“Thanking you for tearing apart the only family I knew? For bringing me here where I can do nothing but sit and worry and reflect on everything I lost?” A silent tear skittered down her cheek before the back of her hand caught it.
“I had to get you out of there, and I don’t regret bringing you here either.” He sighed. “I know there must be things…people you miss.”
She swallowed a lump in her throat, a new rush of emotion washing over her. “I was this close to having Calista potty trained.” She held her fingers an inch apart. She missed that feisty two-year-old with a mass of untamed blond curls. “She called me Vannah since she couldn’t say my name. And Melody, the oldest member, was my only source of sanity. She was the only one who could get Jacob to see reason. Her blackberry pie was my favorite. I had this theory that her pie alone could solve most of the world’s problems.”
Cole smiled and took her hand. “I remember reading about Melody in the case file. She’s living with her adult daughter in Denver now.”
Savannah’s heart jumped in her chest. Melody and her daughter had a falling out years ago. She was happy to hear they were reunited. She knew everyone was going on with their lives, and she needed to as well. But it was just so hard. She hated not knowing what would come next for her and Cole.
She stared defiantly at him, urging him to say something, anything that might explain what was happening between them, but he remained silent, his expression weary and unsure.
At a loss for what to say to comfort Savannah, Cole dropped his gaze and rubbed a hand along the back of his neck. “Go shower. I’ll order out for dinner tonight.” He released her and Savannah stumbled away on seemingly shaky legs —from the yoga workout or from the desire escalating between them, he wasn’t sure.
He took a deep breath, trying to calm his frazzled nerves. If things got any more heated, he’d erupt in flames. He dug out his cell phone and called in an order for Chinese food.
When Cole got in bed that night, Cuddles was sprawled out in the middle. He couldn’t help but wonder if Savannah had placed the dog in bed to create a physical between them. He lifted the sheet and pulled the comforter toward him, being none to gentle about disturbing the dog. Part of him hoped the damn thing would saunter back into its kennel in the guest room where it usually slept. The beast was a little cock-block.
The next few weeks passed by in the same sort of careful avoidance. They continued to sleep together in Cole’s bed each night, but other than the cuddling, nothing physical had happened. Cole was sure Savannah had no idea how badly he wanted her; especially when she walked that fine little panty-clad ass around in front of him, or emerged from his bathroom only wearing a towel, still damp and pink from the shower. It took every ounce of self-control he possessed not to pick her up, strip her of the towel, and pound into her again and again until he came.
The littlest things were starting to set him off and he was pleasuring himself more than he had since he was a teenager Yet it brought little relief to the pent up desire he harbored for her. But he wouldn’t f**k her. She deserved so much more than he was prepared to offer.
Even with the daily temptations, the weeks had passed by quickly. Savannah had graduated from her driving course, and last Saturday he’d taken her to get her license.
After picking out a car for Savannah — a year old silver sedan that he was able to negotiate down in price—Cole signed the paperwork and wrote out a check for the down-payment. The car was nothing fancy, but you wouldn’t know that by looking at Savannah. After finishing up inside, he found her still sitting in the driver’s seat, inspecting every inch of the car — flipping on the headlights, opening and closing the various compartments as if it was the most magnificent thing she’d ever seen.
She peered at Cole as he approached the open driver’s side door. “Do you like it?” he asked, even though it was obvious she did.
“I don’t just like it. This is love.” She ran her hand gently across the dash.
“Good. Because you’ve got to drive it home.”
Her eyes filled with gratitude and she nodded. “Can we stop on the way home and go out to lunch? Sort of a mini celebration?”
Cole glanced at his watch. “Actually…I have somewhere I need to go.”
She frowned and fiddled with the keys. “Oh, right…it’s Sunday.”
He nodded wordlessly, his mouth going dry. He’d been waiting for her to ask about where he went every Sunday, but so far she hadn’t. And there was no way he was offering that information up voluntarily. Savannah didn’t say anything else; she just pulled the door closed of her little silver sedan and started the engine.
