Authors: Sophie Jordan
I heard him behind me, his solids steps thudding over the slush of snow and ice.
“I’m okay.” For some reason the words felt more like an assurance to myself. I glanced back at him. His forehead creased as he watched me, clearly unconvinced.
Sighing, I glanced out at the parking lot again. Snow was starting to pile up on the bikes and cars. Bleakness swallowed me. I just needed to get home. The compulsion to seal myself in my dorm room until I felt like me again rose up inside me like a desperate, living thing. I could forget the recklessness of this night but I had to get it behind me first.
“I live in town,” I heard myself saying. “In a dorm. At Dartford.”
He chuckled lightly and the sound rubbed like velvet on my skin. “Could have guessed that.” His gaze skimmed over me. “C’mon, college girl. Let’s get you home.”
I hesitated, still thumbing at my phone in my pocket. I
call Georgia. Or just take a ride from this guy and be home in thirty minutes. Georgia and Pepper wouldn’t have to know how stupid I was for going out with Annie in the first place and drinking too much. I could forget all about tonight and go back to being the carefree party girl in charge of her fate. And the next time Mom called I’d let it go straight to voice mail. I could feasibly go another six months without talking to her. All these less than coherent thoughts chugged through my brain.
He stepped ahead into the parking lot and stopped, turning halfway, waiting for me. My eyes scanned him. He was tall and built. Any girl would want to climb all over him. And he could handle it, too. He wouldn’t break a sweat. I squeezed my eyes in a tight blink at the sudden image of my legs wrapped around his lean hips, his big palms holding me up by the ass as I dragged my mouth down his neck. My breathing quickened.
“C’mon. You don’t have to be scared. I promise I’m not a sociopath.”
Wouldn’t a sociopath say that very thing? But it was his:
You don’t have to be scared
that got to me
Taunted me. I wasn’t scared.
. I wouldn’t allow myself to be. Not again. Lifting my chin, I stepped forward and followed him. He stopped at an old beat-up truck, actually leading me to the passenger-side door.
I gave the truck and him a long look. “What? No bike?”
“It’s like ten degrees out.”
So he did have a bike. That image of him wasn’t totally dashed then. He pulled the door open for me. It was rather gentlemanly, and, I admit, unexpected. Most of the guys I hooked up with didn’t get the door for me.
I shoved the comparison aside and climbed inside. He shut the door, the sound jarring. I fumbled for the seat belt, my fingers clumsy and slipping several times before getting a good grip. God. I really was drunk.
I exhaled a deep breath and stared straight ahead, willing myself into sobriety.
It wasn’t the first time I’d drunk a little too much, but this was seriously the worst scenario considering I was at the mercy of a strange guy. How many crazy abduction stories began this way?
I shivered a little where I sat and not just from cold. I wrapped my fingers around my knees.
Come on, Em. Pull it together
Then he was in the truck cab with me, turning the engine over. It purred to life. He adjusted the heat. The air puffed out cold from the vents.
“Give it a minute,” he said. Leaning down, he grabbed an ice scraper from under his seat. Slamming the door shut, he hopped out and scraped the windows free of ice and snow with strong, sure movements.
I watched his face through the glass, and his look of concentration did something to my chest, made it squeeze a little tighter.
. I knew that achy little squeeze for what it was, and I couldn’t let myself succumb to attraction for him. Square jaw; straight nose; and sensual, well-carved lips aside—he wasn’t my type. As if to confirm that fact, I turned on him as soon as he got back inside the truck. “You’re taking me straight home.”
He gave me a look that told me he was beginning to think I was a freak. “I got that, yeah.” Chafing his hands, he blew air into them, not looking at me again as he waited for the truck to warm up. Like I wasn’t worth the time, and that made me feel a little foolish.
“Are you a student?” I asked, relieved that the question sounded normal.
He glanced at me. “As in do I go to college?”
I nodded. “Yeah.”
He lowered his hands from his mouth. “Do I look like a college boy to you?”
No. Not any of the boys I went to college with at least. “Did you finish high school?”
He made a soft snorting sound. “Yeah. I finished high school.”
A beat of silence followed before I asked another question, “How old are you?”
He was three years older than me. And he never went to college. “What do you do?”
The skin along his jaw tensed, a muscle feathering the skin, a hint that I had hit a nerve. “Who said I did anything?” His tone was hard, almost mocking again.
I’m sure that he
something—how else did he survive?—but now I’d annoyed him and he wasn’t about to share anything with me. I shrugged like I didn’t care.
