice and swallowed as she struggled to escape the sexual thrall that made her limbs heavy and her brain unco-operative.
Continuing to balance lightly on his heels, he prodded the smouldering flames with a stick, igniting a flame. ‘I never was a Scout, nor actually,’ he conceded, ‘much of a team player.’
‘Some people might consider that a weakness.’ Nell gave her spiky observation even though she didn’t imagine for one second that he cared a jot for the opinion of others. His brand of self-sufficiency bordered on arrogance… Actually, she corrected mentally, there was no bordered about it—he was the most arrogant man she had ever met.