A shiver races up my arms and Caleb glances at me sharply.
I don’t realize until we’ve taken a few steps into the trees that I’m exposed outside. In the house, I’m safe from the people who tried to chase me down. At the very least, there is a wall separating us. Out here, I’m a sitting duck.
My steps falter and Caleb’s chest meets my back, his breath stirring the hair at my temple. “What is it?”
“Nothing,” I say quickly.
A beat passes. “You’re worried about animals.” Before I can correct him, he circles around front of me and lifts his shirt, letting me see the gun tucked into his waistband. “Nothing and no one touches you, princess. Or else.”
He’d kill for me.
That ever-present madness in his eyes is making that clear. Just like last night when he vowed to kill Doctor Taylor, a thrill snakes through me, rattling its tail. Between my legs, the strip of my thong grows damp, my pulse thickening like warm syrup. Muscles sore from the previous night clamp down, seeking him inside me, and I have to swallow a gasp.
“Understand?” he prompts me.
“Yes,” I breathe.
What if he knew the truth about me, though?
What if he knew where I came from and where I’ve been living for the last two years?
Would he believe my story or punish me for betraying him?
I worry silently as we continue walking, but my fears scatter when we reach the stream. Crystal-clear water babbles over mossy rocks, birds chirp happily in the towering trees. The tree cover prevents much sunshine from breaking through, so the light is muted and cozy, even in the middle of the day. Caleb spreads out a blanket and I have to giggle over this jacked military dude with sniper’s eyes setting up a picnic by a stream.
“Nothing.” I set down the basket holding the cake. “You look a little out of your element. That’s all.”
“I am.” He gives me a lopsided smile and my breath catches. “I’ve never been on a picnic before. You might have to coach me through it.”
“I’ve never been on one, either,” I admit.
“Really?” That seems to please him. He runs his gaze down the front of my pink dress, tucking a tongue into the corner of his mouth. “You definitely don’t look out of your element. Just a young girl all dressed up for her first date.” His eyes take on a glint. “Didn’t your daddy ever tell you not to go into the woods with men?”
My breasts turn achy, my nipples in stiff, little points.
He watches them harden knowingly. With dirty satisfaction.
You like it rough?
Until he asked me that back at the house, I wondered if there was something wrong with me. That while last night moved too fast, I found completion. I liked how hard he rode me. The rude manner in which he spoke to me. I want to do it again. But I need to find my footing the next time. Need time to discover this unexpected part of myself.
“Let’s eat some cake,” he says when I fail to answer him, gesturing for me to sit down.
Caleb slips the gun out of his waistband and sets it within reaching distance. Then we sit across from each other on the blanket and take out the container holding a chunk of the cake, digging into it with forks. I moan around my first bite, a rush of chocolate-induced endorphins rushing to my brain. “Oh my god, that’s so good.”
He’s stopping chewing to watch me. “I’ll get frosting next time,” he says gruffly. “Okay?”
“Okay.” I look around. “How long have you lived out here?”
“Less than a year. My final tour ended and…” He clears his throat. “The damn doctors wouldn’t approve me for another one. I tried living in an apartment down in Detroit for a while, but there was too much noise, too many people.”
I try not to show too much sympathy. I remember from one of our first conversations that he doesn’t like it. “What about your parents?”
“They live with my sister in Minnesota.” He opens his mouth, closes it. “I went for a visit once and left early. I was making everyone tense and nervous. And I couldn’t figure out why or how to change it. Maybe it’s just how I’m built.” He blows out a breath. “So here I am.”
It doesn’t feel right keeping every part about myself from Caleb anymore.
He’s told me the plot of his book.
About his PTSD.
Now about his insecurities regarding his family.
What have I given him? Cake?
Swallowing, I put my fork back in the basket and set aside the cake container. I walk toward him on my knees and feel awareness flow through his rugged body. His nostrils flare the closer I come, his eyes watching me from beneath heavy lids. He’s a powder keg, but I climb on anyway, using his broad shoulders for balance and straddling his lap, snuggling down on his erection, savoring his hiss of breath.