Without thinking about the wisdom of what she was doing, she banged through his door, ready to face any enemy that presented itself, armed only with her bare hands and her primitive desire to protect Tony from whatever had him.
Except a sweeping glance of his bedroom, which was even bigger than hers, revealed nothing. No raging fire. No bad guys. Not even Tony, because his massive bed was neat and empty.
Once again, Chesley saved the day. Guided by that wonderful sixth sense that dogs have, she zeroed in on one end of the sofa, which was, Talia realized, pulled away from the wall at an odd angle.
Was Tony behind there?
The only answer was the sudden appearance of a flailing arm on the floor behind the sofa and Tony’s renewed yells.
“I’m here.” Ignoring all rules about letting dreamers sleep, or waking dreamers gently or whatever the hell you were supposed to do, Talia skirted the side table, knelt at his head and grabbed his biceps to calm him. He was faceup and shirtless, with his eyes closed and his arms overhead. Down at the other end of his long body, his bare legs bent and kicked, as though he needed to swim away from a monster or risk drowning. “Wake up, baby. I’m here. I’m here.”
He struggled against his demons, twisting and writhing into the nest of blankets he’d made for himself back there, and then, quite suddenly, his eyes opened and he stilled.
He stared up at her, panting.
She waited. Though she had only a dark and upside-down view of him, she could tell there was no dawning recognition in his expression. Nor was there any lessening of the tension that had strung his body tight. If anything, he seemed poised to strike—
Beside her, Chesley whined.
A warning, as it turned out.
Tony struck with the lightning reflexes of a pouncing cheetah, lashing out and clamping down on her wrists. Even then, her sole thought was for his safety, not hers, and some inner peace took charge, filling her up and calming her down. There was only one thing he needed to hear, so she said it in a voice as soothing as she could make it.
“It’s me, Tony. Talia. Everything’s okay. It’s me. I’m here.”
The manacle grip of his fingers never loosened, even as he flipped over on his belly and did a military crawl out of the narrow space. He crept closer, looming over her where she knelt.
“It’s me, Tony,” she kept murmuring. “It’s me.”
Was he awake now?
Surely not. The light in his eyes was so ferocious—so intent—that it seemed dangerous to look directly at him, like eyeballing a full solar eclipse.
And yet she didn’t dare turn away.
Finally she wound herself down, or maybe she ran out of air to breathe and therefore had none left for speaking. All she knew was that the world did a bewildering flip-flop, and she was no longer the one with all the answers.
Hell. Maybe she was the one dreaming.
Instead of answering, he rose to his feet with the steady grace of Mikhail Baryshnikov, pulling her along with him. Naturally, she wobbled. The only thing standing between her and a face-first dive for the floor was the solidity of his grip, so she didn’t pull away.
If anything, she leaned closer, studying him as he studied her.
The new silence was so profound that she’d swear she heard every blink of his eye and drop of sweat as it rolled down his brow. Certainly she heard every intake of his harsh breath, and every outward whoosh.
Or was that her breath?
Without warning, he released her wrists. This freedom from the scorching heat of his body should have been a relief. It wasn’t. Those big hands of his went straight to her face, cradling it in a rough grip and angling it so he could see her better in the dim light.
“Talia?” His voice was gravel mixed with rock salt. “Is it you?”
“Yes,” she breathed.
The answers didn’t ease him. If anything, the humming tension in his body rose higher, into a level beyond danger.
“Are you leaving me now?” he demanded.
The answer she wanted to give—the lie—wasn’t the one that came out of her mouth. “No.”
His searching gaze swept her face one last time, just to be sure, and then he apparently decided to believe her. One side of his mouth twitched, forming a dimple in his hard jaw.