Agent Cole Fletcher lives for his job at the FBI, and he’s more than ready for his next assignment—raiding a cult compound and putting their leader behind bars. But he isn’t prepared for Savannah and her knock you on your ass good looks. At nineteen, she’s too old for foster care and too damaged to live on her own. With nowhere else to go, and against his better judgment Cole takes her in. But helping her out won’t be easy. He comforts her through screaming nightmares and escaping the lingering fears of her past, but that’s the easy part. Her preference to sleep cuddled up next to his warm body, and her desire to please him in every way makes her harder and harder to resist.
Cole listened to the soft sounds of her breathing, wondering how he’d allowed himself to get into this situation. He was not a cuddler. Yet there he was, his arm numb and asleep where it rested under Savannah’s cheek. She had no problem staking her claim and getting comfortable in his bed, even if that meant using his various body parts as a pillow. Her favorites seemed to be his chest or shoulder. Though right now, his bicep was a close third.
He didn’t want to move her, didn’t want to rouse her from sleep. He’d promised her she’d be okay and found himself unable to break that promise in any form. If she needed to be close to another warm body while she slept, what hardship was it for him? Other than the awkward erection and numb arm—he’d live. She sighed contentedly and rolled in closer, throwing one leg over his hip which did nothing to help the blood flow racing south.
He knew if he crossed that physical boundary with Savannah he wouldn’t be the gentle lover she deserved. The overwhelming feeling of want she stirred within him wouldn’t allow for that. He’d f**k her hard and fast. And since he was pretty sure she was still a virgin, she deserved someone who would be careful, soft, and take his time. Another reason why he wasn’t the man for the job. Cole shifted her knee to relieve the pressure of her warm thigh against his groin and tried to relax.
During times like this his mind often wandered and he couldn’t help but remember the first time he’d laid eyes on her. She’d been a startled little thing, huddled in the corner, watching him with wide eyes. Even then she’d roused in him all kinds of protective instincts, made the alpha male inside him come out in a big way. And if his current cuddling status was any indication, she still did. He tightened his grip around her unconsciously drawing her nearer. Even if he couldn’t act on the desire he felt for the woman in his bed, he sure as f**k wouldn’t let anyone hurt her.
Savannah squirmed in her sleep, murmuring lightly. He brought his free hand to her hair, sweeping the tousled strands from her forehead to quiet her. She was too vulnerable, too damaged, which was exactly why he needed to stop thinking with his dick. Pronto.
What a cluster fuck. Cole had seen some messed up things in his day, but the scene before him took the cake.
A stream of people fled through the front doors and others jumped from the first floor windows of the large grey compound. Then again, what had he expected when his squad gassed the place?
After waiting for the fumes to clear, and most of the bodies to filter out, he ran toward the building, rain pelting his jacket. He ducked through the door and removed his gas mask taking a tentative breath to test the air around him. There was only a slight tingle in his throat. It would do. He didn’t plan on hanging out in the front area where the canister had crashed through the window anyway. His goal was to seek out the back rooms and find anyone still lingering inside. And bonus points if he found the cult’s leader, Jacob, before his commander did. If Jacob was guilty of even half the crimes they had him on, Cole wouldn’t mind punching the guy square in the jaw.
Jacob was a certified whackjob. He claimed to be a spiritual healer, and had about forty people swallowing his bullshit. When the FBI learned this morning of his plans to lead his followers in a suicide mission, they’d moved fast, warrant be damned. So far, it appeared they’d made it in time.
Cole adjusted the strap of his rifle and treaded along the hallway. He turned the corner, the lighting dim from the lack of windows, and listened for any sounds. Dead silence. Hearing nothing to indicate a threat, he entered the room on his right.
A young woman was huddled in the corner of the bedroom. She sat slumped against the wall, knees hugged to her chest. Her breath came in quick shallow gasps.
