Brighter Than the Sun

Page 39

“Uh, well, I’d like to swim. I mean, that is unless you don’t want to.”

“And miss out on seeing you in a bathing suit?” he asked in mock horror.

Her face flushed crimson. It had to be bright red, as hot as it was burning. She cursed the fact she was a redhead and had the fair skin to go with it. It meant she never got away with an embarrassing thought, and that those embarrassing thoughts were always prominently on display.

“It’s nothing to write home about,” she mumbled as she glanced away.

“You’re a beautiful woman, Zoe,” he said, all humor gone from his voice. She peeked at him from the corner of her eyes and saw that his face was a picture of absolute solemnity. “I don’t give a shit who told you different or that you believe the asshole, but you are gorgeous, and not just on the outside. You’re beautiful where it counts.”

For a moment it was painful to breathe and she rapidly turned so he wouldn’t see the betraying evidence of her tears. If he only knew that she wasn’t beautiful inside or out. If he knew who and what she was, the filth she came from, he’d never look at her the same again.

Her heart ached painfully and she closed her eyes as the pain intensified. Anger and betrayal burned like acid and left a foul taste in her mouth. Anger at the choices her father had made and the fact he hadn’t cared that his own daughter would be made to pay for them. And anger at her mother for simply leaving and not caring enough about the child she left behind.

What was it about her that was so damned unlovable? Unworthy of love?

When she finally risked looking back over at Joe, he was staring straight ahead, his jaw set tightly in a mask of anger. What had she done to piss him off? Damn it, for just one day could she at least pretend to be the person she’d become with Rusty’s help? Just once could she leave behind the mess that was her old life and live a few stolen moments as someone she wasn’t but wanted to be with her every breath?

Knowing she’d already made a mess of the day and they were only just outside the compound, she forced away the taste of despair and made herself inquire lightly, “So what kind of fish are we fishing for? And do you eat what you catch or do you throw them back?”

He reached for her hand before answering, the reassuring warmth and strength of his fingers as they laced through hers easing the tightness in her chest.

“I fish for anything I can catch and I definitely eat them. In fact, if we manage to catch enough for a meal, I thought I could fry them up for you for dinner. I won’t even make you help clean them,” he teased.

She couldn’t control the shudder at the thought of what cleaning fish entailed. She had a firm policy on never eating anything at a restaurant that wasn’t completely beheaded already so that no eyeballs stared lifelessly back at her.

“Thanks,” she said dryly.

He chuckled. “As to what kind of fish we’ll try for today, I thought I’d start you out on something that’s not only easy but fun as hell. I’ll set you up with a Zebco rod and reel and a bobber and we’ll see if we can catch a bream or two. Nothing more fun than watching your cork start to bounce in the water right before it disappears. For such a small fish, they fight like hell. There’s nothing like it.”

She wrinkled her nose in thought. “How small? If they’re so small, how can you eat them?”

He smiled indulgently at her. “Leave the sizing to me. You’d be surprised what constitutes a keeper. And there’s no better eating. That I can guarantee. You haven’t lived until you’ve had a big ole fish fry with bream and hush puppies.”

“Yum,” she said, smacking her lips appreciatively.

“That’s what I’m thinking,” he murmured, his eyes on her mouth, giving her the distinct feeling he wasn’t referring to fish.

She flushed again, this time a buzz of pleasure heating her cheeks. His mouth was beautiful, and she wondered how it would feel against hers. Whether he’d be a demanding, passionate kisser or a man who’d be content to let her lead. God, she hoped for the former because something as delicious as surely his kisses would be shouldn’t be left up to her guidance.

Whoa. She needed to back the heck up and stop with that line of thought. She was getting so far ahead of herself even thinking about him kissing her. He was being friendly. Hospitable. And it was obvious he felt sorry for her. Ouch. That was one way to douse the heady euphoria that had enveloped her the moment she’d begun fantasizing about him kissing her.

Besides, it would only complicate matters, and complicated was the very last thing she needed right now. Especially since she couldn’t stay here indefinitely. Or even for much longer. She was becoming complacent. Already the fact that Sebastian hadn’t just used her but had planned to kill her was growing dimmer in her memory. How screwed up was that? She needed to wake the hell up and stop fantasizing or she’d not only get herself killed but endanger a lot of innocent people as well.

“Give a mint to know what you’re thinking right now.”

His statement brought her focus sharply back and she saw that his eyes were narrowed and his lips a tight line as he stared intently at her. Crap. She had to quit being a freaking open book when it came to every single thought process she had.

“Was just thinking about how many more fish I’m going to catch today than you,” she said lightly.

“Mmm-hmm,” he said, clearly not believing her. But he let it drop. Thankfully.

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