“Cole?” She lifted her head.
“Hmm.” He absently trailed his fingers along her arm.
“Can I ask you something?”
The hair on the back of his neck rose. Crap. He knew that this conversation was going to be about more than which movie to watch next. “Of course.”
“What’s going to happen to us?”
He hadn’t been prepared for question. Though any other topic was fair game between them, they’d refused to talk about the future, sticking to topics no further ahead than what to do for dinner, next weekend’s plans, or at the furthest—when Cuddles’ next set of puppy shots were due. They’d existed in their own little bubble, taking pleasure from each other’s bodies and living comfortably together. But Savannah’s whispered conversations on the phone with Marissa about apartment décor were not lost on him. He wondered if she was still planning on moving out, despite the intimacy of their new relationship. Which was for the best, he told himself. He had no delusions of true love, soul mates, marriage or kids. It was easier, and a hell of a lot safer, to be on his own. He couldn’t accept just yet that Savannah might be the one to change his mind.
“What do you mean?” he asked, stalling for more time.
“I just wonder sometimes what you…want.” Her expression was so open, so honest, he could read her like a book
He turned to face her, holding her jaw in his hand. “I’m not going anywhere, Savannah.” He pressed a soft kiss to her mouth. He knew it wasn’t exactly the declaration of love and commitment she probably wanted, but it was as close as he could get. There was still too much she didn’t know about him, too much she wouldn’t understand. This is what he had to offer — protection, devotion and mind-blowing sex. He hoped it was enough. Because, damn it, he couldn’t offer her more. Not with his spectacular track record for botching the shit out of relationships.
She nodded, seeming to accept his non answer, and leaned in for another kiss. If the physical was all they would share, neither of them seemed willing to squander it. Their kisses turned heated, and he pulled her into his lap, his mouth moving down her throat as her hands worked their way under his shirt, tenderly massaging the muscles in his back and reaching around him to run along his tense abs. He yanked his shirt off over his head and her shirt and bra soon followed, landing on the floor between the couch and coffee table. She rocked her h*ps against his, discovering he was already hard. Watching her confidence grow, seeing the look of desire reflected in her eyes, sparked his own need. He gripped her arms, pinning them to her sides. He’d discovered that just as much as he liked taking charge, Savannah enjoyed being man-handled. She folded her arms behind her back, interlaced her fingers and thrust her chest out. He held her hands with one of his and worked his other into the front of her jeans. He feasted on the warm tip of each breast until Savannah was crying out and had worked her hands free to tug on his hair.
Cole shifted her on his lap — providing just enough room between them to undo his jeans and free himself. Savannah crouched in front of him and peeled off her jeans. Cole assisted, tugging the material down her legs until she could kick the jeans to the floor. She watched as he made quick work of putting on a condom, then sunk down onto him without hesitation, surrendering as he filled her.
“God, you’re tight.” He pressed a kiss to her mouth. She gripped his shoulders, her nails biting into his skin, and began to rock against him.
Watching her move above him, testing and finding her rhythm, was the hottest thing he could’ve ever imagined. Her tight body riding his was too much. His head dropped back against the sofa and his eyes drifted closed. She placed a palm on either side of his face and he opened his eyes. She leaned in to kiss him, their tongues colliding and breaths mingling.
“Cole…” she grunted, bracing her hands on his thighs as she lifted up and down.
“You feel too damn good. How is this even possible?” “Because it’s us,” she said simply.
He believed her assessment. Wholeheartedly. But wouldn’t deny the fact that scared the shit out of him. He had never known a better lover, which made no sense, considering Savannah’s lack of experience. Their bodies fit together like two halves. There hadn’t been any hint of a fumbling, awkward stage like he’d known with previous lovers. Their bodies were so in-sync, they seemed to anticipate each other’s movements and respond in turn, bringing pleasure that he hadn’t known could exist before Savannah.
