Burn (Chapter Eighteen)

JENNER WOKE, AND IN THE DARKNESS FOR A MOMENT – A blissful moment – she forgot where she was. Then she moved and the handcuffs pinched her wrist, and reality came crushing down. Truly, reality wasn't as terrifying as it had been twenty-four hours ago, but it still wasn't a picnic, either. For one thing, Macho Man couldn't seem to accept that she wasn't going to go running to the ship's captain, she wasn't going to try to hide from him, she wasn't going to do anything that would endanger Syd. She didn't know what the situation was like where Syd was being held; her captor might be the type of jerk who looked forward to hurting people, and was being held in check only as long as she herself behaved.

Actually, she thought, Macho Man probably did know that she wasn't going to do any of those things, but he'd told the simple truth that he enjoyed bossing her around. That, or he'd decided he simply couldn't take the risk, that whatever they were up to was so important, or so financially huge, that literally nothing was being left to chance, no matter how small the odds.

She rolled over enough to look at the clock. She'd had two hours of solid sleep, which was pretty good considering she was handcuffed and couldn't move without twisting her arm into a pretzel. Now, however, courtesy of the teeter-totter she'd had in the bar, she needed to pee.

She tried ignoring it. Cael hadn't awakened when she'd moved, and she didn't want him to. He'd tossed back the covers, again, and lay there wearing nothing but a pair of boxers. Even in the faint glimmer of light that came from the living room, he looked big and intimidating.

She sighed. This was going to be the longest two weeks of her life. Curling on her side, she squirmed around trying to get comfortable, then forced herself to lie still once more. She was cold, again, and she really needed to pee. Getting comfortable was impossible, between being cold, not being able to pull the covers up, and a full bladder, and all three of those things could be laid right on his doorstep – not that he cared. He'd probably enjoy making her beg to be allowed to go to the bathroom.

The key to the handcuffs was right there, in the drawer of the bedside table. Had he thought she wouldn't notice where he put it, within easy reach if he needed to get to it in the middle of the night in case she, say, set his hair on fire? She really, really wanted that key. He hadn't even attempted to be secretive about where he put it, as if he didn't see her as a potential threat – or as if he were daring her to try anything.

Either scenario was annoying. She didn't like being helpless, and she didn't like being written off as helpless. Even worse was the idea that he might be expecting her to go for the key, that this was a test to see if she could be counted on to not cause any trouble.

Well, hell. She didn't want to cause trouble, at least not the kind that could get Syd hurt. Neither did she want to ask him for permission to pee. What she'd really like to do is get the key, unlock the cuffs, go to the bathroom, then slip back into bed and let him find out in the morning that she'd been free for hours and hadn't taken advantage of the situation to go running down the passageway screaming for help. That would, logically, go a long way into proving she wasn't going to do something stupid, which should, logically, also result in more freedom. The problem was, she didn't know if numb-nuts responded to logic.

Another aspect was that she really, really wanted to thumb her nose at him and show him he wasn't as much the boss as he thought he was. Was it really too much to ask that she could go to the bathroom without asking permission? That she could have one truly private moment without a man standing on the other side of the door listening to her pee?

The key was within reach. The problem was in reaching it without waking him.

She moved smoothly, easily, taking her time, listening carefully to his breathing in case the rhythm changed. The room was too dark for her to make out his expression, but still she watched for signs that she was disturbing him. She wasn't exactly still at night, so subconsciously he might already be used to her movements. He might be accustomed to sleeping with someone anyway; Tiffany came to mind. After all, they'd been sharing a stateroom before he forced his way into hers.

Gradually she lifted herself onto her elbow. He didn't stir, didn't grumble. He wasn't snoring, either, and she wished he was, because then she'd know for certain he was asleep. She balanced there on her elbow for what seemed like fifteen minutes, giving him time to sink back into deep sleep if she had disturbed him.

Slowly, careful not to touch him, she reached over and across his bare chest, her fingers stretching toward the drawer handle. Crap. She wasn't nearly close enough.

She shifted position, got a knee under her for balance, lifted herself higher. All the while she struggled not to tug on the handcuffs, because that would wake him for certain. Or would it? If he'd awakened any of the times she'd changed positions, he hadn't said anything.

Hovering over him, she stretched even more. She could almost reach the drawer. Impatience bit at her but she resisted it. Calm control was the key to a successful bathroom run. Very gradually she got to her feet, though she had to stay bent over to keep from putting tension on her cuffed arm. Just as gradually she placed one foot between his spread legs, for better balance. The thought of what might get kicked if he woke while she was in this position gave her a moment of unholy glee, and she almost hoped he would.

She waited some more. Thank goodness for all those Pilates and yoga classes! Core strength was important when twisting one's body into unnatural positions for clandestine purposes.

