by Kimberly Dean
A low voice seeped through the darkness. It nudged at Delia’s senses, urging her to wake. To listen. She fought the intrusion. She was so tired. Oh, so very tired and uncomfortable.
“Delia, are you okay?”
The voice was insistent. Smoky and intimate. The timbre was familiar, yet out of place. She pushed through the thick layers of drowsiness and tried to think.
It was just so hot. She kicked at the sheets tangled around her legs. Her pillow lay on the floor, and the comforter sat in a lump on the mattress beside her. Even the brush of the heavy fabric against her skin was too much. She pushed it away, trying to find some relief.
“Hey. Come on. Look at me.”
“Hot.” So hot. The heat was consuming her.
The mattress shifted, and the back of a hand gently touched her forehead. “Ah hell. You’re burning up.”
Delia squirmed restlessly and looked up at the man who’d appeared so suddenly in her bedroom. He hovered over her, big and dark. Shadows hid his features, but moonlight lit the hand that still brushed against her face. In the recesses of her mind, she knew she should be frightened—or at least surprised—but his presence comforted her. She didn’t want to be alone. Not while the fires of hell were ravaging her from the inside out.
But why was he here?
He shouldn’t be here. Or should he? She vaguely remembered a promise to check on her.
It took too much energy to think. She pushed her hair away from her face and off her shoulder. Even it felt too oppressive. Her arm dropped to her side, and her hand bumped against a hard thigh.
The man. He was sitting close.
How had he gotten in again? Hadn’t she locked the door?
She couldn’t remember. Didn’t care.
She closed her eyes and started to drift away.
Callused fingertips patted her cheek. “No, no. Stay with me. Open those pretty green eyes.”
The firm tone made her obey. She rolled her head toward the voice and forced her eyelids open a slit. A light from the hallway shimmered around the silhouette of the man’s body. He moved so the light no longer glared in her eyes, and she could see him better.
Dark hair. Dark eyes. Concern knotting his brow.
Relief made her sag against the mattress. He’d know how to fight this. He always knew how to take charge.
“Make it better,” she begged.
His hand cupped her cheek, and a distinct curse passed through his lips. Quickly, he reached out and clicked on her bedside lamp. The glare of the light made her close her eyes tightly. “No,” she winced. “Too bright.”
“Sorry.” He turned the lamp down to its lowest setting. “Look at me, Delia. Please.”
She didn’t want to, but he asked so nicely.
“There you go.” His thumb swept across her cheekbone. “Ah, damn. Your eyes are glazed. Your pupils are dilated, and you’re way too warm. Why didn’t you call someone?”
“Medicine?” He nudged her when she began to nod off. “What did you take? Delia, this is important.”
“Mm.” She liked having him close, but the heat of their bodies was mingling. She wriggled away and covered her eyes with her hand. Too hot. Too bright.
He refused to let her be. “Where’s your medicine, Delia?”
She tried to roll away.
He caught her shoulder and pressed her flat on her back. “Tell me, and I’ll let you sleep.”
Even through her daze, she heard the lie in his voice. She was too tempted to heed the warning. Sleep. She wanted to sleep. “Kitchen.”
He was gone before she could say any more. The light was still too bright, but she didn’t have the energy to lift her arm to turn it off. Instead she rolled away and curled into a ball.
That was a mistake. The heat only intensified as she folded into herself. With a whimper, she kicked the comforter onto the floor and stretched her legs out. She heard a rattling sound as he came back into her room.
“When was the last time you took a pill?”
She groaned. She’d known he was lying. He wasn’t going to let her rest.
The mattress bowed as he sat next to her again. He brushed her hair away from her temple. “How long ago since you took anything?” he asked.
Her forehead scrunched. Why was he asking so many hard questions? She couldn’t focus. Couldn’t concentrate. Oh, yes. The pills… She remembered them spilling onto the counter. “When I got home from work.”
He turned his wrist to look at his watch. “Five—no six hours ago.”
The bottle rattled again as he searched for the directions. “No wonder. It’s worn off. You’re supposed to take two every four hours. Stay here. I’ll get you a glass of water.”
Delia rolled onto her back when he left. Water. The idea was so appealing, she nearly crawled after him. Nearly. Just thinking about crawling was too much of an effort. Instead, she stayed still, trying to be patient, but the heat…
Oh, God. The heat. The mattress beneath her was absorbing her warmth and reflecting it back upon her, doubling her discomfort. She squirmed on the wrinkled sheets, but the fervor built until her back felt like it was on fire.
“Ahhh!” she hissed. She couldn’t stand it anymore!
Lurching upright, she tugged off her chemise and threw it across the room. She lay back down, but even her panties felt too stifling. She grabbed the waistband and nearly rent the fabric in two as she shimmied her hips and pushed the material down. The silk clung to her legs until she managed to kick it off.
“You shouldn’t have been here by yourself. You—“ Footsteps from the bathroom came to an abrupt halt near the bed. “Hel-lo.”
Water. He’d promised her water. She reached for it, swinging her arm wide.
She heard him inhale sharply, but then he was sitting down beside her and passing her the glass. “Here you go. Easy now.”
Water sloshed over the side, wetting the bed as she swallowed almost convulsively. The moisture felt so good as it rolled down her dry throat.
“Wait. Don’t forget to take the pills.”
He shoved two into her hand and held the water away from her until she put them in her mouth. She groped for the glass and took a big gulp. The medicine stuck in her throat, but she forced it down. Anything to abate this damned heat. Anything! She settled back on the bed, and he picked her pillow off of the floor. Carefully, he tucked it under her head.
She murmured, but kicked at the sheet when he tried to pull it over her nakedness. “No. I’m baking.”
“All right. Relax and let the medicine go to work.”
“It didn’t help before,” she said miserably.
He went quiet—almost dangerously so. She looked up at him, her vision blurring around the edges. Time seemed to slow, and the air in the room thickened. “You’ve been like this all day?” he finally asked.
“The fever,” she said weakly. “It won’t stop.”
His jaw went tight. A muscle near his cheekbone ticked once, then twice, before an all-too-familiar look of determination settled onto his face. “Yes, it will. You just leave it to me.”