Cole climbed into his SUV and adjusted his rear-view mirror so he could look back at Savannah. She looked so small sitting in the car, her head poking above the steering wheel. A pang of nervous panic hit him like a wave. He would figure all this out. He had to. But first he needed to go see his ex. He gripped the steering wheel and left the parking lot.
Savannah slipped out of bed, leaving Cole to sleep a little longer. He looked so at ease when he slept, so carefree, she couldn’t bring herself to wake him even though he was already running late for work.
She made coffee and scrambled eggs, adding a palmful of shredded cheese they way he liked it. Just as the toast popped from the toaster, Cole emerged from the bedroom, his hair rumpled like a little boy’s. It did funny things to Savannah’s stomach. She wanted to rake her hands through that hair, and plant a kiss on his mouth. Instead she stood there watching him.
“Why didn’t you wake me?” he asked, running a hand across his hair, though his attempt at smoothing it was pointless. Eight hours of sleep had styled it for him. None of his attempts would change that.
“I was about to. Breakfast is ready.”
He settled in at a bar stool while Savannah poured him a cup of coffee and placed the steaming mug in front of him.
“Thanks,” he mumbled.
She knew from experience he’d be worthless until he had drank at least half a cup. She took her time plating his breakfast, allowing him to enjoy his coffee in silence. He placed he napkin across his lap and met Savannah’s eyes as she set the plate down in front of him.
“You’re welcome.” She busied her hands, adding some eggs to her own plate before joining him at the island. She could smell his manly scent — a mix of his spicy aftershave, a hint of soap and something else that was uniquely Cole. She hated the way it made her belly flutter and her fingers stumble over her task. But she managed to lower her plate to the counter successfully and settled on the stool next to him.
They ate in silence and Savannah was grateful. Cole was introspective and quiet, and it was times like this she found herself wondering what else she didn’t know about this man. Her mind drifted to Cole’s disappearances on Sunday afternoons. She was curious, but she hadn’t come right out and asked him. She was grateful for Cole and everything he’d done for her. Somehow she knew he would tell her eventually, when he was ready. Until then, she would force that from her mind and move forward with her life. She wouldn’t bombard Cole with questions, not when he’d been so gentle and careful with her past. And she wouldn’t let her past sabotage her chance at a happy future.
After breakfast, Savannah wordlessly scooped Cuddles up into her arms and rocked the puppy silently against her chest. Unwilling in that moment to go to Cole for comfort, like she instinctually wanted to, she instead settled for the sweet puppy’s affections. She wanted Cole to wrap her in his arms and kiss away her pain. But he remained seated at the island, stabbing at his breakfast like he was thinking just as hard as she was.
As badly as Savannah wanted to believe she was healed, whole again, she knew it wasn’t true. She still had occasional nightmares about living at the compound, about Dillon coming after her like he’d promised. And she still dreamed about her mom’s deadly aneurysm, waking teary and shaking. She’d push those thoughts away, burying the ache, and nestle closer into Cole’s arms those nights. That was the past, and she wouldn’t let it hurt her. In her waking hours, her fear was different. So acute she could reach out and touch it. She was afraid of being alone. She wanted Cole to notice her like a man should, take her in his arms, make her feel desired, whole again. But each time she tried to show him what she needed, tempt him by curling her body around his, as if to provide him a hint of what she craved, he’d stiffen as though he was in pain and bark out an excuse to remove her hands. His rejection was slowly ruining her, causing her to wonder why she didn’t fit in anywhere — why she wasn’t wanted.
Perhaps if she could break down his barrier, she could show Cole how good they could be together. It might not change anything, but maybe it would. Maybe he would finally see how much she cared for him and admit he had feelings for her too.
This was a stupid idea.
Cole peeked over at Savannah, wondering if she could sense his anxious mood, but she didn’t seem to suspect a thing. She watched the traffic out the passenger window and hummed along to the radio.
He’d gotten her out of the house on the pretext of taking her out for a birthday lunch. It wasn’t a complete lie. Lunch would be involved, but that wasn’t the focus.
When he parked in front of the roller rink, he glanced at Savannah
She sat up straighter and stared at the building, eyebrows raised in surprise. “Cole?”