If she slipped now, she'd fall straight down onto a half-naked Cael, and she didn't want to know how a man like this one would react to being awakened that way. He wasn't the average guy; the shape he was in testified to that. She saw a lot of gym rats, and his muscles weren't like that; they were longer, more sinewed, and she'd seen scars that hadn't come from falling off the monkey bars in grade school. He was hard and capable, and power was in every move he made.

She was much too close to him in this position. She could feel his body heat rising against her skin, hear his even breathing. For a moment she almost chickened out, almost shifted back so she could lie down beside him again. Yes, she still had to pee. Yes, she'd have to wake him up and ask permission.

No, by God, she wouldn't. The drawer handle was so close, she couldn't give up. Besides … enough was enough.

It wasn't just that she wanted to go to the bathroom without asking his permission; she wanted, needed, to show him that she could get past his ridiculous precautions. She wanted to rub his face in the fact that he wasn't such hot shit, after all. Boss, her ass.

She grasped the handle with her fingertips and held her breath as she slowly pulled the drawer open. The angle was bad, and her muscles were beginning to tremble from being held so tense for a long time. If she could have pulled the drawer straight toward her it would have been a lot easier, but she had to ease it out in a sideways motion that made her arm cramp.

There! That was far enough. She froze, to make certain the low sound of the drawer sliding hadn't awakened Cael. He slept on, and carefully she reached out to snag the small key that lay on top of a notepad. She wasn't home free, she still had to get the cuffs unlocked without waking him, but a pure, sweet sense of victory shot through her. Gotcha, numb-nuts!

He shot up without warning, grabbing her with his cuffed arm, flipping her onto her back, then his heavy body crashed down onto hers and they bounced. Before she could do more than squeak, he easily pried the key from her clenched fist. What the hell? His breathing had never changed; he'd given her no clue that he was awake. That wasn't fair; it wasn't right.

"Going somewhere?" he asked in a slightly gravelly voice.

True desperation made her push frantically at his shoulder. Oh, God, he'd jostled her around and – "I'm going to pee on you!" she cried frantically.

He froze for a second, then said in a musing tone, "I don't think I've ever been threatened with that before."

"It isn't a threat!" She pushed again. "Let me up!"

Finally he seemed to realize she wasn't joking, and he practically vaulted off her to stand beside the bed, which of course pulled her with him. Gritting her teeth, she fought for control. "Stop bouncing me, you moron, and unlock these cuffs!"

Quickly he turned on the lamp and unlocked the cuffs. As soon as she was free, she rushed to the bathroom and slammed the door. She barely made it, as she was sure he was aware because he'd probably followed her and was waiting just outside the door.

A few minutes later, having thought the situation over, she shoved the door open and barreled out, fire in her eyes. As she'd expected, he was standing right there, and she plowed into him before he could do more than get his hands up to catch her around the waist. She dipped her shoulder and drove it into his mid-section, not that she had to dip it very far, and not that it did a lot of good, but at least he fell back a step before catching his balance.

"It's all your fault!" she said furiously, so angry and embarrassed she was almost jumping up and down. "I didn't want anything to drink, but no, you thought I needed a teeter-totter to make things look good, so of course I had to pee! Then you handcuffed me so I couldn't get to the bathroom. I swear, if you ever do that to me again, I'm just going to pee on you as soon as I wake up and save myself the wear and tear."

A slow smile began to curve his mouth.

"Don't laugh," she warned him, tucking her chin and clenching her fist. "Don't you dare laugh."

He reached out and caught her fist before she could swing it, and, damn him, snapped those damned cuffs around her wrist again. Seething, she let him lead her back to bed. If he made a joke about it, she'd kill him with her bare hands.

He didn't stop smiling, but at least he had sense enough not to say anything. She crawled into bed and he flipped the covers off the floor where she could reach them. He turned out the lamp and got back into bed beside her. They were both settled before he asked, "Why didn't you just wake me?" Maybe it took that long before he could get his voice under control.

"Because a grown woman shouldn't have to ask permission to go to the bathroom," she shot back. She wasn't anywhere near being settled down, and the way she felt now, a couple of months would come and go before her temper cooled.

"Under these circumstances, for now, the grown woman most certainly does." Exasperation crept into his tone. "Did you really think you could shake the bed, crawl on top of me, and steal the key without waking me up? Just shaking my shoulder would have been a lot faster, and a lot less, uh, dangerous."

"I didn't want to touch you. Jackass."

"You ended up touching me a lot, so I'd say your plan didn't work."

She didn't want to remember those moments when he'd crushed her into the mattress, his heavy, mostly naked body on hers in a perfect sexual position. Her legs had even been spread, and for a few heart-stopping seconds the hard bulge of his penis had pushed against his groin.

Did it say something about him that he hadn't taken advantage of the situation? She hadn't been afraid that he would, she realized. She hadn't been afraid at all. Sometime during the past day, she had stopped fearing him.