“How about we start with names?” I asked, my voice conciliatory. “I’m Emerson.”
“Shaw,” he returned.
. He looked like a Shaw. Whatever that meant. It just fit him. I exhaled through my nose. The air escaping the vents was feeling decidedly warmer now.
“Emerson.” He shifted the truck into drive and backed out. “Well. Hope you don’t mind me saying so, but you’ve got some suck-ass friends.”
A breath shuddered from my lips. “Yeah. Well. They’re not really my friends.”
“Guess that’s good, but then why were you out with them tonight?”
Because an ugly conversation with my mother sent me over the edge and made me act stupid.
Instead of saying that, I admitted, “ ’Cause my real friends all have boyfriends.”
The words slipped freely from my lips and I realized I might have been better off if I’d just admitted to a fight with my mother. If I’d been sober I probably wouldn’t have blurted out such a thing. I almost sounded like I envied my friends their girlfriend status.
“And you don’t?” Was he trying to find out if I was available? But he’d already made it clear he wasn’t interested in fooling around with me. My gaze traveled over the hands holding the steering wheel. They were big, masculine hands. Sexy, with strong lines and blunt-nailed fingertips. The kind of hands that screamed capable, strong. Hands that would know how to touch a girl.
Blinking, I forced my gaze to the road, my grip on my knees tightening. “No. I don’t have a boyfriend. What about you?”
He rolled up to a stop light and eased on the brakes. “No. No boyfriend either.”
I giggled. I couldn’t help it. My body relaxed and slipped to the side, sagging against the door. With a hiccup, I turned and watched him from beneath heavy lids. “You’re funny.” And panty-dropping hot. The insane impulse to crawl across the seat and press my mouth to his neck seized me. Alcohol motivated, I’m sure. That and the fact that it was a Saturday night and I would typically be tangled up with a boy by now.
He considered me with his brown eyes, making me feel all soft and fuzzy inside. The cab of the truck felt warm and cozy. I could doze off right here. “So how come you don’t have a boyfriend like your friends do, Emerson?”
“Too much trouble.” I sighed sleepily. “A boyfriend would just keep me from doing whatever I wanted to do.” Was that my voice all throaty?
His gaze, bottomless and deep, gleamed in the shadows of his truck. He eyed my legs, encased in snug denim. I felt stripped bare under his regard and the sensation wasn’t entirely
. “And what kinds of things do you want to do?” His voice dragged over my skin like a physical caress.
Smiling, my head rolled against the back of the seat. I was buzzing, floating in a feel-good state. I felt a little dangerous, untouchable, which was a heady thing. Deceptive maybe, but I felt empowered . . . in control again. “Oh, all kinds of bad things.”
And then, because I couldn’t stop myself, I stretched toward him as far as my seat belt would allow. Until the tip of my nose brushed his neck. My lips moved against his skin as I spoke, “Things like this.”
A small hiss escaped him. I pulled back and looked up at him. Really, I could hardly keep my eyes open even as much as I wanted to keep looking at him.
His voice rumbled up from his chest, deep and tight sounding. “Go on then. Show me.”
My smile widened at the challenge. I never could pass up a dare and that sounded an awful lot like a dare to me. I brought my face back to his neck and breathed him in. He smelled good. Like soap and winter and fresh-cut wood. No overpowering cologne on him. I nuzzled his neck like I was some kind of purring cat desperate to get closer. And then I licked him. Tasted his warm, slightly salty skin with a small, satisfied growl. I followed up with a moist, open-mouthed kiss on the side of his throat.
His breath caught just above my ear, fluttering my hair. I felt him swallow, his throat working against my lips.
Everything in me felt all melty and liquid-hot. Like my muscles had dissolved into heated butter. I wanted to crawl inside him. Press my body to his until I experienced every part of him. Every line and dip and hollow. All his hardness. My belly tightened, the ache there throbbing deep.
A sudden surge of need shook me to my core. It wasn’t like anything I’d felt before and that rattled me. I’d made out with enough guys that I should have felt this way before, but something about this, about him, was different.
I leaned closer, ready to crawl into his lap, but my seat belt locked hard and caught me, keeping me from going farther. It was enough. Enough to bring me back.
Enough for me to remember that I did not fling myself at guys like him. I settled back on my side of the truck, my gaze turning wary as I watched him, his jaw locked and tense, eyes glittering with a predatory light. He looked like he wanted to say something . . . or do something. Like maybe haul me into his lap.
