“I was a nursing student. My last year.” Her own voice sounded odd to her. “I had a dog. His name was—” Tears filled her eyes because she couldn’t even remember. So much of her past had been blocked out, maybe for her own sanity.
“It’s okay, baby.” Draven squatted down in front of her, one hand on her knee. “It’ll take time. Don’t worry about it.”
She took a deep breath, not wanting to appear weak in front of a man.
“Do you remember any of your hobbies?”
“Reading. I loved to read, but most of the books have been burned for heat,” she said.
He smiled. “I have a library downstairs. Fully stocked. I’ll show it to you later, if you like.”
She couldn’t help but smile back. Ashley wondered if her face would crack. It had been so long since she had something to smile about.
“It’s good to keep the mind active. Sometimes an escape is vital these days, don’t you agree?”
She nodded, trying not to stare at the broadness of his shoulders or the way the material of his shirt tightened around his biceps.
“Me, I was a Marine. Good one, too. Fought for freedom, or so they told me. Maybe I was a pawn for the government, an assassin for their greed. Who knows? Now, there’s nothing worth fighting for.” He wet his lips. “No, that’s not true. Not anymore.” His hand was still on her knee, and she could feel his heat and every twitch of his fingers. Her core coiled tight, her reaction to this man unnerving her. “Do you have any fears, Ashley?”
She loved the way he said her name, like it was a dessert he was savoring.
“Men. Being a victim.” Why was she opening up to this stranger? This had to be all an act. But somehow, he made her feel safe, her hard layers falling away. “I never asked to be a fertile, but it’s a curse, not a blessing.”
“Don’t say that. It’s a beautiful thing. A gift.” His hand slid slightly higher, resting on the fleshy part of her thigh. Could he hear her heart pounding in her chest? It sounded deafening in her ears.
“That’s because you’re a man. You probably don’t have any fears.”
He scoffed. “I’m afraid of a lot of things. Some I never even realized until you showed up at my gates. Most of all, I’d say the biggest one is death.”
This caught her interest. “Everyone has to die.”
“The way the world is now, the next day is never a guarantee. I’ve seen so much death, even before the virus. I want no part of it.”
“So you’ll stay alive forever?”
He chuckled. “Maybe I will. What about you? Care to join me?”
She shrugged, playing along. This fairy tale was better than her reality for now.
“We can forget the rest of the world, stay here, and live forever. Just you and me.” Something changed in his demeanor, a darkness passing over his features. Hunger. She wasn’t afraid. If anything, she didn’t trust her own instincts when it came to Draven.
Instead of giving in, of embracing his clear seduction, she forced herself to smarten up. He only wanted what her body could give him. If she didn’t have the fertile band, she wouldn’t be sitting in front of him right now. “But then the story ends, and we wake up. There’s no hiding from the truth.”
He stood up, and part of her was disappointed he didn’t try harder.
She watched as he walked over to his dresser, a finely crafted wooden piece of furniture with intricate carvings. Something that belonged to royalty. He picked up a book, and her heart leapt.
Draven walked around the massive room, occasionally peering out a window, holding the book to his chest. What was he thinking? Planning? A man like him was intelligent, carefully crafting every word before he spoke it.
When he finally returned to her, she held her breath in anticipation.
He sat beside her on the small loveseat this time, the cushions sinking slightly from his weight. His presence was pure masculinity. Draven held the book out to her, but when she attempted to take it, he pulled it away. She looked at him, confused, but saw the teasing quality in his eyes.
“Would you like to have a look at this book?”
She nodded, not sure what game he was playing.
“Okay, I’ll trade you. One kiss and I’ll let you read some of it.”
It was a tempting offer, one she couldn’t refuse on either count. But he should know what he was dealing with. Despite the state of the world, Ashley was a virgin. Inexperienced and terrified of losing her innocence to any man. She’d witnessed women being raped, and had to listen to Luanna’s horrific recounts during their travels together.
“Just a kiss. I have nothing more to offer.”
This appeared to pique his curiosity. “You have so much to give. We both do.”