Chapter Eighteen: The Talk pt. 1

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A fire was crackling when I awoke. Idly, I wondered if I was still in the cave, in Duke's arms. I stretched reflexively, then winced.

I was sore, really sore, and I was in a bed.

It didn't feel firm like the hospital bed I'd woken up in the night before. And I knew this wasn't the bed from my dorm. No, this bed was soft, with fine satin sheets and a heavy comforter that smelled of lilac.

Curious, I eased an eye open to see the dank cave was gone, replaced by a beautiful bedroom. It was decorated in creams and pale blues, with light-colored wood furniture and softly polished metal fixtures.

Where the hell am I?

A dull ache resonated in my head as I sat up, and my hair was damp as it brushed lightly against my bare shoulder. I took a strand of it between my fingers, watching the dark blonde tress glisten in the firelight, when someone opened a door.

"Miss Ridley?"

It was the Dean, carrying a shiny silver platter. Momentarily caught off guard, he composed himself to place the platter on a small table next to the bed I was in. He went back to softly close the door he'd opened, then came to stand in front of me.

"May I?" He motioned to the bed.

I gave him a nod, and watched him gracefully sit down at the end.

"I brought you some tea and water," he said after a beat. "And some Advil, if you need it."

I glanced at the tray he motioned to, and reached out to retrieve it's contents.

"Allow me," he stood again to fetch the medicine and water that sat next to me. After I swallowed down the pills, Dean Lachlan exchanged the glass for the cup of tea.

"No thanks," I mumbled, folding my hands in my lap to quell their shaking.

Crestfallen, Dean Lachlan placed the cup back into the tray, and sat down.

Things got awkwardly quiet after that. The Dean was staring into the fire that snapped calmly in an ornate fireplace across from the bed. I fiddled with the comforter across my lap, then looked down to notice my clothes had been changed.

"Did you... did you change my clothes?"

He glanced over at me, a dark look flitting across his face. It reminded me of hunger, and it caused a lump to form in my throat.

"No," he finally replied. "You were cleaned up at the clinic."

I exhaled almost audibly. "Oh," guess that's why my hair was damp.

"Are you cold? I could stoke the fire if you like."

"I'm fine, Dean Lachlan." It couldn't be further from the truth. Sitting alone with him in an uncomfortable silence, after all I had seen and experienced, I was anything but fine.

He seemed okay though, considering he was nearly lifeless in a torture chamber last I saw him. The image of him hanging on that X with deep gashes in his arms suddenly popped into my head, and I felt my heart ache.

"You don't have to do this." I whispered solemnly.

"Do what?" His white brows furrowed as he shifted to sit cross-legged on the bed.

"Take care of me."

I averted my gaze, opting to stare at the dark hardwood floor. He didn't reply, so I rambled on to fill the silence.

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