He found her in the dark with a bottle resting beside her. She knew it was him—no normal human being was that tall, that muscled, and that graceful. She turned her eyes to the window and raised the vodka to her lips, letting it burn her throat and chest, warming her.
"Didn't come to work today."
"Don't come to work, don't get paid."
She felt him kneel beside her, his body heat scorching her, the scent of sandalwood surrounding her as a band of muscle shot out in front of her and he yanked the bottle from her. She grabbed for it and he moved his hand away, Reese pitching forward as he did so. She landed half on him and shoved him the rest of the way down, satisfaction swimming through her inebriated brain as his head thunked against the floor.
"You reek," he told her, effectively maneuvering them both to sitting positions so that they were no longer touching.
"What is it with you and saying the most obvious things? I also smoke, fuck a lot of men, and enjoy saying fuck just as much."
His jaw tightened and he wordlessly got to his feet, walking out of the living room and into the kitchen. When she heard the sound of liquid meeting sink, Reese scrambled to her feet and tried to run for the booze, but she ended up stumbling instead and banging her knee against a corner of the wall. Cursing, she hobbled into the small kitchen.
"You're wasting it!" She reached around him, but he just moved to the side, only righting the bottle once it was empty. "You're an asshole," she told him.
He shrugged. "Take a shower and get to the shop. Got an appointment in forty minutes and can't be babysitting you all day."
Crossing her arms, she said, "No."
Two pale brown eyebrows lifted as he studied her. Shrugging again, he moved for her, grabbing her around the waist and tossing her over his broad shoulder before she could assemble a protestation. Amid screeching and pounding on his back, Leo took her to the shower, dropped her into the tub, and turned cold water on her. She inhaled sharply at the shocking sting of it, instantly shivering. The curses became louder and more vulgar as she sat under the spray of water.
“Ready to work now?”
“Fuck you!” He aimed the spout directly at her face and she sputtered as water tried to drown her, moving to her knees and crawling to the other end of the tub, though that didn't help much. “Turn it off!”
“Coming to work?”
“Yes, damn it! Yes.” The absence of water was immediate, the trembling of her limbs turning uncontrollable. She looked up at him, feeling beat down in a way she never had before, and she hated him for it, for him to be the one to take her bravado away, for him seeing her so vulnerable. That blank expression customary to his features lifted minutely, a softening of his eyes the only indication he had a heart.
Without speaking, he left, and she blinked at the heat of the tears mingling with the water dripping down her face. Crouching on her knees, she hung her head, shudders sweeping through her, pain tightening her throat. She couldn't do this anymore. Why did she even bother? She held her face, closing her eyes, and tried to breathe. When she heard the return of his heavy footsteps, her pulse picked up in part trepidation and part gratefulness. She’d thought he’d left, expected it.
She looked up to see a towel near her face, and beyond it, he stood stoic and silent, watching her with his secretive eyes. Averting her face to wipe the tears away, she stood on weak legs and grabbed the towel from him, covering her face with it.
“Go away,” she whispered.
He did, and again an ache went through her heart at the thought of him leaving, but all he did was go into her bedroom. When she realized that’s where he’d gone, she dropped the towel with a frown and sprinted after him.
“What the hell are you doing?” she demanded when she found him rifling through her underwear drawer.
“Need dry clothes.”
She snatched a sock from his hand and shoved him away from the dresser. “I can find my own clothes, thanks.”
He stayed near the bed, just standing there. His dark eyes were burning her up, never once shying from her. She could feel them on her like the imprint of redemption never to be hers, merely close enough to endlessly tease her.
“You can leave now,” she told him when the tension became too thick. His nearness was weirding her out, making her nervous. She didn’t like him so close, and especially in her bedroom. She felt exposed—her soul was bared for him to analyze. She wanted him to go.
He didn’t go.
Through the mirror above the dresser, their eyes met. Damn if her body didn’t react to the shared look through the reflective glass—the darkness of his stare, the mere fact that he stood behind her, even if he was a couple feet away and out of touching distance. The attraction couldn’t just be on her side. How could he not feel it too? She knew men. She knew when one wanted her. He had to want her, even if in some small, hated way.
She slowly turned, aware that her thin shirt didn’t leave much for him to wonder about.
His lips pressed together as she moved toward him. “Don’t.”
“Don’t what?” She paused, searching for a clue, something to let her know he wanted her as much as she wanted him.
When he didn’t say anymore, Reese raised a hand and he immediately caught it within his, halting its progress. He gently squeezed, a warning in his eyes. Just that simple touch made her tremble. Her pulse picked up. He was strong, warm. Leo was good, better than she would ever be. He symbolized everything she was not, and she wanted to pretend she was good, just for a moment. Her eyes stung, and the longer he continued to hold her wrist, the more she needed him.
Reese stared into chips of flint as she pushed forward, feeling him tense as her breasts brushed against his arm. She pressed closer, every part of her front touching his in some way. She could feel him, feel the hardness of his muscles and everything else, through his clothing. His body responded even as he was moving back. Sex was something she did to feel good. She knew it was wrong, knew using her body and letting others use it as well only damaged her more, but it was the only power of any kind she had.
But that was different. What she wanted from Leo was unknown to her, just beyond reach, but close enough to realize if she let herself.
“Please, Leo,” she whispered, her eyes begging for something she didn’t understand.
He looked down at her, even his height and width, constructed to intimidate, instead creating a safe haven for her. The man with little words still said so much with his body language, most of it conflicting. His eyes told her no, his body told her yes. His hard mouth wanted to kiss her, his elegant fingers wanted to mold her into some form of art, his body wanted to claim her. At the same time, he was repelled by her. That, she at least, understood.
She wanted him to fix her, to heal her. She wanted him to take the pain away, even if all that did was produce more pain. When he moved for her, she tensed, her breaths quickening. His calloused hand reached up, fingered a strand of short blond hair, and caressed the side of her face. The simple tenderness of it made her eyes tear up again. Her mouth quivered and she looked down. That wasn’t what she’d expected, not from him. Not from anyone, but least of all, from him.
He wrapped his arms around her, careful to keep their lower halves from touching, and he hugged her tightly. At first, she remained stiff, shocked, unsure whether she should push him away or not. Her sister, so many years ago, was the last person she’d allowed to hug her or that she’d initiated hugging. This was foreign and awkward.
His heart beat close to her ear and she pressed the side of her face to his chest, listening. She focused on how his chest rose and lowered with each breath he took, how his warmth surrounded her like a blanket, his scent filtering through her senses, bringing peace with it. It was just a hug—a lame, insignificant hug. Why did she feel so safe inside this man’s arms?
As soon as she realized her thoughts and the repercussions of this moment and what it made her feel, she shoved him back. He staggered a few steps, the footboard of the bed halting him. There was nothing in his face, no hint of his thoughts or emotions as he looked at her.