He laughed, easy and carefree. “Yeah, I tried. It’s your first day of work, so I, uh wanted to surprise you.”
He led the way to the kitchen and Savannah dutifully followed. “It’s just pasta and tomato sauce, don’t get too excited.”
“It smells great. I think we have garlic bread in the freezer. And I could whip up a salad.” She started for the fridge.
His hands on her waist stopped her. “Nope. This is my plan. Out.” He gave her a playful shove toward the dining room. “I got this.”
Savannah laughed but obeyed. “Okay.” She held up her hands. “I’ll just go change, if that’s okay. I have spit-up from at least three different babies on my shirt.”
Cole chuckled as she made her way into the guest bedroom. Once inside, she stripped herself of the jeans and long-sleeved T-shirt she’d worn to work, and after a perusal of her closet, she decided on a quick shower. The pasta was still boiling, so she had a few minutes at least.
She twisted her hair into a messy knot and felt the temperature of the water. It was warm and inviting. Savannah stepped into the glass-enclosed shower, grabbed her loofa, and poured a glob of her jasmine-scented body wash onto it. She scrubbed her entire body twice, enjoying the water. She smiled at the memory of being the only one able to soothe the fussy, teething Bella at work today. She’d always had a special gift with infants. They were as comfortable with her as she was with them. Savannah washed her face, scrubbing away the day, before turning around to feel the water beat between her shoulder blades. Hmm. That felt nice. It turned out, rocking and holding babies all day was hard work. But satisfying.
Savannah turned off the water, dried herself with one of the oversized bath sheets Cole used for towels and then dressed in her favorite pajamas — a pair of shorts and one of Cole’s worn T-shirts.
She returned to the kitchen after freeing her hair and combing out the snarls. “Mmm. Smells great in here.”
Cole was just plating the pasta and thick slices of garlic bread when she approached the dining room table. He hadn’t taken her suggestion of a salad, but that was okay, this was plenty as it was. “Sit down.” He gestured, pulling out her seat.
Savannah obeyed, easing down into the seat. “Thank you for cooking,” she murmured, surveying the food in front of her. It looked delicious and smelled even better.
“Wait. One more thing.” Cole returned carrying a bottle of red wine in the crook of his elbow and two wine glasses. Savannah eyed him curiously, but he just shrugged. “What? It’s a special occasion.”
Her mouth twitched with a smile as he poured them each a glass of the ruby-colored wine. “For you.” He placed the glass in front of her.
“Thank you.” It all felt sophisticated and elegant, having Cole wait on her, and she giggled at the pleasure in this moment.
His eyes flashed to hers. “What?”
“Nothing,” she replied, fixing on a straight face.
Cole tempted her to respond, his dark eyes locked on hers for a moment too long, before he finally pulled out his own chair and sat beside her. “So you liked the daycare?” he asked around a bite of garlic bread.
“I loved it. It’s so fun watching them learn and play at this age. And then when they get older, watching them grow and discover new things. I think this is the perfect job for me. It’s basically what I did at the compound, but I never got paid for it.”
He nodded, taking a sip of his wine. “Then I’m happy for you.”
Why did he sound so cold? And why didn’t his smile reach his eyes? He’d been the one to encourage her to get a job, and now that she had one she liked, he was acting all strange about it. She stuffed a big bite of pasta into her mouth, realizing she was famished and not all that concerned with acting lady-like around him. A healthy sip of red wine followed. Hmm. Sweeter than she expected. So he’d cooked, and opened a bottle of wine? Big deal. It didn’t make him acting all weird okay.
She ignored his strange mood and relayed the specifics of her day, the regimented schedule at the daycare: nine a.m. breakfast, then a diaper change, followed by morning nap, then playtime till lunch, and then the schedule repeated itself- eat, diapers, nap, play, before the parent pickup. She laughed just thinking about it. It had been a full and busy day. But fun.
“Do you want kids?” she asked, placing her fork beside her cleared plate.
His eyes flashed with alarm. “Never really thought about it, why?”
She frowned and bit her lip. “You’re twenty-seven; how have you never thought about it?”