I tensed. I knew better than to tease guys who couldn’t be managed. It was a line I never crossed except I just had.
A horn honked behind us. He blinked and turned his attention to the road.
I willed him to hurry, to get us across town so that I could dive into my dorm and forget tonight. Forget him.
He stared straight ahead, one hand draped casually over the top of the steering wheel. “I don’t think you’re the bad girl you pretend to be. Not even close.”
I compressed my lips and watched the blur of lights flash past as we entered the city. No point in arguing. Not unless I wanted to prove to him that I was a bad girl, and I didn’t dare do that.
“You’re drunk,” he announced. “Tomorrow you’ll wake up in your warm bed and not even remember my name.”
I sank deeper into the seat, bringing my legs up to curl on the bench. The fog of euphoria shrouding me began to fade away. My head was starting to throb, pulse right at the temples. My heavy lids slid shut, instantly easing some of the pressure that was building between my ears. I’d rest them for just a moment. Until he got to campus and then I’d tell him which dorm.
. His name flitted across my fading consciousness. I’d remember. I’d remember his name.
UNCORRECTED E-PROOF—NOT FOR SALE
t took precisely five
seconds upon waking to realize that I was naked. Well. Mostly. I was wearing my panties and bra. My gaze shot around the room, and my next thought to chug through my mind was even more alarming.
Where the hell was I?
The bed was big and comfortable. A contrast to my single bed back in the dorm. Not as big as the California king I had back home, but I spent so little time there that this bed felt vast and beyond strange to me. It smelled good, too. Like soap and freshly laundered sheets.
I racked my brain for memories of the night before. Not too difficult. I wasn’t so drunk that I couldn’t remember. I recalled perfectly Annie ditching me. And I remembered Shaw.
He was imprinted on my brain like a fire-burning brand. Shaw, who’d offered to drive me home. I closed my eyes in a slow, pained blink. And I’d accepted that offer. I’d gotten into his truck—in the truck of some hot, dangerous biker boy.
I yanked up the covers and looked down at my body as if I could identify evidence of . . . well.
My eyes burned, tears prickling the back of my throat. My last memory was of sitting in his truck. And—
I had licked his throat. What happened after that?
My body looked the same as it always did. Slightly flaring hips that just barely saved me from looking like an eleven-year-old boy. Less than impressive breasts. Skin too pale, but bearing no marks. Still, I was hardly satisfied. I wriggled around, trying to detect any difference, any physical sensation that might reveal the effects of last night’s activities. I mean I would know if had sex.
Tears pressed hotter against the backs of my eyes as the possibility sank in that maybe I had and didn’t even know it.
. I was trapped in an episode of
This shouldn’t have happened. I shouldn’t be here.
My flight instinct kicked in. I needed to get out of here. I scanned the room, looking for my clothes. Bare wood walls stared back at me. I was in a single room, large and airy despite the darkness of the walls. Light streamed in from several windows in the kitchen area. A pair of double glass doors to the left of the bed granted me a marginal view of the outside world. I glimpsed blue skies and snow-draped ground. Morning light glinted off the bare, ice-crusted branches of a large tree just beyond this door.
Silence shrouded me. Only the faint hum of the heater purred softly on the still air. It was as though I were the only person left on the planet. Definitely the only person in this house. Where was Shaw?
Off abducting another girl?
An overstuffed armchair sat near a fireplace where logs smoldered and flickered red-gold. My clothes were draped across that chair. Spread out almost neatly.
Wrapping the blanket around my body, I hopped to my feet. The sudden movement made my head spin. I swayed, pressing a palm to the side of my face, as though that could stop the tiny hammers beating at my temples. Instantly I vowed never to drink again. As in never. True, I’ve made this vow before, but this time I meant it.
I scurried toward the chair, nearly tripping over the blanket dragging at my feet. With a grunt, I grabbed it and whipped the fabric up and over my arm. When I reached the chair, I looked around furtively and dropped the blanket. Snatching up my clothes, I dressed as quickly as I could. Sinking down into the plush chair, I worked one boot on my foot. I was reaching for the next one when the sound of thuds reached my ears.
I froze, my pulse jacknifing against my throat. Everything slowed as those footsteps grew louder, closer, putting a swift end to the otherworldly silence. The door pushed open and Shaw stepped inside the space. Several logs overflowed in his arms. His gaze immediately landed on me. He paused in the threshold. I watched him, immobilized, feeling like a hare caught in the sights of a predator.
