Cole continued watching her with a puzzled expression, but she couldn’t tell if he was glad to hear that or not. A little bit of both, it seemed. “How have things been going with Dr. White? Do you feel like you’re making progress?”
She nodded. “Yes, it’s helping quite a bit. We’re talking about things I haven’t talked to anyone about before—things in my past. And we talk about my future, too.”
That word seemed to spark his curiosity. “What do you want in your future, Savannah?”
She wanted what all women wanted: to belong, to be loved, to find a partner in life. Her therapist coaxed her into talking about her long buried feelings, and what she wanted. Now that she’d accepted it, the thoughts occupied a large section of her brain. And there was no separating those thoughts from thoughts of Cole. He’d stuck by her, taken care of her every need, and had never tried to take advantage. She knew better than to rely on someone she didn’t know, but she’d been so helpless, so lost, she hadn’t had a choice. And Cole had earned her trust and respect, something she didn’t give out easily.
It was in this same conversation that Dr. White surprised her by asking if Cole had expressed a romantic interest in her, if he’d indicated he wanted something more than friendship. She’d said no. There had been nothing inappropriate in Cole’s behavior towards her, and nothing that indicated he wanted more. But ever since that seed had been planted in her mind, she wondered why Cole hadn’t. She studied her body in the mirror, wondering if she was attractive enough for him, and why he hadn’t noticed her. She’d daydreamed about how he looked without his shirt. She was undeniably curious about his body, what it would be like to touch him, to have him touch her. She’d never been so interested in a man before, yet she couldn’t deny her growing feelings for him.
Before Savannah could answer Cole’s question, the waitress delivered their plates. The amount of food was way too much for two people. They would certainly be taking home leftovers, but Savannah enjoyed as much as she could until she was almost uncomfortably full.
After dinner, Cole walked her outside, tucking her inside his SUV. He leaned close and whispered. “You still have to answer the question, Savannah.”
Her skin broke out in chill bumps and she merely nodded. The entire ride home she wondered if maybe—just maybe—he thought about the same things she did. The two of them together. Really together, not just stepping around each other in his condo. But neither of them spoke of the future for the rest of the night.
They watched TV on the couch until Savannah fell asleep. Cole carried her to bed, and just to see how far he’d let things go, she changed in his room, rather than her own. In the dimly lit room, she peeled off her jeans, then with her back to him she removed her sweater and bra. She could feel his eyes on her bare skin — her back, her bottom, clad in just the little white cotton panties he’d gotten for her. She could hear his breathing quicken and feel the electricity flowing between them. She wished she was brave enough to turn to him, to ask him to touch her, to kiss her, but of course she wasn’t. She pulled one of his T-shirts over her head before turning to face him. His gaze was intense, burning into hers. His eyes travelled down from her face to her bare legs, the T-shirt hitting the tops of her thighs.
“Get covered up,” he said, his voice rough.
Savannah’s first thought was that he was mad, until she realized the roughness in his voice, his burning gaze weren’t due to anger, but desire. She barely contained a whimper at the realization, but did as he commanded and crawled into bed, pulling the sheet over her legs.
Cole joined her in bed. She reached for him, wanting to be closer, to tangle her legs with his, to hear him sooth her with gentle words like he did most nights, but he rolled away from her and whispered, “Not tonight, Savannah.”
His words erected a wall between them, and though they shared a bed, she wondered if they’d ever share more.
Saturday morning Marissa stormed past Cole without waiting for an invitation to enter the apartment. He’d been dodging her calls and avoiding her requests to come over for weeks — which was unusual. Typically where his sister was concerned, Cole did pretty much whatever she wanted.
“Where are they?” she asked sternly, brushing past him.
“Where are what?”
“The dead bodies.” She bypassed the kitchen, stepping down into the living room and looking around.
“The what?” Cole trailed after her, nervously glancing at the doorway to Savannah’s room, where he was pretty sure she was hiding out.
“Or the prostitutes. Whatever it is you’re hiding from me. God, I really should have encouraged you to date more. I worry about you, you know.”
