Burn (Chapter Fourteen)

SHE WAS TOO TIRED NOT TO SLEEP, BUT SHE DIDN'T sleep well. Being handcuffed to someone wasn't comfortable, especially when that someone outweighed her by about a hundred pounds, and every time he moved he pulled her with him. The same wasn't true when she moved, though, mainly because of that hundred pounds. She couldn't budge him.

In the restless doze that was the best she could manage, she drifted in and out of awareness. Sometimes she half-dreamed she was in the bar again, in those moments before she realized who he was, feeling the heat of his body when he leaned in so close to her, feeling tension coil and knot deep in her belly at her first startled look into those blue, blue eyes. She hadn't let a man get to her in a long time, but there'd been something in his deep, smooth voice and the look in those eyes that had tempted her.

Acknowledging that she'd been tempted pissed her off enough to wake her up. She lay there for a few minutes, blinking at the ceiling. He was lying only inches away and she could feel his body heat; she hated to admit it, but that heat felt good. Somehow the blanket and coverlet had gotten kicked away. Somehow? Like there was more than one candidate for kicking blankets off the bed? In her world, blankets were for wrapping up in, not kicking away. Even though she was wearing pajamas and was still covered by the sheet, she was cold. For one thing, the tank style of the top left her arms completely bare – and those bare arms were also completely uncovered.

Grumpily, barely awake, she tried to tug the sheet higher around her neck, but the fabric was securely tucked under his heavy arm and wasn't going anywhere. Annoyance brought her the rest of the way awake, and she turned her head to glare at him, for all the good that did, given how dark the room was.

She was lying on her back, her right arm raised up and back, with her hand tucked almost under his chin, because that was where his left hand was. And where his left hand went, her right hand also went, whether she wanted it to or not. Even more annoying, she could feel the warm puffs of his breath on her hand.

She took another moment to orient herself. The heavy curtains blocked out most of the ambient light, so the bedroom was very dark. Only the slight lessening of darkness ahead and to the right indicated where the open door to the living room was. His breathing was slow and deep; he was asleep, damn him. After everything he'd put her through, it wasn't right that he should be able to sleep while she couldn't, especially when it was his fault that she couldn't sleep. Though, come to think of it, she'd rather he be asleep than awake.

But – damn it, her shoulder hurt with her arm twisted up and back in that position. She shifted a little onto her right side, trying to ease the strain but at the same time not get any closer to him, but that pulled the sheet even farther down and she couldn't use her right hand to pull it up again. Awkwardly she fumbled with her left hand, but the angle was wrong and she needed an extra joint in her arm to get the sheet where she wanted it.

Dilemma: She could either freeze, or she could wake him up.

It was his fault she was freezing. It was his fault her shoulder was hurting. But if he was asleep, then she didn't have to be scared of him and fighting for all she was worth to keep him from realizing that.

She hated being frightened, but she was. She was terrified for both Sydney and herself, because she didn't know what was going to happen and maybe she'd be even more terrified if she did. Just because she did everything they wanted her to do – whatever that was – didn't mean that at the end of this she and Syd would walk away unharmed. Letting either of them go would be sheer stupidity and so far none of these people struck her as being stupid.

If she knew what was going on, what they wanted, maybe she could reason with them. They weren't after money – both she and Sydney were rich – and if money were the object then they didn't need her, they could simply have grabbed Syd and demanded a ransom. True, with her added in that would have doubled the money, but she didn't have any family they could bargain with for the ransom. She didn't know where Jerry was, hadn't heard from him at all in the seven years since he'd stolen twenty-five thousand from her, and even if he had been in a position to pay a ransom for her … good luck with that was all she could say. She doubted her father would have paid even a hundred bucks to keep her alive.

So … money didn't come into the equation, especially when she factored in what she'd seen tonight, after Cael had brought her back to the suite. He'd drilled a hole in the wall, threaded some wires through the hole, checked a monitor and some sort of recording device. And he'd ignored her the entire time he was working, no matter what she said. His concentration on the task at hand had been impressive, because she'd worked hard at getting his goat.

Were they spies? Whether a real spy spy or industrial-type spy, Cael was definitely doing some spying.

She felt her scalp prickle with alarm. The whole thing seemed too James Bondish, but they had to be. Nothing else made sense. There were too many of them, and they had too many apparent resources. The pertinent questions were: Who did they work for, on whom were they spying, what did they want, and, the most pertinent question of all, were they supposed to kill anyone who got in their way or threatened the success of their operation?

If she knew who was staying in the suite next door, at least one of those questions would be answered, but probably knowing who had hired these guys would tell her a lot about how far they would go. So far, everyone she'd met was either American or had received enough extensive training to pass for one. If they were government spies, that meant they weren't likely to kill either her or Syd … she hoped. A lot of different factors came into play with industrial spies, though, such as how much money was on the table, because she doubted they'd get paid if they didn't deliver the goods. Put enough money in front of some people, and what moral boundaries they had seemed to melt away. Probably no one got into the business of being an industrial spy if his moral boundaries were very sturdy, anyway.

