Under by Duress(3)

By: Kayla Stonor


Unexpectedly, he wobbled, put out a hand, and sat down on the ground. He looked at the handkerchief he had pressed against his head and seemed surprised to see blood on it. Now that he was sitting he was less intimidating and Tahima stepped closer. He looked familiar, although a tanned, chiseled face like that wouldn’t look out of place in a magazine for female eyes only.

“Do I know you?” she asked.

His jaw tensed. Eyes raked her from head to toe. They burned with an intensity she recognized all too well.

“No.”

His tone was scathing—dismissive even—and Tahima automatically looked down before she could catch herself. Damn. Was every man going to do this to her? Any thought of helping him vanished. “Oh. Well, I’m glad you’re okay.” She swiveled on her heel.

“Where are you going?”

His tone compelled her to turn back and meet his eyes. The force of his full-on gaze hit her in the stomach and left her weak at the knees. She took a step back. “Home . . . My boyfriend went to radio for help.”

“Liar.” He stood up.

Tahima made herself turn and walk away.

“What? You’re just going? I’m bleeding here.”

She didn’t look back. “You’ll be fine. I have to get back. My boyfriend . . . ”

“Stop. Right there.”

Tahima’s throat closed. Not wait, but stop. This man was Stephen all over again. Worse, she couldn’t seem to take the next step.

“I need help,” he said. “I’m not going to hurt you.”

The familiar words turned her stomach. She regained her ability to move. If he meant what he said, he would let her go.

“I said, stop.”

Shit . . . he was following her. Panic reared up from nowhere. She began to run. She had the edge. He was hurt. She was fit. Stephen hadn’t tolerated anything less and working out had become an engrained habit. She reached the path. Her feet flew across the ground. Her breath pounded in her chest. She saw the pothole too late, almost cleared it, stumbled, and rolled head over heels into a boulder. She lay there stunned for a few seconds then struggled to get back on her feet.

“Cazzo! Are you alright?”

Steel fingers clamped on her arm and held her in place.

One part of her mind grasped that he was of Italian descent. The rest of her went into revolt. She pushed him away. “Leave me alone!”

He let go, but then fingers pinched her chin and made her look directly at him. He tilted her head to one side, checking her eyes. “Did you hit your head?”

“No.”

He clucked in disapproval then let go of her chin, only to run his hands over her shoulders and down her arms. His fingers left a buzzing wake in their stead.

Tahima gasped.

He looked a little taken aback. “Sorry. At least nothing seems broken. A hot bath should set you straight.”

Her stomach lurched at the thought.

“Here, let me help you up. Why the hell did you run? You dropped your jacket.”

He sounded genuinely concerned, despite his obvious ire, and Tahima began to wonder if she’d misjudged him. When his fingers curled around her wrist to help her up, unbridled desire flooded her from head to toe. Unable to muster a cohesive thought, she allowed him to pull her to her feet.

He held out her jacket, but didn’t let her go.

She took it wordlessly, unnerved by his close proximity. His forceful stance was doing things to her and she was struggling not to melt into his arms. Hell, she couldn’t even meet his eye for fear of swooning. It was ludicrous. She had to get a grip.

“I asked you a question,” he said. “Why did you run?”

Tahima’s throat went dry. “I . . . My boyfriend . . .”

“Don’t lie.”

Tahima glared at him then. “Why did you chase me? You can see I’m on my own.” She tried to shake off his grip on her wrist. “Let me go.”

He held fast. “I’m sorry I scared you. I need help and you mentioned a radio. That was your original intention, wasn’t it? To help me?”

“Emphasis on the ‘was’. Now. Let. Me. Go.”

“Not a chance.”

However, his steel grip did soften, but instead of taking the opportunity to pull away, Tahima found herself gazing into his dark eyes. Saints alive. Those eyes could sear a girl with one look.