“Oh wow, you didn’t evac?” Shanna said as she looked over at me. “I thought you broke your foot.”
“Just a sprain,” I repeated for the billionth time. “Should be better in a few days.”
I couldn’t tell if that was an insulting noise or an ‘I underestimated you’ noise. A few of the others crowded around as if just now noticing that I was here, but I noticed that Dean seemed to be the star of the show. I fielded questions about my ankle as I watched him, laughing and rubbing his shoulders where I’d leaned earlier for several hours. A cameraman hovered nearby, just on the fringes of camp, and I noticed the others paid no more attention to him than I did.
“We have a Tribal Summons,” Heather said, waving the others to the back of the camp.
“Already?” said Chris.
“It looks like food!”
That was all it took for all of the remaining players to flood over to the edge of camp and head to the decorated, ornate trunk. In the darkness I couldn’t see anything, and I couldn’t get up to follow. Depressed, I noticed that not even Dean had hung around camp to see if I wanted to join them.
It was just a momentary slip, I reasoned, but it still stung. I stared at the flickering fire and ignored the cameraman as he zoomed in on my face. Stupid ankle. Stupid team not even noticing that I was here alone.
“Sandwiches! And champagne!” I heard Shanna squeal, and the others erupted into a flurry of conversation.
My stomach growled. I wanted to weep as I imagined them scarfing down the food, hands grabbing. Maybe someone would save me a sandwich.
A female giggle arose from the group. “Don’t drink all of it now—save some for later!”
Sigh. Maybe not.
I supposed that I could call out and remind them that I was stuck here on the bench, but I kept my mouth shut. Arriving at camp had been a bit awkward—my foot injury had made them unsure of what to do with me. I had no doubt that if we were still playing on teams, I’d be voted off first. Now that we were all one big team and all challenges and rewards, I was pretty much safe—I’d be extremely safe, actually. I wasn’t going to win any challenges on my own now, after all.
Safe as could be, as long as I didn’t starve to death.
“Here,” a familiar voice said, and I felt something cold touch my shoulder.
I jerked around in surprise and stared at the champagne bottle pressed against my skin and Dean’s grinning face.
“Thought I’d bring you something. There’s enough for everyone, but not for long.” In his other hand, he held out the large end of a massive sub sandwich.
Happiness swept over me as he sat next to me and handed me the sandwich. More than the food, it was that he hadn’t forgotten me.
“Did I ever mention that you are my favorite man on the island?” I said as he offered the champagne to me and I took a swig. It tingled in my mouth, all fizz and alcohol, and it was lovely.
“I’d better be,” is all he said, and we didn’t talk as we ate the sandwich and drank more alcohol. I blushed at the meaningful look he gave me, wondering if he was feeling that same swelling in his heart that I was.
That swelling that told me that I was completely, ridiculously head over heels for the guy.
Eventually others trickled back to camp, eating their sandwiches and passing around more champagne. Bottle after icy bottle was produced from a cooler shaped to look like a treasure chest, and another two cameramen had arrived. I guessed what was going on—good TV was a bunch of starving idiots getting drunk on champagne and partying, and the team was all too willing to comply. Heck, I was too.
The revelry went on for a few hours, it seemed, until someone laughingly pointed out, “Hey, we have a new shelter.”
All heads turned in that direction.
I was struck by a sudden bout of nervousness—who would be sleeping where? Luckily at that moment, no one seemed to be in much of a mood to sleep. They crawled all over the shelter, exploring and exclaiming over the fact that we had pillows—the first ones in three weeks. Instead, the drunks staggered over it and laughed, and then the partying continued.
My own head was feeling swimmy at the moment, the result of too much alcohol on a too-starved and tired body. I was feeling good, too, and I looked over at Dean and wished at that moment that we were alone together instead of stuck with all these people.
He glanced over at me and seemed to share the same thought. Desire flicked across his face, then quickly concealed itself again. He glanced at the group, laughing and hanging all over each other. They were singing songs by the campfire, though a few less hardy had collapsed in the shelter in the distance and were making use of the new pillows.
“Come on,” he said in a low voice, and began to help me up from my seat. He gave me a meaningful look that made my body flare with need.
I leaned heavily on him and glanced at the others, wondering how we’d ditch them. Dean solved the problem, however. “I’m taking Abby to bed,” he said to the group, who waved us off without looking back. And with that, he swept me into his arms and whispered, “They’re too drunk to realize where we’re really going, and by the time they do, it won’t matter.”
“Sounds good to me,” I whispered back, trying to hide the nervous giggle that threatened to erupt. Sneaking away to have sex? It felt so very high school. And damn if I wasn’t excited about it, too.
We barely made it into the bushes before Dean’s mouth was hot on mine, tasting of champagne, and the scent of his skin—smoky and masculine—surrounded me.