The situation began to solidify for her. Okay, they were spies. They were after something – probably information, considering how much trouble they'd gone to to get a wire into the next suite – and they needed her to … provide cover. That was it! She was nothing but cover for them! They had probably had this suite booked, but when the assignment snafu occurred and the suites were switched around, they needed a reason to be in this suite without raising suspicion! But how could they have known far enough ahead of time to get this whole charade orchestrated?

That was easy to figure out because, obviously, they had people working as crew members, in various capacities. Bridget was one. Jenner had no idea how far ahead of time a steward found out who was in which suite, or when a steward was even allowed onboard; she could have found out, or it could have been someone else. Maybe one of the ship's officers was working with them. Throw enough money at a problem, and anything was possible.

In the long run, other than confirming that they had people watching her whom she hadn't met, how they'd discovered the suites had been reassigned didn't matter. She and Syd had been the unlucky ones to get this suite, and Cael had cooked up the scheme to grab Syd and hold her hostage as a means of forcing Jenner to act as if they were lovers, so he could have access.

She could be completely off base with all this supposition, but she didn't think so. Everything fit. They needed her, and now that her nerves had settled down some and she could think, she realized that she had a modicum of power. Not much; she couldn't make them let Syd go free, and as long as they held Syd she couldn't notify ship security or even kick Cael's ass out of her stateroom, but there was one very important thing she could do. She'd have to be careful, because until she had evidence to the contrary she had to assume that these were the bad guys, but the fact that Cael hadn't strangled her earlier gave her a tad more confidence than before.

Because she might lose that confidence if she waited, and because she hated feeling powerless and afraid, she shoved at his shoulder. "Hey!" she said, not quite shouting but definitely raising her voice.

He didn't bolt upright, which would have been very satisfying, but she succeeded in finding out that he woke up instantly alert because without hesitation or confusion he growled, "This had better be good."

"From my point of view, none of this is good," she shot back. "I'm cold, you've kicked the blanket off, you have the sheet locked down like a prison, you have my arm twisted so my shoulder is about to be dislocated, and you're breathing on me!"

"God forbid I should breathe" he muttered.

"Isn't that amazing? God and I agree." She yanked her right arm. "Handcuff me to the bed, or something. This is ridiculous."

"Take a look at the bed. There's nothing to handcuff you to, no posts, no handy little iron rings. This is as good as it gets. The only other option is if I toss you overboard."

Jenner plowed on, ignoring what he said because she wanted to finish before she lost her nerve. "And what's more, I talk to Syd every day or I don't cooperate with you at all. Got that?"

Silence. He hoisted himself to a sitting position and switched on the lamp. She blinked and instinctively shielded her face with her left hand until she became more accustomed to the light, which seemed unreasonably bright for such a small lamp. Then, because she didn't like it that he was sitting up and she wasn't, she struggled to an upright position herself. Too late, she remembered that she wasn't wearing a bra; when she'd changed into her pajamas she'd been too tired to think of keeping her bra on underneath the tank top. The ribbed knit was thin; she was so cold her nipples had to be almost poking through the material. Well, tough. She'd be damned if she'd squeal and jerk the covers up like some scared little girl.

He scrubbed his hand over his face, his beard scraping against his palm with a sandpaper sound. He looked tired, his eyes a little puffy from sleep, his dark hair mussed, but his voice was cold and flat. "You aren't in a position to give any ultimatums."

"I haven't been able to sleep, so I've been thinking instead," she replied just as flatly. "I've decided I'm in exactly that position. You need me to give you cover for being here, in this suite. I don't know why, I don't need to know why, I just know that you do. Fine. My cooperation depends on whether or not I talk to Syd every day, and what she tells me. If she's okay, I'll play along to the best of my ability. If she's hurt in any way, the deal's off. That's nonnegotiable."

"As long as I hold her, you'll play along, regardless."

"You know what? That threat will work only as long as I trust you not to hurt her, and I have to tell you, there's no trust on the table. The only way I'll know for sure she's still alive and unhurt is if I talk to her myself – every day." The risk she was taking was so huge she felt nauseated, but at the same time she knew she couldn't back down. This was the only way she could keep Sydney safe, the only weapon she had, so she'd be stupid not to use it.

He watched her, his eyes hooded. She held her breath. At least he was thinking about it, considering all the angles. He had nothing to lose – unless Syd was already dead. Oh, God, if he refused, what would that mean? That they'd killed Syd immediately after the initial phone call?

The thought was like a knife in her chest. What would she do without Syd? There wasn't a sweeter, nicer person in the world; she didn't deserve any of this happening to her, but to think that she might have been murdered – no! Jenner surged to her knees, her lips trembling and tears stinging her eyes. "You bastard," she said raggedly, barely able to breathe. "If you've hurt her – "

With a lightning quick move he caught her left arm before she could even think of swinging it. "Settle down," he said sharply, and to make sure she did, he exerted enough twisting pressure on her arm that she cried out and clumsily half-fell, half-sat on the mattress. The pressure immediately eased, but he retained his grip. "Do not, by God, bite me again, because you won't get away with it a second time. She's fine."

