“Savannah, I have to go out for a little while. Will you be okay?”
Savannah crossed her arms over her chest and watched as he slipped on a pair of well-worn loafers. “Of course. I’ll be fine.”
“I won’t be gone long.”
She glanced around the quiet, empty apartment with a frown. Cole knew it probably wasn’t possible for her to feel at home in his stark bachelor pad. She was accustomed to the noise and constant company of living with forty people. The silence stretched between them, and they each refused to break eye contact. He was glad she hadn’t asked where he was going. He wouldn’t enjoy lying to her. “I’ll only be gone an hour or so.”
Once outside, the sunlight was too bright, casting an overly cheery halo for the occasion. The drive only took ten minutes and Cole parked in front of the building, a familiar knot of uneasiness settling in the pit of his stomach. He always felt dirty when he arrived here, but knew by the time he left, it would be with the relief he craved — however short-lived.
When he returned that afternoon, Cole found Savannah in her bedroom with clothes covering her bed and Cuddles perched on a pillow to supervise. “What are you doing?”
Savannah glanced up but continued her task. “Just picking out an outfit for our date. I mean my date with Levi tonight.”
She still wanted to go on the date with Levi? Even after he’d touched her? If he thought it had changed anything between them, he was wrong. It was strange to realize, but he supposed she’d needed the physical release just like he had. Simple as that. “Is this what you want, Savannah?”
She studied him for a moment, abandoning the stack of jeans and leggings. “Marissa thought it would be good for me — I’ve never been on a date before.”
Oh, if Marissa thought it was okay. Damn meddling Marissa. Though he supposed it was good for her to do things any normal nineteen year-old-girl would do. He nodded his okay.
The remainder of the afternoon passed with as little talking as possible. If he could have taken to grunting and pointing, he would have. If Savannah didn’t acknowledge what happened between them, he wouldn’t either. She must have been more drunk than she’d let on that night. It was a mistake to touch her like he had, to take advantage. It wouldn’t happen again, no matter his dick’s insistent pleas every time she was near.
Later they met Levi and Deb, his overly sexed mom, in their apartment for a drink before their dinner date. Deb greeted him with a kiss on both cheeks and a squeeze on his ass. He knew he would to be batting her hands off him all night. Not that he really minded a squeeze here or there, he just didn’t want to put Savannah in an awkward position. Because he sure as shit wasn’t going to be okay with Levi’s hands all over Savannah. Just the thought sent Cole’s mood south. Levi was her age; Cole should be happy if they hit it off. But the thought of another man touching her made him shudder.
Levi looked Savannah up and down, and Cole cursed his sister yet again for the provocative little outfits she’d picked out. He didn’t expect his sister to buy such sexy clothes for Savannah. And fragrant body washes and lotions—his damn bathroom smelled like a girl. He wasn’t used to that. Although upon more closely inspecting her, dressed in dark skinny jeans and a turquoise silk blouse that billowed out from her trim figure, he supposed it wasn’t all that provocative. It was just Savannah. She was gorgeous. She’d still be gorgeous if she was dressed in a burlap sack.
Savannah fidgeted, tugging on the hem of her top under Levi’s inspection. Cole had no doubt that she was unaware of her beauty, the power she held over men. But she’d blossomed like a flower into a beautiful young woman, and he hated that no one had told her that.
Deb was overly made up — wearing a skin tight black dress that barely covered her ass and heels so tall she teetered when she walked. She was trying way too hard. After greetings were exchanged, and Deb had fawned over how pretty Savannah was, they were led into the kitchen.
“What can I get you guys? I have beer, wine…”
“Savannah’s not twenty-one,” Cole pointed out.
Deb waved him off. “Oh relax, we’re all going to have a little fun tonight.” Deb handed Savannah a glass of blush-colored wine. “You always this uptight?” she asked, handing Cole a beer. “We’ll have to work on that.”
“You remember I work for law enforcement, right?”
Deb chuckled, shaking her head and dismissing his comment. Savannah looked down and accepted the wine, but Cole could see the hint of a grin on her face.
