When Derrick began to undress, Keira forgot to breathe. “What are you doin’?” she asked, laughing to cover up her sudden nervousness when his shirt fell next to his boots, and he reached for his belt buckle. She tried not to stare, truly, she did, but her hungry eyes drank in every scar that was revealed, every scattered tattoo, the coarse but sparse hairs on his chest that led a distinct trail down washboard abs.
Ordinarily, he was so painfully reserved that she was aghast that he was actually stripping in front of her. But, then, she’d witnessed his contradictory bold streak more than once.
“Goin’ for a swim,” he replied, as if it was the most obvious thing in the world, and she was a supreme dumbass. “What? You said it feels amazin’.” He pushed his jeans down his narrow hips and stepped out of them, leaving him clad only in boxer shorts. His legs were lean and strong like the rest of him, and she couldn’t help but admire them.
“Yeah, but—Derrick!” She laughed when he ran at the dock’s edge, tucking his legs into the classic cannonball position as he jumped and disappeared beneath the surface with a mighty splash. She was still laughing as she wiped the water from her eyes. Sure, it felt nice on her feet, but she couldn’t imagine actually swimming in it.
Her eyes skimmed the surface of the water as she waited for him to resurface, but, as the seconds ticked by and he had yet to make an appearance, she began to get nervous. She stood, dropping her pack and bow at her feet, preparing to go in after him as panic began to set in, when a sudden pounding noise below her caught her attention. Looking at her feet, she saw him gazing up at her through the slats. “You comin’ in, or what?” he asked as he swam to the side of the dock, his hands catching the edges to anchor himself in place.
She shook her head. “Asshole. You scared me.” Even as she said the words, however, she was struck by how carefree he seemed in that moment.
“Never said I weren’t. Don’t mean you can’t come in, though.”
She chewed the inside of her lip. Fuck it. Before she could talk herself out of it, she quickly stripped off her jacket before pulling her shirt over her head and shimmying out of her jeans. She didn’t look at him as she undressed, but she could feel the heat of his gaze as he soaked her up. She supposed she couldn’t begrudge him that, since she hadn’t bothered looking away as he undressed; she felt thankful, at least, that she’d worn a bra today. “This is all a ploy to get me naked, isn’t it?”
“Woman, if I wanted ta git you naked… I wouldn’t need a ploy.”
She shook her head and bit her lip, ignoring the heat that bloomed in her cheeks and between her legs in tandem. Once naked save for her plain white panty-and-bra set, Keira ran at the edge of the dock much as Derrick had, but, instead of doing a cannonball like he had, she dived in, her hands sluicing through the water as a shocking blast of iciness encased her. Remembering his words about Ghosts possibly being trapped on the floor of the lake, she kept close to the surface, flipping and kicking toward the murky sunlight before her head broke through.
She was still gasping from the shock of it and shivering mightily as she treaded water, eyes flashing toward the dock. Swiping the water from her eyes, she didn’t immediately see him, but she was no longer worried. On the contrary, she felt the stirrings of excitement, the adrenaline coursing through her veins as she swam for the dock, pulling one arm in front of the other. In high school, she had been on the school’s swim team. Not exactly Olympics material, but she’d always considered herself a strong swimmer, and it had been so long that the chilly water felt invigorating as she propelled herself fluidly forward.
She gasped in shock when a hand suddenly clamped around her ankle, dragging her beneath the surface once more, but she knew it wasn’t a Ghost: The grip was too strong, deliberate, the palm too fleshy. Nevertheless, she screamed, trying not to swallow a mouthful of water as she was yanked backwards and crashed into a warm body. Her arms wrapped around his neck as she clung to him instinctively, trying to stifle her automatic surge of panic when her head broke the surface for the second time.
Derrick was laughing as she coughed and sputtered. “You asshole,” she gasped, one hand pounding weakly against his chest.
“Seems t’be the theme o’the day,” he murmured once he finally stopped chuckling. “Calm down, woman—I gotcha.”
