The Hunting Ground
Does It Make You Uncomfortable, Runaway?
God, his grin was infuriating. He could see the pink in my cheeks again. My hands made quick work of my tank top, lifting it over my neck to expose my underclothes. I tossed the bundle of cotton to the rest of the pile of our clothes and looked at him, raising an eyebrow. Your move.
His gaze never once dropped, holding steady on my eyes, but the tone of it had shifted. Now, he looked furious. Dangerous. He was naked, I only had one thing left on. He could do anything. He could leave me in this bunk, and no one would find me. My heart was pounding, our eyes locked on each other. He was the first to look down, at my shoulder. He furrowed his brow, softly raising a hand to my arm where I felt the warmth of his touch. The feeling of his skin on mine shocked me almost as much as my allowing him. He traced my skin gently and spoke low, “You’re trembling.”
I was. My breath quivered as I spoke in reply, “So?” I tried to muster the biting tone of our previous bickering, but my voice had been weakened.
“Goodness, you’re cold.” He laughed. Throwing my arm off his.
I shook my head, disappointed in my gullibility. Tricks, dirty old tricks.
He met my eye line again, some anger bleeding back in.
“Need me to warm you up?” I knew he joked, but it hit me like a slap. “What?” I sounded offended. I was.
“You wouldn’t eat my food before. Refused to drink my water when yours ran out. You didn’t even want to take a bath until I pissed you off and your pride got the best of you. Now You’re trembling.” I scrambled to find a counterattack, my brain still swimming with anger at his comment about my pride. I hissed at him, “God, you’re infuriating.”
His nostrils flared with rage. He took a step towards me and stood. Instinctively, I stood as well. I felt the heat of his breath. I was suddenly aware of the sheer size of him but refused to step back. Our distance would be intimate if not for the venom in our gaze.
“Infuriating, huh?” He gave a short, wicked snicker and stepped closer again. A long moment of heat passed between us.
He interrupted our deadlock, “Are you really not going to get in?”
Again, I could feel his eyes tracing flecks of mud and dried blood wherever my skin wasn’t covered by my simple desert clothes. I crossed my arms. “No.”
“Don’t want to.”
“Don’t want to undress in front of me? You’re already in your briefs. Plus, it’s pretty dark in here. Don’t worry, I won’t look. Much.” He could see my cheeks go red as the Crimson Dunes.
I huffed angrily. He chuckled. An instinctive streak of competition within me compelled me to react before I even fully contemplated the brashness of removing my underclothes. I didn’t. I couldn’t. I stood before him in my grey underwear and breast wrap, relishing in the suddenness and depth of his silence. The heat of his gaze on my chest paralysed me for a moment, but now that I’d nearly undressed the only thing left for me to do was climb into the small pool. He climbed in beside me.
Immediately the heat of the day melted away in the cool water, I let out a soft sigh of relaxation. Still, I felt his gaze on me. Now he was tracing all my imperfections; old scars, freckles, bruises, the small tattoo of the Oldtrain District. He drank in every inch of me, pinning me with his eyes, studying me as though he’s trying to memorize every mark on my skin. It didn’t feel like perversion, he wasn’t trying to sneak deviant glances. It felt electric. It felt like worship. It felt like he couldn’t pull his eyes from me if he tried—or maybe I’m exaggerating.
I remembered the look of pure hate in his eyes from that morning, the sting of his dagger at my throat. The animosity his words had contained towards me had felt truly monstrous, why does his presence feel so different now?
Finally, he met my eye line. “See, not so hard, is it?”
His sardonic jabs immediately raised my ire again, and with it, that dangerous competitive streak in me. “It’s the company that’s difficult.”
He chuckled darkly. I felt it rumble through me, striking me with equal fear and… Nope, bury it. He continued in his chocolate voice, “You’re right. In fact, I hope you don’t mind if I get a bit more comfortable?”
Was he trying to make me uneasy? Scare me? Any other possibility was too frightening to consider. I was suddenly conscious of how far apart we were in the small pool—not much. “Jeepers, it’s a joke, I’m joking.”
“You’ve got an awful lot of those up your sleeve, don’t you?”
I felt my cheeks flush even more.
“Lighten up, runaway.”
He spoke, a low growl, “Does it make you uncomfortable, runaway? Being this close to someone so infuriating?”
The words to form a biting response swam around aimlessly in my head, and I chose the only response he would never expect.
I unclip my breast wrap, unweaving the fabric bit by bit until it unravels into the water. His eyes dart to the ceiling.
I got him.
I throw the damp fabric beside me and realize the rising bathwater embraces my bust, covering my bits and bobs—for the most part.
“Does it make you uncomfortable?” I say with a sheepish grin.