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A quiet chuckle drifted up from below. “Repeat after me, there is nothing to fear but fear itself.”

“Shut up and gimme the swag.”

First he passed up the pack, then the bedroll. He eased it up with a hand to the bottom, taking most of the weight. “Move back.”

She did as told.

Big hands gripped the brickwork as he hauled himself up, muscles flexing and the sleeves of his t-shirt stretching. What a shame she only had moonlight to see him by. He was a whole display of delicious, packed full of win.

Shows of strength and daring had never really gotten to her previously. Not like this. Daniel made her stomach drop and swoop. He made her feel like she defied gravity. Every carnival ride she’d ever taken rolled up into one. She kept expecting the ground to give way beneath her feet, for his attention to wander and waver. But it didn’t happen.

At the end of the day, she couldn’t hope to live up to the hype. The truth of it stung. No, it throbbed like an old wound in damp weather.

The man in question put his feet on firm ground and started dealing with the bedding, spreading out the swag in the center of the space. He kept quiet, smiled at her once and watched her discreetly, which she shouldn’t have savored but did. Stupidly, his smile made her feel safe. Wanted. Those sidelong glances were potent things.

He didn’t say a word, however, and she could have done with a word or two from him right then. Next to him, the rustle of the breeze through trees and the chorus from the insects deafened. There were a lot of bugs carrying on, summoning up sex partners. She wondered if Daniel was thinking about sex – if he expected a suitable demonstration of her gratitude for dragging her reluctant butt back out into the world.

Maybe he thought of stripping himself out of the jeans and t-shirt and curling himself around her, the same as the night before, pressing every inch of his hot skin against her while setting her on fire. She had woken up aching that morning, and the feeling had yet to abate.

Was he really thinking about sex? Doubtful.

She couldn’t see a leer on his face. No knowing smile, either. She had, however, managed to rile herself up. Damn ni**les. Time to think other thoughts.

A mass of stars twinkled above their heads. Looking up made space seem much, much greater. She didn’t do it twice. There were no lights on the horizon. No signs of life. The vast and silent land stood empty before her.

She focused back on Daniel before the agoraphobia could grab her by the throat and squeeze.

Dan squatted down with his back to her and fussed at his pack a minute. When he turned, a toothbrush stuck out of the side of his mouth. He held out its mate to her. A neat line of paste sat atop the bristles, brilliantly white in the darkness. He took such good care of her.

They brushed in silence. The spit, rinse, spit was soon done and the brushes returned to the pack. She wondered what came next.

Not talking, apparently. He was probably tired. She must have worn him out.

Daniel sat on the swag and yanked off his boots and socks. Then he leant back, putting his hands behind his head, stretching out his big body. He was beautiful, inside and out, picture perfect masculine beauty. His patience hadn’t gone unnoticed while she had taken her sweet time coming to grips with things. Everything inside her was raw and exposed up on the roof. Lust had long since gone to war against logic.

They had known each other what? Thirty hours. At most. She didn’t dare touch him, not even a toe or the cuff of his jeans. Ali kept her fingers curled tight, out of temptation’s way. There was so much tension in the air, such electricity. She would get zapped. Maybe he was immune to it. How disheartening. It was not particularly surprising, but truly disheartening.

Not knowing how he felt drove her nuts. Normal y so damn chatty, now he chose to shut up? She couldn’t stand it. The tension inside her twisted and turned, making sitting stil impossible. It wouldn’t do.

“Say something,” she blurted out.

“Huh? What’s wrong?” Daniel bolted upright. “What do you want me to say?”

“Shit.” Ali crouched down at the end of the bedding. What a spectacular mess. “Never mind. God, I’m such a head case.”

The man made a noise somewhere between disbelief and grand impatience. “Light of my life, come here, talk to me. What the hell have you been tel ing yourself for the past two hours, huh?”

She waved off the beckoning hand, settled her butt back onto her heels. Her own stupidity knocked her on her ass. “I’m sorry.

Really, it doesn’t matter.”

The hand fell and tucked back behind his head. “If it didn’t matter we wouldn’t be having this deeply confusing conversation. Now, tell me what I’m supposed to say.”

She didn’t answer but felt the words like a tangled, festering knot inside her. Hanging her insecurities out to air would not help.

“I like you cranky,” he said. “I like you cuddly.”

“Are you trying to be Dr. Seuss?”

“Only if you find his works sexual y arousing.”

She snorted. “No. Not really.”

“Probably for the best.” His hand beckoned once more. “Come on, babe. Come lie down. You’re safe with me.”

“I’m safe with you?” she scoffed. Ali climbed over to him and the mattress on hands and knees. Sick of not being able to see him properly, not being able to read him. He pushed al her buttons with ease and was pleased by the response, if his smile was anything to go by.

“Are you serious? You’re the least safe person I’ve ever met,” she accused. “The very least.”

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