“You sound just like Marissa,” he muttered under his breath as he carried the plates to the sink.
Savannah remained seated at the table, her face burning like someone had slapped her. What was with him tonight? She finished her wine, trying to regain her composure before joining him in the kitchen. He glanced at her empty glass and refilled it. “Go relax.” He was acting sweet, but his words…his words felt cold and abrasive.
“It’s okay. I’d rather help,” she replied, her voice coming out soft and unsure.
They stood side by side at the sink, Savannah passing Cole each dish to load the dishwasher. She was hyper-aware of him: his toned forearms, his masculine scent and muscular physique that towered over hers.
After finishing the dishes in silence, they retired to the couch and Cole turned on a movie. It was all she was in the mood for—lounging on the couch—since the combination of working all day and the wine had her feeling drained, but in a good way. Cole settled next to her, keeping his distance, but continually refilling their glasses with wine. By the end of the movie she was buzzed. And dear God help her, she was horny.
She set her empty glass on the table, and laid her head in Cole’s lap. His hands found their way under her hair, massaging her neck. “You’re tense,” he whispered.
She sat up suddenly, face-to-face with him. “You’re acting weird tonight.” She cringed. She hadn’t meant to blurt it out that way.
“I’m sorry. You didn’t deserve that.”
She wanted to ask him why, what was wrong, but he brought his hand up to cup her cheek, and her eyes fluttered closed at the touch. His thumb gently stroked her face, the roughened callus skimming along her skin in the most tender way imaginable. And all was forgiven.
“For the record, I am happy for you,” he breathed, his mouth just inches from hers.
Savannah shifted; a desperate need to get closer urged her into his lap. Straddling him, she placed her hands on the back of the couch, gripping the leather to avoid running her hands through his hair. Savannah licked her bottom lip, silently begging him to kiss her. Cole’s eyes caught the movement and his gaze centered on her mouth. Exactly where she wanted him. His hands came up around her ribcage, not pulling her closer, not pushing her away, just holding her in place against him. His thumb skittered across her side, gently stroking her over her T-shirt, so close to her breast, yet still way too far away.
Their eyes met and Savannah thought she might dissolve into a puddle if he kept looking at her like that. His eyes were dark with desire, which only fueled her desperate need for him. If he didn’t kiss her soon, she would combust. Of that she was certain. “Cole…” His name on her lips was a silent plea, a begging desperation that could only be answered one way.
Cole gripped the back of her neck with one hand, his other still planted on her waist and pulled her mouth to his. His kiss was nothing like the last time, his mouth met hers in a desperate rush, wasting no time parting her lips, gliding his tongue along hers, and tilting her jaw to take what he needed. He was needy and merciless, nipping at her bottom lip and grinding his h*ps into hers. Her eyes drifted closed in pure bliss and she turned her mind off to every thought but one. Cole.
His hands on her shoulders reluctantly pushed her away, her lips still damp and tingling from the passion behind his kisses. She fought to catch her breath, to understand why he’d stopped.
“I’m sorry, Savannah. I can’t,” he whispered, his voice thick with tension.
His words weren’t necessary, the faraway look in his eyes confirmed the moment had passed. He was pulling away from her. Once again. With a heavy heart, she disentangled herself from his lap and headed for the guest room. She curled into a ball in the center of the bed, pulling Cuddles up against her body and released a heavy sigh. She struggled to understand their complicated relationship, dividing her feelings into different compartments so she could examine each one, just like Dr. White had taught her. First there was admiration, then attraction, then disappointment. What that all added up to, she had no idea. But each time Cole showed a glimpse of interest, only to pull away, was eventually going to ruin her. That much was certain.
Tonight was a bad idea. Of course Cole realized that much too late. Liam, Marissa, Marissa’s good friend Kelly, and Savannah all sat around the table enjoying drinks and friendly banter. Well, everyone else was enjoying those things. Savannah’s posture was stiff, her arms crossed over her chest, and her expression was pinched.