Her flesh gripped him from the inside out, and he felt her begin to tremble. She rode him fast and hard as she reached cli**xed, whimpering a series of tiny moans then fell forward onto his chest, completely spent. Watching Savannah orgasm quickly brought him to his own cli**x. She no longer seemed capable of moving against him; he gripped her waist and lifted her up and down on him a few final times until he followed her over the edge.
Cole shoved his feet into his shoes and wandered to the kitchen. “I have to go out for a little bit.” He rested a hand on her hip and leaned in for a kiss.
Her eyes flew to the clock on the stove. He knew that his Sunday appointments were becoming a point of contention in their relationship and a source of burning curiosity for Savannah. She opened her mouth, the question right there on her tongue, but paused. What would he say if she finally had the courage to ask? She closed her mouth and nodded. “Okay.”
He left a few minutes later. He was tired of feeling like he practically needed to sneak out of his own house on Sunday afternoons. He hated the guilty feeling that followed him as he drove. He didn’t like leaving Savannah. He didn’t like that he had to do this. But this was what needed to be done if he wanted to right his past wrongs. And he owed her this much — one hour of his time. And he knew Savannah would never understand it.
Savannah dutifully followed Marissa from store to store, until her back ached and her arms quivered from carrying all the shopping bags. They ended up at Liam’s pub for a drink. Liam poured them each a glass of chilled white wine and set a bowl of salted almonds in front of them. Savannah noticed his eyes strayed to Marissa’s every few minutes, regardless of who he was serving at the bar.
Savannah took a sip of her wine. Mmm. Sweet notes of pear and a crisp apricot finish met her tongue. Her mind wandered for the hundredth time to Cole and his hasty departures on Sundays. She considered asking Marissa about it, but decided against it since she wasn’t sure she could handle the information. “Can I ask you about Cole?” Savannah bit her lip, the butterflies taking flight inside her.
“Sure.” Marissa shrugged, popping an almond into her mouth.
“Cole’s sort of…” She frowned struggling for the right words. Hard to get to know? Closed off?
“Emotionally stunted?” Marissa offered.
Savannah exhaled, a breathy little laugh escaping. “Yes.”
Marissa nodded and smiled weakly. “You care for him.”
It wasn’t a question so Savannah didn’t bother to answer. Was it that obvious?
Marissa contemplated the contents of her wine glass, twirling the stem in her hands. “There’s something I want to tell you.”
The feeling that the next few minutes were going to change things considerably pulsed low in Savannah’s stomach.
Marissa confirmed that several months ago, Cole confided in her about his night terrors. He wouldn’t talk about it for the longest time, but Marissa was unrelenting after he began losing weight and dark circles etched themselves under his eyes. He’d confided in Marissa about a case where an innocent girl was caught in the crossfire and ended up taking a bullet before he could take the suspect down. Marissa forced him to go to a doctor; he got on prescription anti-anxiety medication and sleeping pills that he took for months after her death. But he never really properly dealt with things, or accepted that her death wasn’t his fault.
“But they were never involved…romantically?”
“No. They’d literally just met. Cole was there when she died and he blamed himself that he couldn’t protect her.”
Stunned into silence, Savannah nodded. He was rehabilitating her, not because he had feelings for her, but because of his guilt over another girl’s death.
“Are you okay? You’re pale,” Marissa said.
Savannah’s ears thundered with the sudden rush of blood, but she managed a nod. “I’m fine. I just didn’t know.”
Marissa patted her knee. “I figured as much.” Marissa polished off the rest of her wine, and waved Liam off at his offer of a refill. “My brother’s falling for you. He just doesn’t know it yet. Be patient with him, okay?”
Savannah nodded, her mouth dry and her stomach turning somersaults. “Can we go?” She knew Cole would be back from whatever it was he did on Sundays and they needed to talk.
Marissa nodded, left a large tip for Liam, then drove her home.