Then he moved, kicking the door shut behind him with one booted foot. His big body strode across the cabin and I resisted backing away. He stopped and squatted before the fireplace. “You’re up.”
I watched as he started stacking wood into a box beside the fireplace. He didn’t glance at me as I sat there, still frozen, fingers curled tightly around the edges of my boot.
I moistened my lips, trying to find my voice as I watched his arms pull and flex beneath a long-sleeved thermal shirt. A light coating of snow dusted his dark hair and shoulders.
The ability to speak finally returned. “What did you do to me?”
He stopped stacking wood, his gaze flying to my face. I sucked in a breath. Everything about him right then, in the full light of morning, was
. More good looking. More masculine. His eyes brighter, more vivid. The fact that he looked pissed didn’t alter the impact in the least. But it made my stomach knot. I squirmed inside at the intensity of his stare.
anything to you except take care of your drunk ass.”
I swung a finger at the bed. “I woke up in your bed.” I waved an arm. “I assume this is your place.”
He nodded. “Yeah.”
“Did you undress me?”
His jaw locked. “It was that or let you sleep in wet clothes.” He arched a dark eyebrow. “You fell. In the snow. Remember?”
Yeah. I remembered that. And licking him. I remember that with excruciating clarity. “Where did you sleep?”
His mouth curled in a cocky grin at this question. “Where do you think?”
My face burned hotter. It didn’t take much imagination to figure out where he slept. There weren’t any other bedrooms in this cabin.
He turned his attention back to the wood and answered his own question, sounding a little bored all of a sudden. “On the couch.”
I snorted. “Yeah. Right.” I yanked my boot on the rest of the way and stood. “Let me get this straight. You brought me here. Undressed me. And then slept on the couch?”
He shook his head and rose to his full impressive height, towering over me. “You’re unbelievable. You think I’m looking to score with an unconscious girl?” He looked me over slowly, thoroughly, making me achingly aware that I must look a mess with my bed head and rumpled clothes and day-old makeup. I probably looked like a raccoon from mascara smeared under my eyes. “Sweetheart, you’re not that irresistible.”
I inhaled through my nose. Okay. Maybe I’d insulted him, but he definitely came back swinging. “I’m sorry,” I said, not sounding very apologetic and not caring. “Excuse me for panicking at finding myself half naked in a strange bed.”
“Maybe you should pick better friends who don’t bail on you, so that if you get drunk and pass out you won’t wake up in some strange guy’s bed. I mean, that’s just a suggestion.”
. “You’re an asshole.” It was the best I could do.
He smiled again, but there was no mirth in it. “I’ve been called worse.”
“I’m sure you have.” I grabbed my coat off the couch and whirled around, marching for the door.
“Where are you going?” he called.
“Home,” I shot back without looking over my shoulder.
“Oh yeah. Cool. How are you going to get there?”
I pulled the door open, stepped out onto the porch, and stopped. The full reality of just how much at his mercy I was washed over me. A winter wonderland stared back at me. The cabin sat back about fifty yards from a frozen lake. Far across the water, I could see other homes and cabins dotting a distant shoreline.
His tread sounded behind me and I whirled around. “Where the hell am I?”
“About half an hour from campus.” He cocked that infuriating eyebrow at me. “Long walk, huh?” He looked down. “And those boots aren’t made for long-distance treks, princess. Especially through snow.”
I bit back my “no shit” response. My hands went to my hips. “How did I end up here? You were supposed to take me to my dorm.”
He leaned against the doorjamb, apparently indifferent to the cold. A cold wind blew, buffeted his shirt against his chest. A well-muscled chest. Lean and hard. I could make out the definition of his pecs and the ridged stomach.
“Now how was I supposed to do that when you passed out and I couldn’t wake you? Oh, and your license has a Connecticut address so no help there. And your phone? Password protected.”
I crossed my arms and glared at him, hating that he was right. I’d done this to myself. It wasn’t his fault. Sure, he was arrogant and rude, but I guess I should thank him and count myself lucky that I didn’t end up with some perv who would take advantage of an unconscious girl. My gaze skimmed him. I couldn’t help it. He was sexy as hell.
“Thanks,” I mumbled.
He jerked a hand to his ear as if that could help improve his hearing. “What? What was that? Something semi nice just came out of your mouth? Impossible.”
