Theresa has clearly put some thought into sleeping arrangements. Exhausted as I am, if she’d told us we had to bunk with half a dozen strangers, I’m pretty sure I’d have rowed myself right out of there by midnight. My nerves are shredded, and I’m not used to company. Besides that I’m a textbook introvert; I avoided other people long before they became zombies.

Instead she leads us to one of the sailboats, and I’m thinking she’s putting entirely too much faith in those visions of hers until she orders Franny to stay with us. I can’t imagine the wiggly beast giving us much more than a stern licking, but I can imagine her raising sufficient alarm if we tried to make off with their boat.

Descending the stairs into the small cabin below deck, our camp lanterns throw light across a white spread covering a single bed. It’s big enough for two people. Would probably even be comfortable for two people who were used to sleeping together. 

“I’ll sleep on the deck,” announces Levi.

Flopping onto the bed, I grumble, “Don’t be ridiculous.” I rest the lantern on the floor and turn my face to the wall. “I’m gonna be asleep in two minutes.”

But I’m not. I’m staring wide-eyed at the wood-paneled wall as he stretches out beside me. I’m doing the same thing five minutes later as his breathing begins to deepen. I wonder if he’s sleeping. I wonder if he’ll snore. I wonder if it’s possible to go to sleep with my heart beating this fast.

I listen to the tap tap tap of doggy toenails on the deck above. I hear the soft thump of a stocky little body sinking to the deck somewhere in the vicinity of the stairs.

I take a deep breath that heaves out in a sigh. I can’t go on like this. I feel the heat of his body just inches from my back, and I know for a fact that if I want to remain self-sufficient I have to get away from him.

These fucking emotions — even the body sensations — real as it all feels, I know they’re insubstantial as fog. When they’ve cleared, my instincts will come back. I cling to that hope like life itself.

I roll onto my side and study him in the lamplight. His eyes are closed, his breathing even. It’s been so fucking long. My gaze sidles down his chest and along his arm, where the light catches the soft, coppery hairs. I feel my own hot and empty ache.

I swallow hard. I can’t go into battle like this. And I sure as hell can’t trust that if things get ugly that berserker rage will save us both. He said it never happened before. Maybe it never will again.

And what about Sasha? He says he doesn’t want her, but I know the inside of my own damn head. I’ll devote precious computing cycles to pointless comparisons and idiotic jealousy over a man I don’t even want.

His body shifts a little in sleep, hand moving to rest on his abdomen. I stare at it there on the flat of his stomach, studying his long fingers. I become fascinated with the protrusion of hipbones under the waistband of his jeans, and the hem of his t-shirt resting just above.

My breathing deepens, and the tempest quiets long enough for my head to pop to the surface.

The seeds of this have worked their way deep. It’s no longer possible to uproot him from my mind.

But I can take back my power.

I can leave him. Not even I’m good enough to give Levi the slip, but I can hurt him — make him glad to see me go. I’m far more confident of my ability to do that than to successfully negotiate the hurricane swell of romantic attachment. The Hotel California people won’t try to stop me. It’s Levi they need. I’m Tonto in this equation, much as that fucking rankles.

But I want to find my father, and he wants to help me. Together we might have a chance.

The way I see it, that leaves me one choice.

I roll to my other side and switch off the lamp. My heart beats hard enough to shatter ribs as I roll toward him again, sensing rather than seeing him in the perfect darkness. I lift my hand and let it come to rest on his chest. I know he’s awake because he stops breathing instead of jumping up and ripping my arm off.

I know what comes next, but it’s harder than I expected. Half an hour ago I was sure he was about to tell me he wanted me, loved me even … but suddenly I’m not so sure.

When courage tries to slip out the back door, there’s only thing to do: Slam that fucker.

I rise and swing one leg so I come down square across his hips.

“Mila,” he breathes.

I slip my hands into his shirt, pushing it up his torso and over his head. I run my palms, hot and rough, over the thick muscles of his chest. His hands come to my hips, and I press against him, feeling him go rigid beneath me. I don’t even want to admit to myself how much my body has missed this.

I want the light. Need to see his sculpted body moving beneath me. But it’s easier this way. I tug my tank top over my head and toss it to the floor. Flicking the clasp on my bra, I send it flying after. Then I lean into him, letting my breasts come to rest against his hot flesh, nipples hardening in an instant.

Levi groans, hands moving to clutch at my back. Suddenly his fingers grip my upper arms. “Why are you doing this?”

Tensing against his grip, I mutter, “You opened my head and fucked with my wiring.”

I realize this is no real answer to his question, but his fingers loosen. “I’m sorry.”

“Not good enough,” I snort, but tears burn under my eyelids.

His stomach rises and falls as he breathes in the silence. At last he says, “What is it you want?”

I reach between my legs, unfastening the button on his jeans. “This.” He gasps as my hand grazes his taut flesh.

With a growl he flips me onto my back, and I feel the strong press of him between my legs. The bed creaks as he twists his upper body away from me, and the light flickers on.

“Don’t,” I protest.

He bends close, so I have no choice but to look at him. “If you want to give this, I’m not strong enough to refuse. But I’m not going to do it in the dark.”

I scowl, pretending to myself and to him that the glacial blue death ray is having no effect. “You are if I say you are.”

In a flash he’s pinned my wrists above my head. Raising those red eyebrows he shoots back, “No, I’m not.”

I squirm beneath him, enraged, fighting the rise of my own heat and need. But somehow I manage to recall that I’m defeating my whole purpose. Who cares about the fucking light? The point is to exorcise this need and take back control of my head.

I wrap my legs around his waist and pull him close. “Fine. Let’s see what you’ve got, Healer.”

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