Awareness returned, and she stirred, the sheets she laid upon rustling. Bailey froze.
Where am I? Please don't tell me I'm back in that house.
A calloused finger stroked down her cheek, and she fought back a whimper. Fear made her keep her eyes clamped shut as she thought furiously. The last thing she recalled, she ran through the woods, pursuit at her heels, and . . . wolves. She remembered the wolf that pounced on her, only to find itself jumped on in return. Then, she recalled running again until she hit a wall.
It wasn't a wall, though, but a chest, a naked chest belonging to--
Wrenching open her eyelids, she came face-to-face with Gavin's clear blue gaze. She couldn't help it. A piercing shriek escaped her.
Rolling sideways, she scrambled off the bed, her feet hitting a carpeted floor. Peering about wildly, she searched for escape, or even better, a weapon. Nothing came immediately to view.
"Calm down." His deep voice washed over her.
Bailey's eyes swiveled to meet his, and she belatedly realized the breathy keening noise came from her.
Holding his hands out, Gavin, now dressed in jeans and a T-shirt, approached her. "Shh, darling. You're safe now. I won't hurt you."
"Ha," she snorted, the sound watery with unshed tears of panic. "Like I'm going to believe you."
As if her words were a painful dart, his face creased in pain. "I swear it's true. I just want to help you."
"Just how much did you help yourself to already?" The challenging words slipped from her as she peered down at her naked body, searching for a sign he'd molested her while she lay passed out.
Disgust twisted his features. "Give a guy a little credit, would you? You were passed out. Of course I didn't touch you."
"Oh." For some strange reason, his admission deflated her. Did he not find her attractive enough to grope? Probably a good thing considering, good looks or not, there was obviously something wrong with a man who ran around in dark forests wearing only his birthday suit.
"Here, take this." He peeled off his shirt and handed it to her.
Not that she reached out to grab it right away, too mesmerized by the muscular torso he revealed. Stop staring, her mind screamed, before he thinks you're interested.
But what if she was interested? Her reaction baffled her. Shouldn't she currently scream hysterically having escaped one untenable situation to find herself smack-dab in the middle of an even stranger one? Regardless of how things looked, though, she didn't get a sense of danger from him. Her inner voice remained silent, and a sensation of safety made her tense muscles relax.
However, the illusion of safety didn't mean she should tempt the Fates by staying naked around him.
Snatching the shirt from him, she turned to give him her back while she pulled it on. A low chuckle from behind sent a shiver skating down her spine.
"Kind of late for modesty, don't you think?" he said, humor lacing his remark.
"I know it looks kind of weird, and probably unbelievable given how you found me, but unlike you, I don't usually go cavorting about in the woods naked."
"Why not? I've always found it invigorating myself." He seemed amused by his remark, which she didn't understand.
She whirled around to face him, her modesty appeased by the shirt that hung almost to her knees. "Speaking of which, what were you doing out there in the woods, naked as a jaybird? And how did you find me?"
"Would you believe I was communing with nature?"
"I'm secretly a werewolf?"
A glare was her reply.
"Yeah, well, I went skinny-dipping with some buddies, and they thought it would be funny to steal my clothes. I was walking through the woods looking for them when you ran into me."
She took a step back, her fear returning. "You're friends with those guys from the house? The ones who wanted to hurt me?"
"What? No!" He appeared angry at her assumption. "I would never stoop to hurting a woman."
"But you know of them?"
"I did after I found you. It seems those men weren't too eager to let you go. My friends and I taught them otherwise."
A tremble skated through her at the implied violence in his words. "What about the other girl? The one at the house? Was she rescued too?"
A frown knitted his brow. "What other girl?"
"The one I heard crying."
"I don't know anything about another girl, darling, I'm sorry. Are you sure you're not mistaken?"