Seething, I bit out a little louder, “Thank you.” I sucked in a breath and added in a less angry voice, “It was really decent of you to help me out. I’m sorry if I caused you any inconvenience.”
“Inconvenience,” he murmured, smiling.
“Would you please mind taking me home now?”
“Not a problem. I live to help spoiled little Greenwich princesses.”
The way he looked at me said it all. He didn’t think very much of me. The idea stung more than it should have. I was used to guys liking me. At least superficially. And face it, that’s as much as I let them see. I never let them get to the real me, the Em beneath the party girl veneer. Assuming they ever tried. Most were content with simply fooling around. No strings attached.
“This morning, can you tell me where you live—princess? Then I can get on with my day because, believe it or not, I have things to do.”
I bristled. So he thought I led a charmed life . . . that I was a spoiled princess who teased guys by licking them (yeah, I remembered that) and then passed out like a pathetic drunk. My face burned. I guess he wasn’t that
. Except my life was far from charmed.
Not that I was telling him that. Who cared what he thought of me? He could think what he wanted.
“Let’s go. I don’t want to keep you from the things you have to do . . . like plan the next crime wave with your biker gang.”
He grinned again, and I realized he was enjoying this. Me baiting him. Him baiting me. Now that my panic upon waking in a strange place without any clothes on had subsided, I realized I maybe enjoyed it, too.
“Sure. And you don’t want to miss your nail appointment.”
I cocked my head. “That’s tomorrow.”
The sound of his chuckle followed me as I turned and walked off the porch. His truck was unlocked—why wouldn’t it be all the way out here in the middle of nowhere? I yanked open the passenger door and hopped inside.
He climbed in and started the engine. We sat there for a few moments as it warmed up. I stared out at the frozen lake, marveling at the peacefulness of it. I wouldn’t have pictured a place like this as his home. It was . . . nice. Which was weird. He was a biker. Some crapped-out meth house might have been a more accurate image. A stereotype, I knew, but it wasn’t as though he wasn’t stereotyping me.
I slid him a glance. “You live out here long?”
“It was my grandfather’s. He died a year ago and left it to me.”
I quickly faced forward again, my hands squeezing around my knees. It was the first bit of anything real we had exchanged beside taunts, and frankly, it made me uncomfortable. But then he made me uncomfortable. Undeniably. From the first moment I sawhim.
“I’m sorry,” I said, because I had to say something. They had been close. The man had left him his house. Obviously they had been close. “About your grandfather.”
He put the truck in reverse and backed out of the property. “He went fishing with a friend, came in, made a sandwich, laid down for a nap, and never woke up. He was eighty-nine. We should all be so lucky.”
I blinked against the illogical burn that suddenly pressed against my eyes. Gazing at the strong line of his profile, I wondered at my sudden surge of emotion. I suppose it came from hearing the love in his voice for this man who had clearly meant so much to him. And his grandfather had obviously cared for him. I wished I had that. I wished I had someone. Honestly, there was no family member who overly cared whether I lived or died. No one in my family would lose sleep if anything bad happened to me.
“Still . . . I’m sure it’s hard. I’m sure you miss him.”
He glanced at me, but there wasn’t any of the derision I was coming to expect. No cocky half grin. He looked at me curiously, almost as if he was surprised I could say anything kind. “Yeah. It is . . . thanks.”
Nodding, I faced forward again.
He drove us into town with no further conversation. I tucked my hands beneath my thighs and only spoke when we got close to campus, directing him to my dorm.
There wasn’t too much student traffic this early on a Saturday and for that I was glad. Stepping out of his truck in front of my building, no one I knew was around. No one to witness me wearing my clothes from the night before and assume I was getting dropped off after a hookup.
Standing, one hand on the door handle, I looked back at him. “Thanks. For everything.”
It was a weird moment. As anxious as I was to make my exit, I knew I’d never see him again. We didn’t move in the same circles. I certainly wasn’t going back to Maisie’s. Realizing that kept me rooted to the spot, staring at him longer than I should. Kind of like I was memorizing him. A guy unlike any other guy I allowed myself to be with.
“Sure.” His eyes looked dark as they held mine. “Stay out of trouble.”
I felt my mouth twist into a smile at the irony of some guy I met in a biker bar telling me to stay out of trouble. “I’ll try. You, too. Don’t get in any more bar fights.”
His eyes glinted. “Yeah? Well, you don’t start any more.”
I laughed once. “Yeah. No worries. That so won’t happen again.”