“High-handed?” I snorted. “I think you’re getting confused. You’re the high-handed one. You tyrannical, overbearing bastard.”
“Enough!” he roared, pushing me away and raking a hand through his hair. His face lost a little color, his eyes etched with pain. He wasn’t lying about his current health. I could strike and kill him easily if I was cold-hearted enough to take his life.
I shifted on the spot, highly aware of the weight of the blade and the queasiness in my stomach.
“Finally decided to do it, huh?” He chuckled blackly. “I admit my weakness, and you light up as if I’ve just given you the key.”
My eyes locked with his. “Do you blame me?”
For a second, he didn’t move, then he shocked me with a half-smile, weary and not at all what I expected. “No, I don’t blame you.” He swallowed and fiddled with his homemade cast. “It’s what I would do.”
Funny how quickly things could change. Incredible how a single look, a simple word, could undermine seven days of vows, violence, and vengeance.
I’d envisioned another fight. I’d barely slept and hidden out as if we were enemies on different sides of a war. I’d prepared to be cruel. To match his nastiness if I stood any chance at being strong enough to get home.
But...all of that tension, that waiting, that plotting, it wasn’t me. It was too much effort. It hurt. It truly hurt, and I didn’t know how to deal with that.
“The power isn’t lasting at night,” he murmured, the topic switch leaving me floundering. Even talking about mundane things, his allure, his presence, all dripped with sexuality. “I’m guessing you’ve noticed.”
Unable to see where he was going with this, I nodded slightly. I’d found it annoying at the beginning. Wary of him stalking me in the dark, I suspected he’d shut the lights off as another mind game or version of control.
“It’s not supposed to.” He licked his lips, drawing my attention to his mouth. “I think the hydro power has been damaged. Possibly by the storm the night you ran away.” His eyes burned with memories, transmitting every touch and thrust we’d shared while coated in rain and mud.
The hesitant hum of awareness between us suddenly billowed into outright heat.
My breasts tingled. My tummy clenched. My hate for this man didn’t stand a chance against my desire.
I cleared my throat and dropped my eyes to the knife in my hands.
He’s your enemy, Gem.
“The backup power comes from solar. The panels are old, and even though I do my best to maintain them, their output isn’t enough to run the fridge, oven, and lights for a full day. The batteries are old and past their prime. That’s why we’re having blackouts.”
I kept looking down, not sure why he was sharing such things but unwilling to interrupt his soft voice. It was the kindest he’d ever spoken to me. Simple topics of life in his valley that somehow made my heart kick and belly flip in his presence.
It did more than just make me lust, it made me question what his existence had been like after.
After the abuse.
After the masters.
After...when he was all alone.
“I haven’t stocked up on firewood yet, which is another task I should’ve started by now. Come winter, whatever electricity we do have will be used for other essentials. Heat will have to come from fire.” He came toward me, tipping my chin up with his finger.
Electricity sizzled from his skin to mine.
His jaw clenched.
The air positively came alive around us.
“I’ve made a list of all the things...” His finger traced up my jaw. With a hitched breath, his hand cupped my cheek, his concentration spilling into need. “Goddammit, why is it easier to want to be your friend instead of your enemy?”
The world stopped spinning.
I ceased existing.
His fingers sent hotter electricity into my blood. My knees wobbled. My lips wanted. All of me wanted.
He flinched as if I was the one causing him pain, hushed words tripping from his lips. “I...I’ve missed you.”
I couldn’t breathe as his eyes switched from facts to need. He hadn’t brushed his hair, leaving it dancing over his shoulders like the wild beast he was. His lips parted as his stare dropped to my mouth. He smelled fresh and forestry, and why, why, why couldn’t I stab him and run away?
I didn’t feel right. I felt twisted and tangled and—
“Don’t...” I whispered, swaying backward.
His hand slinked to my nape, pulling me forward until our foreheads touched. “Gem...”
My legs almost gave out.
The first time he’d said my name without rancor or venom. My true name. The three little letters that summed me up as a girl, climber, sister, entrepreneur, and someone who was so utterly lost by all of this she was fragile beneath her ferocity and so, so scared beneath her cape of threats.