"Then let me talk to her," Jenner insisted, those damn tears overflowing her eyes and dripping down her cheeks. "Now. Let me talk to her now. Please." She didn't care that she was begging. She wouldn't beg for herself, but she'd beg for Syd. Because he was still holding her left arm she lifted her right hand to swipe at the tears, only his hand came with it, and swatted her on the forehead. "Ow!" Startled, she jerked back and glared at him through her tears.

Slowly, not taking his eyes off her, he shook his head in disbelief. "If I were Catholic, I'd be calling in an exorcist," he muttered. "We're handcuffed together! What the hell did you think would happen?"

"Unlike you, I don't have a lot of experience with handcuffs!" She sniffed and lifted her hand again to wipe her eyes, but much more slowly this time.

He exhaled an exasperated breath, tilting his head back to stare at the ceiling. "Do you have any idea what time it is?"

She'd removed her wristwatch before she washed her face, so it was still lying beside the bathroom sink. Leaning to the side, she tried to see the digital clock on the table beside him. "Three twenty-six. Why?"

"Because it's that time in California, too."

"So? Do you think I care if your goons don't get their beauty sleep?"

"You should," he replied grimly, "since they're the ones taking care of your friend. You don't want them grumpy."

"You're their boss. Tell them to play nice."

Briefly he closed his eyes. He said, "Fuck," then opened his eyes again. "If I place the call," he said wearily, "will you lie down and shut up? I don't care if you sleep or not, just shut up."

"I'll lie down," she promised. "Whether or not I shut up depends on whether or not you let me have some cover, and whether or not you stop breathing on me. I feel like I'm in some horror movie."

He released her arm and, muttering words under his breath that sounded like "possessed" and "carnivorous" and a couple of other things she couldn't catch, he grabbed his cell phone off the bedside table and speed-dialed a number. The connection took longer than normal; they'd already been at sea for almost twelve hours so they were hundreds of miles from the coast. The call was probably bouncing off a satellite or two. Finally he said, "Wake up Ms. Hazlett. Redwine wants to talk to her. Yeah, I know what time it is. I'd like to get some sleep, too, but that won't happen until she talks to Ms. Hazlett. Just put her on, and save the bitching, unless you want to swap places with me." He paused, listening. "Didn't think so. I figured Bridget had already been in touch." Another pause. He pinched between his eyes. "Yes, she bites. Damn it, put Hazlett on the phone!"

Grimly he put the cell on speaker and handed it to Jenner. She grabbed it and eagerly said, "Syd?"

A male voice, the same male voice she'd talked to earlier, said, "Hold on a minute." She heard muffled sounds, something that sounded like a knock, then a mumble of frightened, confused words that were definitely in Sydney's voice. Syd didn't wake as easily as Cael had; Jenner hated hearing the fright, but the sleepy confusion was so like Syd that she had to smile.

"Jenn," Sydney said, sounding panicked. "Are you okay? Has something gone wrong? Have they hurt you?"

"No, I'm fine," Jenner said, and began to cry. She tried not to let the tears sound in her voice, because that would scare Syd even more and she didn't want to do that. "I was just so worried about you I had to make sure you're okay."

"I'm okay and you're okay. Okay." Syd suddenly gave a watery chuckle, as if she, too, were fighting back tears. "That sounded like some dorky self-affirmation course. But this is a good idea. We'll talk every day, won't we?"

"Yes, we will." She gave Cael a meaningful glare, and figured that somewhere in California, Syd was doing exactly the same thing to her captor.

"All right, that's enough," Cael said, taking the phone from her. "Let's all try to get some sleep now." He closed the phone and replaced it on the bedside table. Reaching down with one brawny arm, he grabbed the blanket and coverlet from the floor and flipped them up on the bed. "There," he growled. Growling seemed to be a habit with him. Maybe he'd been a bear in some former life.

Silently Jenner reached with her left arm, gathering the covers and trying to bunch them all on her side of the bed, then she stretched out and gathered them over her.

Sighing, Cael turned out the lamp and lay down beside her. He pulled the blanket more securely around her, tucking it in. "There. Are you satisfied?"

"My feet are still cold, but I feel better." She added reluctantly, "Thank you for letting me talk to Syd." She definitely felt better. Knowing that Syd was still alive, that her sudden panic had been unfounded, was such a relief that she felt almost limp. Snuggled under the silky sheets and nice warm blanket, she decided not to say anything if he breathed on her again.

She was so tired. Her reaction to the warmth, the relief, hit her like a tidal wave. She actually felt herself being sucked under, into sleep.

Just before she reached oblivion, she felt a pair of large, warm feet being tucked under her cold ones.