After wrestling in shopping bags of clothes she no longer even remembered buying, Savannah scooped Cuddles up into her arms and headed outside, not quite ready to face Cole. When she reentered the apartment, she found him in the kitchen, digging through the take-out menus. “Hey, I didn’t know when you’d be home, so I figured I’d order out tonight.”
Savannah released a squirming Cuddles to the floor and stared at her feet.
Hot, salty tears stung her eyes. “We need to talk.”
The single tear rolling down Savannah’s cheek held him immobile for a moment. “Savannah?” He stepped in closer, guiding her by the elbow towards the sofa. “Tell me what happened.”
She fell to the couch, curled her legs under her, and let out a deep sigh. “I talked to Marissa today.”
“Okay…” He braced himself, unsure what was coming.
“She told me about the girl…that passed away.”
“Oh.” Cole feared it was something far worse, something he’d kept buried away from everyone. But even as his pulse spiked, he knew it couldn’t be. Because that was something not even Marissa knew. And he hoped she never would.
In a shaky voice, Savannah admitted to Cole that she feared it meant what was between them wasn’t real.
He’d never considered the connection, but when confronted with the information — the link was obvious. Of course what he felt for Savannah was in a whole other league, his feelings for her much more intense. Christ, he’d been sharing his home with her for months now.
“That’s all I was to you? Someone to save since you couldn’t save the last girl?” The tears flowed freely, and she curled into herself, hugging her knees to her chest.
“I needed saving at one time, but not anymore…not now. Now I just need…” She paused, breather breathing shaky.
“Tell me.” He pulled her closer, forcing her to disentangle from her perch on the couch.
“To be loved. To be accepted.”
The deep knot that had been sitting inside his chest broke, and he drew a deep breath as though it was his first. His resolve broke away and he pulled Savannah to his chest. “Shh. It’s going to be okay. I promise you, you’re so much more to me than a lost girl to save. Maybe that’s all this was at the beginning, but not now.” It was the most he could give her. He couldn’t promise her a future or unending love and devotion. His heart was little more than a scrap of flesh in his chest. It had been obliterated and smashed into tiny pieces one too many times. And his dirty little secret — the reason he left every Sunday—was going to be the final straw that drove her away. If they declared their love for each other, it would only make their eventual falling out that much worse.
Savannah’s hot tears dampened his neck and ate away at his control. She pulled in a shaky breath at an attempt at getting her emotions under control.
“Cole. That wasn’t your fault. You need to move past it. Overcome this fear of losing someone because you couldn’t save that girl.”
A timid frown pulled at his lips. He hated how she looked at him. Like he was the one who was damaged. “God, Savannah, you should be with someone who teaches you how to live life, not someone who’s scared to live it, too.”
“So we’ll teach each other. We’ll take things one day at a time, be there, discover new passions and dreams together. We’ll hold each other at night when the fears try to creep back in.”
He looked at her with anguish. If he could give her the world, he would. But he wouldn’t have her settle. Not for him. Not when she deserved so much more. He didn’t think there was ever two people better suited for each other, but something inside him seized up and he couldn’t say the words. He couldn’t tell her everything would be okay, he couldn’t promise her forever. Not with all his baggage.
Silent tears streamed down her cheeks, and Cole wiped them away. “Don’t cry. I’ve got you. I’m right here.” He rubbed her back, and she let the tears come. Cole continued rubbing her back, murmuring soothing endearments near her ear, and most of all, he just held her and let her break down. He felt sure that her collapse was more than just from the information Marissa had shared with her. He’d been waiting for everything to hit her for some time now. And it seemed it finally had. Eventually her sobs quieted into little hiccups and Cole urged her from the crook of his neck that she’d claimed as her own.
She covered her face with her hands. “Don’t look at me. I’m hideous.”
He chuckled and removed her hands. “You’re not hideous.” Her eyes were swollen and red, her skin splotchy. “You need a tissue, maybe, but you could never be hideous.”
She smiled and playfully swatted his hands away. “I’m sorry I’m such a girl.”