Soul Bonded
Author:Meghan Malone

chapter FOUR

Rafe knocked on the door again some time later, startling Katie upright in bed. She’d only meant to rest for a minute, not wanting to be vulnerable when her host returned, but Shilah had put his head on her belly as soon as she’d lain down and she’d lost track of time petting him. Now Shilah grumbled as she shot ramrod straight against the headboard before calling out, “Come in.”

The door opened and Rafe walked inside without glancing in her direction. He carried a bowl, a piece of crusty bread, and a glass of water. Clearly in a rush, he set the food on the nightstand and backed away. “I hope you like chicken soup.”

The savory aroma hit her in the face and made her mouth water. Any concern she might have had about being drugged disappeared at the prospect of filling her stomach. She snatched up the bowl, then gave him a sheepish nod. “This is perfect. Thank you.”

“You can have more if you’d like.” For the first time, a trace of humor crept into Rafe’s voice. “But you should probably take it easy. Your stomach needs to acclimate to having food inside it again.”

“I’ll keep that in mind,” Katie said as she shoveled a spoonful into her mouth. She moaned, undone by the warmth and flavor of the broth, not to mention the promise of sustenance. Never again would she take food for granted. Ever. “Oh…this is so good.”

She looked up and Rafe quickly averted his gaze from her chest. Swallowing, he rasped, “I’m glad.”

Though he’d traded the snug jeans he’d worn earlier for a pair of loose sweatpants, Rafe’s arousal remained obvious. She tried not to stare. Had he been excited this whole time, or was he reacting to her unselfconscious enjoyment of her lunch? Either way, she vacillated between being frightened, embarrassed, and pleased by the evidence of his desire. The longer he went without trying to initiate physical contact, the more convinced she became that he wasn’t planning on assaulting her. Not while she was conscious, at least.

She frowned. If she wanted to know what had occurred while she was unconscious, she would have to ask him. Even if he wasn’t willing to tell her the truth, she might learn something from the way he responded. “Can you tell me what happened after you got me out of my car?”

Panic flashed in Rafe’s eyes. “What?”

“After you dug me out of my car…I don’t remember much, and what I do recall, I’m not even sure really happened.” Katie hesitated, unsure how much she wanted to say. She hated to accuse him of behaving improperly when he hadn’t done anything overtly threatening. So maybe he was a little aloof and a lot awkward. The guy lived in the middle of the woods. People skills probably weren’t among his strengths. She decided to start with an easy question. “Did you carry me back here? I swear that’s what I remember, but…it seems a little crazy, in my head.”

Rafe crossed the room and opened the trunk that sat in the corner. He pulled out a folded comforter, but instead of offering it to her, he held it in front of his crotch, hiding his erection. “I did carry you. I went out for a hike that afternoon on foot, so…” He cleared his throat and glanced longingly at the bedroom door. Once again, he seemed desperate to leave. “Why don’t I let you eat? I’ll bring your clothes when I come back for the dishes.”

“Wait.” She set down the bowl of soup. No way was she going to let the food distract her from her most important goal. She needed to know what she’d gotten herself into. “What happened after you brought me inside? I must have been in pretty bad shape.”

“You were hypothermic.” Rafe’s expression softened. “When I got you here, I took you straight to the guest room. Your clothes were soaked through from the storm, so I undressed you. Then I put you in dry clothes and covered you with blankets. I sat with you for a while to make sure your condition didn’t deteriorate as you warmed.” He glanced at Shilah, who thumped his tail against the mattress the instant he received his master’s attention. “You’re strong. You’re a fighter. Once you were warm and I was confident you were stable, I put Shilah in bed with you to provide body heat. Then I left.”

It was a good story. She wished she believed it. She didn’t know how she knew it wasn’t the whole truth, but she did, in her bones. Rafe was lying to her. His dishonesty was so obvious it made her cringe. While it shouldn’t have hurt her on a personal level—she didn’t even know this man—the deceit stung. Inexplicably, it felt like a betrayal, as though she’d actually expected more.

He finally met her gaze, swallowing visibly at whatever he saw in her eyes. “Let me get your clothes.” He practically dashed out of the room.

Katie gave the soup a sidelong glance. Her stomach growled painfully, and against her better judgment, she picked up the bowl. Yes, Rafe was lying to her. That didn’t mean he’d put something in her food. It didn’t mean he wanted to hurt her in any way. Or at least that’s what she tried to convince herself as she took another tentative bite. She needed to eat. If she didn’t, she wouldn’t have the strength to defend herself, if it came to that.

Realistically, he’d had ample opportunity to hurt her if he’d wanted. Chances were, he was just socially awkward or something equally innocuous. He had promised to take her into town as soon as the weather cleared, and right now she had no choice but to believe him. So she was going to eat.

She was surprised when he knocked on the door only minutes later. She placed the empty bowl of soup on the nightstand and called out, “Come in.”

This time Rafe held a pile of folded clothing. “Looks like you were wearing everything you had with you.” A smile tugged at the corner of his mouth, but he sobered quickly. “I’m sure you’ll be more comfortable in your own clothes.”

Actually, she was certain that his T-shirt and sweatpants were worlds more comfortable than anything she’d packed for girls’ weekend, but she wasn’t going to say that out loud. “I appreciate that. Thank you.”

Rafe took a deep breath, then dragged his gaze to meet hers. Once again, a heady rush of passion and need flooded through her body and settled between her legs, where it swiftly became a gnawing, yearning ache. She swore she could see her desire reflected in the flaring of Rafe’s nostrils, the darkening of his eyes, the quickening of his breath. Katie leaned forward in anticipation, sensing that he was about to open up to her, that he may even say something that would help explain the chemistry between them.