For a long second, Cole couldn’t move, couldn’t think. Something about this woman captivated his attention. Eyes, the color of emeralds, stared up at him in fear and confusion. Trembling hands hugged her legs tight to her chest. Unshed tears burned in that brilliant green gaze.
Snapping out of his daze, Cole stepped closer. The woman flinched and shrank back against the wall. She was shaking uncontrollably but her eyes followed his movements. He scanned the bedroom, checking for other victims or threats, but found only several bunk beds, clothes strewn across the floor, and a crib in the corner. Once the room was secure, Cole lowered his gun.
Procedure dictated he shout his command before taking action. But his gut told him a different tactic might be required.
“What’s your name?” he asked, gazing down at her petite form.
“S-Savannah,” she stammered, her voice raspy.
He pulled in a deep lungful of air and crossed the room, his boots thudding against the tiled floor. She pressed back hard against the wall, watching him approach. He slung the rifle’s strap over his shoulder, letting the weapon hang free and lifted his hands—palms out, fingers splayed—facing her. “It’s okay. I’m here to help.”
She watched him with wide eyes that held a flicker of curiosity. Though she remained hunkered down, she lifted her chin as he approached.
He considered helping her up, but he instinctively knew her hands would remain tightly locked in her lap.
He had two choices: pick her up and carry her out, or win over her trust. Trust took time. Making a split second decision, he crouched down and lifted her, securing one arm behind her knees, the other around her waist. A startled gasp escaped her throat, but as soon as Savannah was in his arms her body relaxed. She rested her head against his shoulder and let out a deep sigh, as if she’d been carrying around some great burden and was suddenly free now that she was in his arms. She laced her fingers behind his neck and buried her face in his chest, like it was the most natural thing in the world. Momentarily stunned by her warm body wrapped around his, it took him a moment to get his feet moving.
He carried her through the building, catching surprised glances from the other agents as he held her tightly to his chest, crossing through the emptying rooms. She sank into him, into his protection and that measure of complete trust and surrender twisted something inside Cole, invoking a feeling he’d never encountered until now.
“Found a girlfriend back there, Fletcher?” one of the guys said, followed by a wave of laughter.
Normally, he’d snap back a retort, but he couldn’t focus on much with her locked in his embrace. The fragrant waves of dark hair spilling over her shoulders, the soft curves of her body molding to his hard chest was more than a little distracting.
When they entered the front room, Savannah finally spoke. “You can set me down now.” Her breath was warm against his neck and it sent a tingling rush down his spine.
He lowered her feet to the floor, suddenly finding himself reluctant to let her go. She looked at him and blinked twice, her mouth opening to draw in a shuddering breath. He felt just as speechless. Emotions he’d thought long dead stirred within him.
She turned and strode toward the few people still left in the building—a small group of children lined up against the far wall, looking bewildered.
It was no big shocker that a group of male agents were clueless as to what to do with the littlest victims. At least they had enough sense to bring them inside out of the rain while they waited for the vans to arrive.
Savannah kneeled before the children and spoke to them in a hushed voice. Whatever she said had the power to calm them. Several of the older kids swiped at tears and fixed on brave faces. The littlest one, a toddler with blonde, curls crawled onto her lap.
At first Cole had been solely focused on the mission—to capture Jacob—but now he wondered what would happen to the women and children. Well, mainly the young woman, Savannah.
When the vans arrived, he watched her help the children fashion capes out of discarded blankets to shield them from the rain. Then she paraded them outside to the waiting vehicles.
The unfamiliar sting of worry pierced his chest. This was the only home they knew, and it was now the center of an FBI investigation. They’d been literally cast out into the cold. He shook the thought away. Damn. He must be going soft. This was the same kind of thing he’d counseled junior agents on—never get emotionally involved in a case. It was a mind f**k waiting to happen. But watching Savannah walk away, her shapely backside and legs encased in a pair of jeans, damp hair hanging down her back, he knew better than to pretend he wasn’t affected. Damn it.