“Look out for my ankle,” I murmured against his mouth as he set me down on a nearby fallen coconut tree.
“I have no intention of forgetting any part of you,” Dean said, kneeling between my spread knees. He crouched on the sand and stared up at me from between my thighs, a devilish grin on his face.
I clung to the tree for support when he began to tug off my bikini bottom. “What are you doing?”
His mouth pressed hot against my flesh as he bared it, his hands anchoring at my hips. “Team-building exercise,” he breathed against my belly.
“We’re merged now,” I protested weakly, scanning the tree line in case one of our tribemates went looking for us.
“Give me a minute,” Dean said with a low chuckle. “We’ll do all the merging you want.”
I began to get caught up in the moment, especially when his mouth pressed a few more kisses on my inner thigh. My fingers tangled in his short hair, wild from our days on the island. “So what is this ‘alliance’ going to do for me, I wonder?”
“Let me show you,” he said, and his mouth dipped lower.
“Wake up.” Someone nudged my arm.
I mumbled, ducking my head under my arm to avoid the sunlight. The bed was so comfortable that I didn’t want to get up. My head rested on a soft pillow and two warm bodies were pressed against both sides of me. Behind me, someone had their arm wrapped around my waist, and I heard the soft chatter of voices in the distance.
“Not just yet,” I mumbled and snuggled deeper. “Five more minutes.”
A hot mouth pressed to my bare shoulder. “Wakey wakey.” Dean brushed his mouth against my skin.
My eyes flew open and I stared at the broad back that I was currently snuggled up against. Tattoos covered one arm and “LIVE FREE” was scrawled across the shoulder blades six inches from my nose.
Leon. With Dean behind me.
A bit unnerved at realizing that Leon had crawled next to me in my sleep (and that I’d cuddled up against his warmth), I sat up, pushing my curly hair out of my face and trying not to frown. Dean’s hand lay low on my hip, resting possessively on me.
We were the only three left in the bed. I squinted into the distance where the others stood near the fire, the early morning sunlight trickling in and bathing everyone in a dull gray pallor. Storm clouds had rolled in overnight, and the warm sun was hidden, leaving only storm clouds behind. One or two of the tribemates in the distance didn’t seem to be super chipper—Shanna held her head in her hands, probably the result of overindulging last night.
I glanced over at Dean. He lay in the bed looking up at me with an amused expression, his other arm tucked under his head. Beneath him, a thick bed of palm leaves had been crushed and trampled—probably by the rest of the tribe. He looked so sleepy and sexy that I wanted to run away from everyone else and do a repeat performance of last night’s lovemaking.
“How’s your ankle?”
I glanced down at it. It did seem a bit less swollen than yesterday, though it was turning a lovely purple shade. “Still attached.”
“Always good to hear,” he said, his thumb grazing idly along my hip. Just that small motion was enough to make my breath catch in my throat and start a pulsing low in my sex.
I reached down and brushed my thumb over his lower lip. He bit down on it and I inhaled sharply at the look he sent my way. We might have been closer to the end of the game now that we were with everyone else, but I knew he was thinking what I was—that we wouldn’t have minded a few more days alone in our small cove by ourselves.
“Hey,” someone called nearby, and it came with the sound of someone approaching through the sand. “You guys awake?”
Heather, from Team Five. I pulled away from Dean and shot her a guilty look. Her hair was pulled into two pigtails on either side of her face and she gave us both a curious look that had me blushing.
“Am I… interrupting?” she began.
“Nope, we were just waking up,” I said. “Breakfast ready?” I began to slide off the bed platform, then frowned down at my ankle. Drat. Still stranded.
“Here, I’ll help ya,” Leon said at my side, and before I could protest, he was swinging me up in his arms and carrying me over to the fire with the others. Alarmed, I shot a look over at Dean, who looked less-than-thrilled with Leon’s actions. His fist was clenched—angry?—and I watched him calmly lower it and deliver a cheerful smile to Heather, reaching over to tweak one of her pigtails in a flirty manner.
I didn’t like that at all, especially when she giggled and poked him back. “Tribal Summons this morning.”
“Already?” I asked, but my question went unanswered as Leon set me down on one of the log-seats in the middle of camp. All eyes turned to my ankle.
“It’s better today,” I assured them, despite my grand entrance. All that focus on my injury made me nervous. But then Lana came and sat next to me, linking her arm through mine, and the nervous feeling fell away. She was doing her best to show everyone that things were fine, and she was supporting me. I appreciated it, too.
“We already read the mail once. Sorry we didn’t wait for you,” she said in a tone that wasn’t that apologetic after all.
“No worries,” Dean said in his cheerful drawl. I took a cue from his manner and didn’t protest, though part of me didn’t care for it. Being in an entire tribe of people was different than just hanging out with one. “Can we see it?”