A muffled knock came from somewhere outside the bedroom, startling both Shilah and Rafe and drawing their attention to the door. Rafe’s face fell at the interruption and a look of cold dread chased away the longing in his eyes. Katie’s heart rate picked up as he strode to the door. “Wait here. I’m not expecting anyone.”

She nodded and rested her hand on Shilah’s head, grateful that the dog made no move to leave. There was no mistaking Rafe’s reaction to this visitor. He was nervous. And why not? He lived in the middle of the woods and the roads were supposedly closed. It did seem unusual that someone would just drop by. Very unusual.

Was this guest really unexpected? Or was Rafe nervous for another reason?

Perhaps his surprise had been feigned. Maybe he didn’t want her to know that he’d invited someone over? Or that there was someone else living in the house? The possible implications of her increasingly paranoid thoughts turned her insides to ice.

Cautiously, she scooted to the edge of the bed. Mindful that her legs hadn’t supported her the last time she’d tried to stand, she gripped the edge of the nightstand and slowly got to her feet. After a slight wobble, she found her balance and then, gradually, her strength. She wasn’t sure what she hoped to accomplish, but she couldn’t just sit in that bed and worry about who had come calling.

Katie tiptoed to the bedroom door, holding up her hand to Shilah in a silent plea for him to stay. He whined low in his throat as she eased the door open a couple of inches, but didn’t move. Not wanting to leave the safety of the room, she closed her eyes and rested her forehead against the doorframe, listening hard.

Two male voices. As she strained to make out their words, a deep, unfamiliar baritone rose in anger.

“What the hell are you thinking?”

Rafe said something too quiet for her to hear, then added, “I had no choice.”

“Of course you did.”

“What? Let her die?” Rafe practically snarled. “That wasn’t an option.”

“Why not? She’s a human, for fuck’s sake. You should never have gotten involved.”

Katie’s eyes flew open. Rafe’s visitor was a straight-up crazy person. He’d spat out the word human as though it tasted bad in his mouth. As though he truly believed he was something else. Something better. She waited to hear Rafe’s response, praying he wouldn’t say something equally as insane.

Unfortunately, another low whine from Shilah drowned out Rafe’s response. She tossed a glare over her shoulder at the dog, shutting him up with one hard look. Then she turned her attention back to the conversation, which had grown even more heated.

“She can’t stay here.” The stranger’s voice radiated anger. “It’s far too dangerous. She’ll attract trouble. She’ll be killed.”

Katie’s heart stuttered, then pumped into overdrive. Killed?

“You think I don’t know that?” Rafe’s easy acceptance of the man’s warning raised gooseflesh on her arms, as did the anguish in his voice. Now she knew she wasn’t simply being paranoid. Her life was in danger.

“Then why is she still here?”

“What do you want me to do with her?” Rafe lowered his voice, forcing Katie to open the bedroom door another few inches so she could creep into the hallway to listen. “The roads are closed. She’s not strong enough to walk out on foot, or even travel by snowmobile, if that were possible. If we ran into anyone on the way into town, I don’t know if I could protect her. You know what it’s like out there tonight. Trouble would find us, and it wouldn’t be a fair fight.”

“Tonight is nothing compared to how it’ll be tomorrow.” The stranger matched Rafe’s quiet tone, but she still made out what he said next: “You could kill her, Rafe.”

She held her breath as she waited for Rafe to respond.

“I won’t.” He didn’t sound wholly confident.

“How can you possibly—“

Rafe cut him off with a harshly whispered reply, too soft for Katie to hear.

“What the fuck is wrong with you?” The stranger’s booming reaction shook the walls, startling her backward a step, right into the doorframe.

“I didn’t know it would happen.” Rafe growled the words, meeting anger with anger. “That it even could happen.”

“You should have just let her die.”

“I couldn’t.” Rafe paused. “I know you don’t understand, but even before…I couldn’t do that.”

“At least it would’ve been an easy death. A clean death. Now she’ll most likely be raped, tortured, and murdered tomorrow—and I still think there’s a good chance that you’ll be the one to inflict one or more of those fates. It would have been better to let her go peacefully, brother.”

This time Rafe growled for real. “I will not let that happen.”

“You said it yourself—you won’t be able to protect her. You know how they are. They catch one whiff of human pussy in these woods, and you’ll be up against a goddamn horde trying to get at it.”

“Like I said, you think I don’t know that?”

More than anything, Katie yearned to close the door and stop listening. But her feet stayed rooted to the floor as she hung on every horrifying word. Terror didn’t even begin to describe what she was feeling inside. The urgency in their voices was real, even if nothing they said made sense. They might be crazy, but each of them clearly bought into their shared delusions. That meant they were beyond dangerous. Both of them.

“So what are you going to do?” Now the stranger sounded weary. Defeated.

“I’m going to keep her hidden. Keep her safe.”

“And then?”

“Then I’m getting rid of her.” Rafe fell silent for so long that Katie thought maybe both men had left the cabin, even though she hadn’t heard a door open or close. She considered venturing farther out of the bedroom, just to take a peek, but froze in place when Rafe spoke again, brokenly. “I promise. Day after tomorrow, she’s gone.”

“If she’s still alive.”

“She will be.” Rafe sounded hollow now. “She has to be.”

His ominous, sorrowful words hit her directly in the gut. Nauseated, she willed her body into motion and retreated into the bedroom. Her knees wobbled as she eased the door closed, taking care to stay silent. She didn’t want them to know she’d been listening, even if she wasn’t sure how to interpret their conversation.

Whatever it all meant, one thing seemed clear: she was in deep, dark trouble.