As Cole stood in the doorway, the cold air snatched his breath away instantly, forcing him to pull the edges of his jacket tighter. He couldn’t help thinking about her lush, soft curves and how she’d felt in his arms. Wanting her was a powerful, primal need, an instinctive response, and one he hadn’t experienced in a long time. The difference was he’d never act on it.
Hell, he was willing to bet he’d never even see her again. And that was for the best.
Cole didn’t count on the woman appearing in his dreams. For the past several nights, she’d played a starring role. Though each dream contained a different scenario, they were all a variation of the actual take-down. Only in his dreams he’d spoken to her, made her laugh. He’d calmed her worries, and eased that little line that creased her forehead. Then he’d leaned in close to inhale the scent of her hair, carried her to his SUV, and tucked her safely inside. He woke each morning cursing himself out. He didn’t get to keep her. But damn if his subconscious knew it, uncooperative prick that it was.
Now in the office, sitting at his desk with the sunlight streaming through the cheap blinds, dotting his computer screen with flecks of light, Cole scrubbed a hand across his stubbly jaw. The case that had consumed much of his time over the past month had come to an unsatisfying conclusion. Jacob had been found dead in an out-building adjacent to the compound, of an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound. From the Bureau’s standpoint, the case was all but closed. But Cole had spent the last several days milling through the mountains of files they’d accumulated on the group, making sure everything was done correctly He kept finding himself stuck on details that might somehow relate to Savannah. Then he gave up trying to be sly, and read every single note they had on her. She was nineteen and had joined the group with her mother when she was just seven years old. Her mother, believed to have been one of Jacob’s lovers, passed away when Savannah was fifteen. Savannah had been living with the group in the compound just outside of Dallas ever since. That God damn cult was all she’d ever known.
Cole knew that all of the children, fourteen of them under the age of eighteen, had been taken into Child Protective Services. He had no idea what would become of those of legal age. He supposed once they were brought in for questioning and their statements taken, many of them would be free to go.
Gulping weak coffee from a paper cup, it took him a moment to realize his boss was standing in front of his desk.
“You look like shit, Fletcher.”
Cole didn’t bother explaining he hadn’t been sleeping well, preferring not to get in a conversation about exactly why that was the mysterious girl he’d rescued from the compound still clouding his thoughts even in his sleep—knowing that excuse wouldn’t go over well with Norman.
Cole rubbed a hand across the back of his neck. “Thanks,” he muttered.
“You need a break, Cole. You’ve been working eighty-hour weeks nonstop the past few months. Now that this case is over, I’m not assigning you to another until you take some time off.”
“What are you talking about, a leave of absence?” Cole had heard of other guys messing up and getting forced into a leave, if only to make an example of them. But as far as he knew, he hadn’t f**ked anything up, at least not lately, and he was in line for a promotion at his next review cycle.
“No, like a vacation.” Norm’s stern gaze met Cole’s confused one. “You’ve heard of a vacation, right?”
Cole almost laughed, and would have, had he not been pissed at where this conversation was headed. It was the exact same conversation he’d had with his meddling older sister, Marissa, just a few days before. When she’d stopped by last weekend and seen the dark circles under his eyes, she’d challenged him on when he’d last taken time off. The truth was he’d never purposefully taken time off work. He wouldn’t know what to do with himself. The one and only time he’d taken some personal days was the standard bereavement leave when his parents were killed six years ago.
Norm was still staring down at him expectantly. “I checked with HR, and they told me you’ve never taken a single vacation day in six years with the Bureau.”
No shit. And for good reason. He’d be bored as hell in two hours. “And what exactly do you expect me to do?”
“How the hell should I know? Do whatever it is people do when they have time off work.”
“Thanks, but I’m actually good. Just give me another case, Norm.”
“This is non-negotiable.”
He wasn’t averse to taking on Norm, but he wasn’t stupid enough to argue with him when that vein in his forehead was throbbing.
Cole stood, knowing it’d be pointless to press the issue, and scooped up the files from his desk. He’d just work from home. Norm cracked a sideways grin and pulled the files from his hands.