He chuckled. “Well, as you can see, there are no dead bodies — no prostitutes. Everything’s fine, Rissa.” It was the nickname he given her when he was three and couldn’t pronounce Marissa. And to her dismay, it had stuck for over twenty years.
A noise from the guest room grabbed her attention. “What was that?”
Cole shifted uncomfortably and swore under his breath as Marissa started toward the room. He had no idea how to explain Savannah.
“Cole, did my timer go off?” Savannah emerged from the bedroom, wiping her hands on the apron fastened around her waist and headed for the kitchen. “Oh. Hi.” She stopped suddenly, facing Marissa.
Marissa frowned, looking between Cole and Savannah and finally turned to him. “Who is this?”
“This is…ah…” Cole stammered.
Savannah stepped forward, offering Marissa her hand. “I’m Savannah. Cole’s new cook.”
“Cook?” Marissa’s face was full of doubt.
“Yes.” Savannah’s gaze remained impassive. She didn’t seem nearly as rattled as Cole felt. But he supposed it was at least in part true. Savannah was his cook… sort of. “I take it you’re his sister?” Savannah asked, wringing her hands in the apron.
Marissa nodded, watching Savannah curiously.
“Well, it’s nice to meet you. If you’ll excuse me I just need to take these scones from the oven.”
“You made scones?”
“From scratch?” Marissa’s eyebrows lifted.
“I don’t suppose I’ve ever had a homemade scone,” Marissa commented under her breath.
“Would you like one?”
“No, I wouldn’t like one. I’d freakin’ love one!”
Cole chuckled, watching the two women in the kitchen, Savannah removing the baking sheet from the oven while Marissa looked over her shoulder in astonishment at the lumpy scones. She was a sucker for baked goods just as much as he was.
Savannah served coffee and warm raspberry scones before scurrying off for her bedroom again. She might have shown courage in meeting Marissa, but Cole knew she wouldn’t be comfortable engaging in small talk or answering questions about herself. Getting her to open up was a slow process.
Marissa’s grin was as wide and suspicious as a damn Cheshire cat’s. “So she’s your cook, huh?” She made a point of craning her neck to look down the hall and towards the bedroom where Savannah had disappeared. “Live-in cook?”
Cole managed not to spill his coffee, setting the mug down with shaky hands. “Yeah, cook, and ah, housekeeper.”
Marissa broke off a small bite of the scone and popped it in her mouth. “Oh my God. These are amazing.”
Cole relaxed into his seat. Savannah was an amazing cook, which lent a certain amount of credibility to their story.
“So is she why you’ve been hiding out?”
“I haven’t been hiding, Marissa. Just busy is all.”
Pulling something over on Marissa was near impossible. He knew from personal experience — she’d discovered his p*rn stash when he was fourteen, his pot when he was sixteen and of course both times she’d turned him in to their parents. She’d always been like a second mother to him, despite being only three years older.
They continued with small talk, Marissa complaining about her latest dating mishap — a blind date she’d met online who’d handed her his resume and the results of his recent physical on their first date. “I swear I attract the strangest men.”
Cole grunted a response. He found that if he occasionally nodded in agreement, their conversations went smoother.
“Can I use your bathroom?”
Cole perked up. “Ah, yeah, just use the one in my room. I’m not sure where Savannah is.”
“Kay.” Marissa sauntered off towards his room.
She was back a minute later, her face alight with playful suspicion. “Cook and housekeeper huh?”
Cole’s brow furrowed. “What?”
“And that’s why her panties are on the floor in your bathroom.”
Fuck. Cole had forgotten that she’d taken a bath in his Jacuzzi tub that morning. She’d left behind a tiny pair of pink panties lying on the bath mat, which he’d stood and stared at for a good ten minutes, unsure what to do with. He’d ultimately left them there, thinking maybe she’d come back for them.