“I wouldn’t need calming if you hadn’t tried to drown me,” she grumbled, spitting her hair out of her face as she gazed up at him. Only at that moment did she realize how close he was, that she was literally wrapped around him. Her legs were straddling his narrow hips, her breasts smashed against his chest, and she flushed to realize that he was staring at her mouth.
“Wasn’t tryna drown ya—just gitcha a lil’ wet.” A sudden surge of warmth bloomed low in her belly at his words, and at the same moment he flushed, as if realizing what he’d said—but neither moved to disengage. On the contrary, they froze in unison while Keira forgot to breathe; they might have sunk to the bottom of the lake if Derrick hadn’t had have the presence of mind to keep treading water for them both.
She stared up at him, noting the clear hesitation on his face and feeling certain that it must mirror her own. Deciding to take the leap—and not allowing herself to think about it—she tilted her head up in clear invitation, stopping just shy of his mouth. She nearly cried in relief when he tilted downward just enough bridge the gap, his lips just brushing hers, so lightly she might have imagined it had her nerve endings not been on fire.
She held still with considerable effort, letting him take the lead as she sensed that any sudden movement on her part might halt him in his tracks. So slowly she barely registered the movement, he applied gentle pressure, his lips sliding over hers experimentally as Keira hummed her encouragement. His hand slid up her back, threading into her hair while his other braced against the side of her cheek, as if holding her in place, while he continued his gentle explorations.
When he hesitantly licked the seam of her lips, barely a prod of his tongue, she parted them, allowing him inside. As his tongue brushed against hers, he groaned into her mouth, and she tightened her grip on him with her legs in response, her own hands trailing down his bare chest, delighting in the feel of his warm flesh, in stark contrast to the icy lake water.
The kiss might have gained momentum from there; the passion had threatened to erupt between them for days, yet this felt different, even as the kiss itself lost its chasteness and became ever bolder. Still, this was decidedly sweeter than anything that had passed between them before, and she could tell that Derrick was deliberately holding back, not allowing this to develop into anything frenzied even as she sucked his tongue between her lips, the gesture absurdly erotic. His facial hair scratched the delicate skin of her cheek, the contrast somehow only serving to heighten the sensuality of the moment.
He broke the kiss with a grunt, his forehead landing against hers. “Keira,” he breathed, his voice ragged as he caught his breath. His erection was hot and heavy against her belly through the thin cotton of his shorts, but she followed his lead, sliding her fingertips up his smooth, broad shoulders once more, down his biceps, and trailing over his forearms until their fingers were intertwined.
“Yeah?” She opened her eyes to peer up at him through her lashes. She wanted him—she’d given up trying to fight it—but she would go at his pace.
“Nothin’.” He pecked her lips—once, twice, three times.
“No—what?” she said with a laugh, their fingers still intertwined at their sides, pulling back slightly to get a better look at his face. Her legs were still loosely wrapped around his waist, and she made no move to disengage.
“It’s just…” He ducked his head, and she realized that he was blushing furiously. “That was nice.” If possible, his face turned an even brighter hue. “I know. I’m fuckin’ lame. Never shoulda opened my damn mouth.”
She smiled up at him broadly, heart swelling to the brim with a sudden, intense affection for the man. She pulled one of his hands up between their bodies and pressed her lips to their clasped knuckles. “It was, wasn’t it? And you’re not lame, Caine. Not even close.”
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A virus has rendered humanity mostly extinct. Keira Starr is alone, staying alive by staying on the run, sleeping in empty gas stations and the trunks of cars long abandoned on the highway. The world is overrun by “Ghosts,” the mindless, bloodthirsty dead, but they are the least of her problems. She is being hunted by ragtag groups of ruthless men, independent contractors working for a mysterious human trafficking ring. When she is finally captured, she discovers that Derrick Caine, despite his gruff demeanor and appearance, may just have a different agenda altogether.
M/F, erotic romance, dystopian, post-apocalyptic, sci-fi/fantasy
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