She’s stopped chewing, her green eyes softening, searching.
I won’t be able to stand her sympathy—or anyone else’s—so I change the subject. “I hope you don’t mind that I’ll be following you and taking notes.”
“No,” she murmurs after a few seconds. “That’s…why I’m here.”
“Yes. It is.” A heavy beat passes between us. She looks so young and vulnerable, swallowed up in my shirt, that my question escapes in an urgent rasp. “Where did the bruise on your face come from?”
Let me kill whoever did it.
Her fork clatters down onto the plate, slipping through pale fingers. “Is that…I-I can’t recall if you asking me personal questions is part of the deal we made.” She looks like she’s seconds from bolting and I brace to give chase, if necessary. “Is it?”
I consider lying, but I’ve already done too much of that with her. “No, it wasn’t part of the deal.”
“Then please don’t.” Her eyes implore me. “Okay?”
My back teeth grind together. “And if I do? If I demand to know every thought in your beautiful head?”
Her breath catches, color stealing up her neck.
I watch her become aware of me. As a man. I watch her realize I’m attracted to her.
She’s innocent, though. That much is obvious. She doesn’t know enough to wonder if my cock is hard beneath the table, but goddamn, is it ever. Stiff and burdensome. Ever since she arrived. And the way she’s evading my curiosity is getting my juices flowing even more. Making me want to pin her down in my bed and fuck the secrets out of her.
“If you demand to know every thought in my head, I’ll leave.” Her chin is raised, but her voice is shaky. “You can find someone else to observe for your book.”
“No. I don’t want someone else,” I growl.
“Then no personal questions,” she whispers. “Please. Or I’ll leave.”
I’m surprised when her threat finds its mark, scaring me. She’s only been here for a few hours and I’m already attached. Irreversibly so. I don’t know her name or where she came from. If she runs, I could track her, but I wouldn’t know where to look if the trail went cold. If I want to keep her here, keep her safe, my only option is to agree to her terms.
“Fine.” I tuck a piece of steak between my teeth and put all my frustration into chewing it. “But just for now.”
It’s not unusual for me to hear people shouting in the darkness.
Where I came from, it’s the norm.
Tortured shrieks that rattle my bones have long been my lullabies.
The shout that comes in the middle of the night isn’t one I recognize, though. It’s deep. A man’s misery in full stereo. Commanding one moment. Guttural, desperate the next.
It takes me a minute to remember where I am.
Not in my unremarkable locked room.
I’m in Caleb’s guest room. Wrapped in his shirt and the soft, forest-green comforter. Which means my host is the one who is yelling down the short hallway.
My heart screws up tight, the corners of my mouth turning down.
At dinner, he confided in me about his PTSD. His honesty made me feel extra guilty for keeping the truth about my identity from him. He should know he was telling something deeply personal to a stranger. A liar. Because of my deception and refusal to return his honesty, I owe it to Caleb to wake him up from this nightmare. Don’t I?
But do I really want to go into his bedroom after the way he looked at me?
Like I was naked.
Like he was curious how I taste.
Men have looked at me with interest before, long before it was legal for them to do so, but this? This was different. There was a hint of madness in his lust.
And I got the feeling he was tempering it for my sake.
How much more lay beneath?
Another shout blasts down the hallway and I swing my legs over the side of the bed.
Swallowing my trepidation, I walk toward his door. Finding it closed, I open it…and my breath catches. I was right. Caleb is locked in the throes of a nightmare.
A fine sheen of sweat coats his ruthlessly honed muscles.
He’s also naked. Lit only by the moonlight coming in the window.
A sheet is twisted over most of his lap, but the thick patch of black hair and the broad base of his shaft is visible. It takes me a moment to drag my attention upward, over the heaving slab of his abdomen. His tense pectorals. The veins standing out on the generous curves of his biceps, his straining forearms. His body language reminds me of a cornered animal.
Or a patient who isn’t in the mood to take her pills.
I know the feeling well and my sympathy moves me forward.
“Caleb,” I whisper, once I’ve reached the bed.
Maybe it’s not a good idea to wake him up, but I’m always grateful when something rouses me from mine, whether it’s an alarm going off or a slamming door. The guards talking too loudly in the hallway. If given a choice, I never want to remain in the nightmare. To let it play out. Who would?’