He sipped his beer in silence, his eyes following Savannah’s movements. She told Deb all about Cuddles and her recent shopping spree with Marissa. Poor Levi had no idea how to get himself into their conversation, and Cole wasn’t about to help him. Bastard. He just sat back and enjoyed listening to Savannah. She grew more comfortable, a little more confident with each passing day, her face lighting up as she spoke.
After their drinks, they headed down the parking garage. Cole’s Tahoe was large enough for them to ride together. Just before they reached the car, Savannah leaned in close to his ear. “Are you going to invite Deb over later?”
He turned to study her. “No. I won’t do that again, Savannah. It’ll be just you and me tonight.”
Her shoulders visibly relaxed, and she climbed into the backseat with Levi. Cole was thankful that he could keep an eye on things from the rearview mirror, and he noticed Savannah catching his gaze more than once.
They ate at a Mexican restaurant, the four of them squeezed into a booth. He had to hand it to Levi; he’d opened doors and been attentive and kind to Savannah so far. Which was too bad, because Cole was just waiting for the chance to haul off and kick his ass. Though he supposed if he did that, he’d get an earful from Marissa about ruining Savannah’s first date. As long as Levi didn’t cross the line, he had nothing to worry about.
They dined on tacos, guacamole, and salsa. Deb had ordered a pitcher of margarita’s and pushed glass of the icy mixture toward. Savannah. After a few sips she was giggling more than he’d ever seen and knew the tequila was getting to her. Levi used the opportunity to sidle up closer to her. Cole kept one eye on her while he ate, and found that her gaze caught his every few seconds as well.
His watchful eyes settled on hers, calming her, providing confidence. She tried to pay attention to Levi, she did, but Cole, trying to delicately eat his grilled shrimp tacos, was too distracting. She’d never really known it was important, but she found herself noticing and appreciating Cole’s good table manners. Levi, in comparison, seemed like he was competing for a speed eating title, cramming a large burrito in his mouth and trying to engage her in conversation at the same time. Cole took his time, pausing to participate in a conversation with Deb, dabbing his mouth with a napkin. Savannah wasn’t sure why, but seeing Cole outside of his home was fascinating to her.
Deb leaned close to Cole, stealing a tortilla chip from his plate. She leaned in a second time, grazed his neck and told him he smelled good.
Mine. The thought jumped into her mind, unbidden. Savannah tried to focus on her food , but her mind kept wandering to later when she would have Cole all to herself. She wondered if they’d have a repeat of last night. She couldn’t stop her gaze from admiring his mouth, remembering how soft it’d felt against hers.
By the end of the meal, Cole was ready to get out of there. Between fighting off Deb and watching after Savannah, he was on edge. He’d never had a table piss him off so bad, but he couldn’t see where the f**k Levi’s hands were. And the beginning of a headache was piercing his temple.
He paid the bill for the table and stood. “Ready?”
Deb huffed and slugged back the rest of her margarita. “Fine.”
Once they got home, he walked through the hall with Deb, ahead of Savannah and Levi, allowing them some semblance of privacy before he took her home. Which he would be doing. He would not stand by and watch Levi try to muscle his way in. Over his dead body.
Once they were finally alone, Cole closed the door while Savannah picked up Cuddles and buried her face in her fur, murmuring baby talk. Cole stood there with a smirk, watching her. Savannah froze, then lowered Cuddles to the ground. His gaze was heavy, and the air crackled between them with the same intensity as last night. He wondered if she was remembering the way he devoured her, flicking his tongue across her swollen pink flesh.
He muttered something about taking Cuddles out for her, and he grabbed the dog to keep from grabbing Savannah. When he came back inside, Savannah had changed into a pair of his sweatpants and a baggy T-shirt and was lying on the couch curled up in a ball, hugging a pillow between her knees.
“My stomach…” she groaned.
“Is it something you ate? Maybe the Mexican food didn’t agree with you.”
“No. It’s not that. I think it’s cramps.”
“Cramps?” Oh. Cramps.
He stared at her for a few minutes, wondering what he could do to ease her discomfort, but for once he was totally out of his league. He pulled his cell from his pocket and dialed Marissa, ducking into the bedroom. “Hey Rissa.”