Cole stalked from the room, grabbing the panties from where they lay on the floor and stuffed them into the bathroom drawer. Dammit. He would not have Marissa making a big deal about this. He didn’t want Savannah embarrassed, or worse, ashamed. She hadn’t done anything wrong. But he knew that sooner or later, Marissa would figure out the truth – well maybe not the actual truth – that Savannah was a refugee from the cult, but most likely she’d come to the conclusion that they were dating and then pepper Savannah with questions. He couldn’t let that happen.
Returning to the living room, he pulled Marissa aside. “Listen. She’s not my cook, or my housekeeper.”
Her mouth curled into a grin. “No shit. Well it’s about freaking time you started dating someone! How am I ever going to be an auntie if you don’t find a girl? I mean, I want kids of my own, but you know the next best thing would be…”
“Stop.” Cole held a hand up. “She’s not my girlfriend, either. Savannah’s only nineteen.”
Marissa’s hands flew to her hips. “Damn. A little young, don’t you think? And if you haven’t forgotten, your date with my friend Sali is next weekend. I want to make sure you’re not involved with another woman. Girl. Whatever.”
“Listen, I’ll explain everything to you, but I need you to trust me.”
Her gaze softened. “I do trust you, Colby. You know that.”
He nodded. “Then come sit down.” He led her to the sofa and settled in across from her.
Thankfully, he didn’t have to worry about Savannah overhearing, because just then she emerged from her room, saying she needed to take Cuddles outside. Marissa, of course, had to meet Cuddles, which resulted in lots of baby talk and snuggling the little beast. Cole made himself scarce, pouring them another cup of coffee and grabbing more scones.
Once Savannah was outside, Cole explained the whole story about finding Savannah at the compound, rescuing her from that crappy halfway house and that she’d been living with him for three weeks in secret. He knew the Bureau would freak if they knew, but he didn’t have it in him to send her away. He left out the part about Savannah invading his brain at pretty much every waking hour, making it hard to concentrate at work, the gym, and especially at home.
Marissa remained silent while he spoke, nodding and looking concerned. “Wow. That’s quite a story. Tell me the truth, Cole, are you two… lovers?” She swallowed roughly.
Cole knew the wrong answer would earn him a thump upside the head, but he answered truthfully —that he hadn’t so much as touched her. Not sexually at least.
“Good. She’s too young for you.”
“And too damaged,” Cole pointed out. “She sees a therapist though and seems to be doing better.”
“And the dog?”
“Her therapist’s idea. Animal therapy or something like that.”
“Hmpf.” Marissa nodded. “Are you sure you know what you’re doing Colby?”
“Well don’t forget about the date with Sali. You’re still going, right?”
“Course.” Crap. He’d hoped to get out of that. “I’ll go on the date—if you’ll do me a favor.” Cole turned on his best pretty please for your little brother smile. “Take Savannah shopping?” He fished his credit card from his pocket and handed it to her. “She needs clothes, shoes—she needs pretty much everything.”
She jerked the card from his hand with a grin. “Now that I can do.”
Savanna returned a few minutes later with Cuddles nestled in her arms like she was the damn thing’s personal throne. He resisted the urge to roll his eyes, and eased the dog out of her grasp. “I’ll watch Cuddles. I want you to go with Marissa to buy some new clothes, and whatever else you need, okay?”
She studied his expression for just a second before her face broke out in a huge grin. “Okay.” She lifted on her toes and planted a kiss to his cheek. “Thank you.”
“Go on now,” he managed.
Once Savannah and Marissa were gone Cole was drawn like a magnet back into his master bath. He pulled open the drawer containing Savannah’s panties and stared down at the small piece of illicit fabric. Pale pink lace panties. He would have taken Savannah for more of a white cotton briefs kind of girl. He held them up to inspect. They were high cut, likely showing off generous portions of her perfect ass. Da-mn. He tossed the panties onto the vanity and turned on the shower.
As steamy vapors lazily drifted toward the ceiling, he couldn’t resist any longer. He brought the panties to his nose and inhaled the pungent feminine aroma. His c*ck jumped at the scent. He’d been fantasizing about Savannah for far too long and if he didn’t get some relief soon he was going to combust.