"No--I--" She shut her mouth and tried to think back. Is it possible it was just me? The memories of the night floated hazily in her mind, probably an aftereffect of the drugs they'd given her to get her out of the bar. But still, she thought she'd heard someone else crying in that ramshackle house, and she'd seen that thug come out of a room buckling his pants. However, she'd never actually seen another girl, just assumed from the evidence she'd witnessed. "Maybe I was mistaken. Did you call the cops?"
A blank mask dropped over his face. "No. Do you really want to deal with their bureaucratic crap? I mean, you escaped before you got hurt, and we took care of the guys who abducted you."
His evasion made her uneasy. True, she didn't want to get stuck in some police station being questioned for hours, but still, a crime had been committed. "But, what if they decide to kidnap someone else because I didn't turn them in?"
"Oh, they won't be trying anything like that ever again. That I can promise you." Dark menace made his eyes flash, and his lips curled into a humorless smile.
A shiver traveled down her spine. "What did you do?"
"Me? Nothing but get you out of there, and smack someone called Leroy. My buddies, though, they're quite handy with their fists, and they took exception to the actions of those scumbags."
Strangely, a savage satisfaction filled her at the thought those thugs, Leroy in particular, had gotten the daylights beaten out of them. The harder, the better.
What's happening to me? Since when did she revel in violence or find it acceptable? She needed to get out of here, back to her place, where she could shower, and think over the unreal events of the past evening, sort them and figure out why it seemed like she should recall something else--something important that skittered just out of reach. "I need to go home."
"I don't think that's wise," he replied.
Narrowing her eyes, she tried to read his expression, but while he returned her gaze, his face appeared shuttered. "Why not? I thought you said those guys were gone, which means I'm safe."
Gavin scrubbed a hand through his hair, the blond tufts standing on end and making him look deliciously rumpled, a fact she shouldn't have noticed under the circumstances. "They are, but we have reason to believe they weren't working alone."
For a moment, she stopped breathing. "What are you talking about? What do you mean, not working alone?"
"Exactly what I said. I don't think you're safe because I think the guys we caught aren't the only ones involved."
"So we call the cops, and they protect me."
"The cops aren't going to do a damned thing because there's nothing for them to investigate."
"Okay, now you're not making any sense. I can tell them what happened."
"Tell them what? That you woke up in a house with two guys? You don't have a mark on you. You don't remember a thing. What exactly do you think the cops will do?"
His logic irritated her, especially since the more she thought about it, the less she wanted to deal with the police. One part of his argument, though, took a second to sink in. "What do you mean, I don't have a mark on me? I fell down the stairs and then ran naked through the woods. I must be covered in bruises and scra . . ." Her voice trailed off as she took stock of the fact that not a single part of her body ached. She plopped her bottom on the bed and lifted her feet to peer at her soles, which, while dirty, showed no signs she'd cut and scratched them during her mad flight.
It makes no sense. But it did remind her of the incident in the bedroom with the bloody cut. What's happening to me?
She wanted the comfort of her familiar space more than ever. "I want to go home."
"No." He said it quietly in a tone that said he wouldn't budge.
"You can't stop me." She took a step toward him.
Muscular arms crossed over his bare chest. "Actually, I can. In case you haven't noticed, I'm a tad bigger than you. Good luck going through me."
"So now I'm a prisoner again, am I?"
"Think of it more as a protective measure."
"Says you. I say, screw you. I'm leaving, and you'd better not try to stop me."
Bailey marched over to the door, which she hoped led outside, and pulled it open. Then she looked up, and up again, at the man sporting the extremely wide chest blocking her way.
"And where do you think you're going?" the brick wall asked.
"Crazy apparently," she mumbled, stumbling back. "I swear this whole evening is getting weirder and weirder."
"Evening? I would have thought you'd have said days," the brown-eyed giant replied.
An icy chill spread through her. "What do you mean days?"
Bailey whirled to look at Gavin. "What's he talking about? How long since you and I met at that bar?"
He shifted uncomfortably. "Five nights ago."
"Five!" That did it. Her eyes rolled up in her head, and she slumped to the ground in a faint.