Cole hopped out of the truck and opened her door. “Just come on.”
She accepted his hand, letting him pull her from the car. “But what are we doing here?”
“You’ll see.” He pressed his mouth into a line as the overwhelming desire to grin like an idiot struck him. He paid for their admission and led a very wide-eyed and confused Savannah through the skating rink.
The lights inside the rink were dimmed, and flashes of blues and greens sparkled across the polished wood floor, bathing the skaters in color as they whirled by. Pop music drowned out all conversation and kept Savannah quiet as she took in their surroundings. She’d stopped walking to watch a line of skaters fly past her on the way to the rink. Cole grabbed her hand to urge her on. He led Savannah to the back party-room he’d rented. Marissa had coordinated most of the details, but it was his idea to throw her a party. When Marissa mentioned the skating party she had when she was ten, Cole latched on to the idea. He liked that he could give her a childhood experience she’d missed out on, and maybe even teach her to skate. He also thought it was the perfect venue to reunite Savannah with the children she still thought about daily. He didn’t know if Savannah would break down at seeing everyone, but hoped they’d at least be happy tears. He wanted her to enjoy her birthday, not have a sob-fest on his hands. But her hesitation and sudden silence had him wondering if he’d made the right call.
With one hand still holding Savannah’s, he opened the door to the private room. They were greeted by an explosion of pink. Balloons, crepe paper streamers, a happy birthday sign strung from the ceiling, and a platter of pink frosted cupcakes sat on the table.
“Surprise!” A dozen or so voices squealed in unison.
Savannah’s mouth gaped, no sound escaping as she took in the little faces in front of her. Then she dropped to her knees and released an exhale, like she’d been holding her breath for weeks.
The children ran to her, overwhelming her and knocking her back as they climbed into her waiting arms. Savannah’s smile was as big as he’d ever seen it and silent tears leaked from the corners of her eyes.
He knew it was slightly risky tracking down the families with children, sending them an invite to Savannah’s birthday party, but the risk had been worth it — especially seeing Savannah so happy. He’d promised to pay their admission and skate rentals, and almost everyone had agreed to come. Watching their reunion made the cost well worth it.
Once Savannah was freed from the pile on the floor, she launched herself into Cole’s arms, holding him tight, so tight he couldn’t breathe. No words could adequately express how much seeing the children meant to her.
He l gently kissed her temple. “Happy Birthday, Savannah.”
Her mouth curved into a smile and all his fears about this being a dumb idea dissolved away.
They spent the afternoon skating —well, wobbling across the slickened floor in rollerblades, which none of the children or their mothers had used before, and eating pizza and cupcakes. Cole attempted to teach Savannah to skate; a task made more difficult with children wrapped around their legs.
By the end of the day, a rosy-cheeked Savannah said her goodbyes, and exchanged email addresses with several of the women before following Cole to his car. It seemed that today had given her some of the closure she needed — the ability to see with her own eyes that everyone was alive and well. The deep satisfaction glowing on her features was all the thank you Cole needed.
Savannah returned home from her first day of work to find Cole home earlier than usual. and stationed in the kitchen, over a pot of spaghetti.
“Hey there,” he grinned, wiping his hands on a dishtowel before coming to greet her. “How was it?” He tipped her chin up, scrutinizing her expression.
She threw her arms around his midsection, burying her face against his chest. “It was amazing. I was so nervous at first, even to make small talk with the girls that work there, but being with the babies all day, changing diapers, rocking them, giving them bottles, playing…it was so fun!”
Cole rocked back on his heels and smiled at her. “Good.” He tucked a lock of hair behind her ear. “I’m proud of you, Savannah.”
His words did more to sooth her soul than he could have known. No one had ever told her that before. She remained immobile, looking into his dark eyes, soaking up the attention. After several seconds though, Cole hadn’t looked away, and she grew anxious under his intense stare. She licked her lips and took a step back, her eyes darting for the kitchen, needing to be anywhere but on his. “Did you, um, cook?” she asked, thoroughly confused.