“Hey there. You guys go on your double date tonight?”
“Yeah. That worked out fine; but listen, I need your advice. Savannah’s lying on the couch and says she has cramps. I thought maybe it was the Mexican food, but she says it’s not that.”
Marissa laughed. “She has cramps — like PMS. She’s probably going to start her period, Cole. How long has she been staying with you?”
“About a month.”
“That’s what I thought. Okay, here’s what you’re going to do. First, I put some pads and tampons in her bathroom, so make sure she knows they’re there.”
Cole listened, pacing his room as Marissa used words like heating pad, ibuprofen, warm bath, chick flick and ice cream.
“You got all that?”
“Not really,” he admitted.
“Be nice to her Cole. Being a woman sucks this time of month.”
“Dammit Marissa. No. You talk to her.”
She laughed again. “Nope. You can handle this.”
“Marissa…” his warning fell on deaf ears as the phone line went dead. “Dammit all to hell.” He tossed the phone on his bed.
Cole gathered all the supplies and dumped it all on the coffee table in front of her. “Here. Pain reliever, bottled water, a heating pad, uh…these things.” He pushed the boxes of tampons and pads toward her. “That should cover it.” He stood and backed away from her as though she was a wild and unpredictable animal.
Her eyes scanned the pile of supplies on the table. “What’s all this?”
“For your…situation,” he mumbled, rubbing the back of this neck.
“Oh, thanks. You didn’t have to do that, Cole.”
His posture softened. “It’s fine. And I’m going to run you a warm bath; Marissa said it would help.”
“You called Marissa?”
“Oh.” Her wide eyes followed him from the room.
He filled his large jetted tub with water and a squirt of his body wash to make bubbles. Savannah joined him in the bathroom a few minutes later, watching as he tested the temperature of the water and set out a fresh towel on the counter.
“Thank you.” She planted a damp kiss against his cheek.
He stood stock still as Savannah slipped off the sweatpants and then her panties. Cole turned to give her some privacy as her hands went to the hem of her shirt, but even facing the other direction, her reflection was in full view in the large mirror. She kept her eyes locked on his as she stripped off the shirt, and then her bra, letting all the clothes fall on the floor.
He was secretly glad she had cramps; it meant he wouldn’t touch her tonight, as much as he wanted to. But she was undressing in front of him like she had no concept of how little control he had when it came to her.
Savannah stepped carefully into the tub and lowered herself into the water until she was submerged up to her shoulders.
Cole’s feet had refused to budge as he watched her undress, but now that she was settled in the water, with her eyes closed and a look of bliss on her face, he felt like he was intruding. He let out a deep sigh of pent up frustration and left Savannah alone to relax.
Cole lay in bed that night with Savannah’s warm body cuddled against him and stared up at the ceiling. They couldn’t keep living this way. He knew that, yet he didn’t want to change a thing. He had Savannah here, safe with him, but he knew he was holding her back. She needed someone to help her experience all life had to offer, to help her grow, not someone who wanted to keep her all to himself. Savannah’s breathing hitched and she curled her body tighter around his. He wondered if she still had cramps, and absently rubbed a hand across her lower back, kneading the tight muscles.
Cole made a decision then and there. If he was selfish enough to keep Savannah, he would help her live life, give her all the experiences she never had. He knew that if he really wanted to help her, that meant preparing her to be able to live on her own. And eventually provide for herself, even if he didn’t like the idea of her leaving. He wanted her to have the option. Cole closed his eyes and let out a deep breath, relaxing into Savannah’s warm embrace and feeling confident that somehow this would all work out.
Cole woke with a start in the darkened room. He glanced at the clock. Two in the morning. He scrubbed a hand across his face and glanced at Savannah. She slept peacefully beside him. It had been over eight months since he’d had one of those nightmares. But the girl that he hadn’t been able to save had filtered back into his subconscious, probably provoked by Savannah’s rescue. The dreams weren’t enough to force him into taking the prescription anti-anxiety pills in his bathroom cabinet, but they were enough to keep him on edge about growing too cozy with Savannah. He needed to stay focused on his job, and that included helping Savannah get on her feet. Nothing more.