The plan was to celebrate Savannah’s new job. Cole’s plan did not include Kelly shooting Savannah bitchy looks and rubbing his thigh under the table. Damn, couldn’t a man enjoy a beer in peace? He was already looking forward to later, just him and Savannah in the quiet solitude of home.
Savannah’s gaze lingered suspiciously on Kelly, Marissa’s very pretty blond friend, who was flirting with him ruthlessly—slowly eating the olives from her martini while her eyes remained locked on Cole’s, seductively swaying her h*ps when she crossed the room, leaning in close, whispering while curling her hand around his bicep.
After several minutes, Savannah excused herself, fleeing from the table as if her life depended on it.
“Excuse me.” Cole jogged after her. He caught up to Savannah at the bar, where she stood with her back to him. She stiffened when his body heat invaded her space, sensing he was near.
“Have you slept with her?” she asked, her voice small.
She turned to face him and nodded.
“Yes. A long time ago.”
“More than once?”
Cole nodded. A couple of times. Drunkenly.
Savannah turned, storming away from him. What in the world?
Cole caught up to her near the restrooms and gripped her elbow. If she thought she could escape him, she was wrong. He knew every nook and cranny of Liam’s bar, and he wasn’t opposed to going into the ladies room after her if that’s what it took. “Savannah, wait. Why are you upset?”
She drew in a shaky breath, her chest heaving with the effort.
He’d never seen her angry before, but she seemed to be having trouble keeping herself in check. “Tell me,” he commanded.
Tears swam in her eyes, but she didn’t run, didn’t try to escape again. “Can I please be around just one woman you haven’t touched? Is that too much to ask?” Her voice was full of anger, her eyes blazing on his.
“There’s Marissa.” He nodded toward his sister, who watched them wearily, like she’d been waiting for this to blow up in his face.
Savannah sighed, exasperated. “Right, Marissa — the only person you’ll share yourself with emotionally.”
Cole’s brow crinkled in confusion. “Savannah.” Her name on his lips was a broken plea. He knew it wouldn’t take much convincing before he gave into the physical, but a real emotional commitment? No. He couldn’t. “I’m sorry I can’t change the past and who I’ve slept with. I’m sorry, okay?”
“What are we doing, Cole?” Her question pushed against his carefully constructed wall. And when he met her eyes, like a crack of thunder through a vacant sky, he understood. Saw her and all her antics with new eyes. Did Savannah want him? She couldn’t. Not like that. What did she even know about being with a man? Especially a man like him? Work came first, relationships second, love maybe not at all.
Cole looked back at their table. Liam, Marissa and Kelly were all gawking at them. Shit. “Come here.” He took Savannah’s hand and pulled her further down the back hallway that led to the restrooms. It wasn’t private, but at least they wouldn’t have a table of spectators. Once it was just the two of them in the dimly lit hallway, Cole could feel the heat from her skin, smell the scent of her shampoo, and see the pulse thrumming in her neck. Maybe privacy was a bad idea.
They were barely out of sight, and Savannah was in his arms. She didn’t want to need him like this—to use him for her comfort—but she had little choice.
“Savannah…” He dislodged her hands from around his waist, holding her at arm’s length. “Tell me what you’re thinking.”
She hated the way her body betrayed her when Cole was near. Especially since he was so oblivious to her. She released her hold on him, clasping her hands in front of her. “I’m sorry, this is hard for me. I just hate knowing that you touched her.” She looked down, unable to meet his eyes, too nervous to see his reaction. She’d struggled all night to figure out what his motivation was. Why did he bring her home in the first place? Why plan this celebration for her?
“I’m sorry.” He sighed. “That happened before I ever knew you. It was a long time ago, and it won’t happen again.”
She swallowed a lump in her throat, trying to talk herself out of feeling so emotional, but it was no use. She wanted more from Cole. She needed more. And she had no idea how to tell him. She would have to show him. She couldn’t keep living like this.
He opened his arms, seeming to sense the shift in her mood. “Come here.”
Her heart rate kicked up and she stepped into his arms, allowing him to hold her. And all was right with the world. She closed her eyes and rested her head on his chest.