He leaned forward and kissed her forehead. “Never apologize for that, babe. Trust me, I’m very glad you’re a girl.” He wiped his thumbs underneath her eyes, capturing some of the black mascara pooled there. “Go get in bed. I’ll get the tissues.”
She nodded and headed off down the hall.
Cole joined her in bed, his hands full with Cuddles tucked under one arm and a box of Kleenex in the other. “Special delivery.” He smiled, placing the over-excited puppy on the bed. She quickly bounded over to Savannah and began licking her face.
Savannah giggled and set the puppy on her chest, patting her back. “Thanks.”
Cole tucked the blankets around her. “Just get some rest, and I’ll take care of ordering dinner. Any special requests?”
She shook her head. “Anything is fine. But no pizza. Oh, and maybe some dessert.”
He chuckled. “Anything, as long as it’s not pizza and includes dessert. You got it.” He turned off the lights and left, the heavy feeling once again settling inside his chest. Seeing her reaction tonight brought resounding clarity to his Sunday excursions—he could never ever tell her about Abbie. It would break her.
The following morning Cole laced up his running shoes. On his way to the running trails, he passed by his SUV and caught sight of s a white piece of paper tucked under his wiper blade.
A sinking feeling in his gut told him this wasn’t an advertisement like solicitors sometimes left, blanketing all the cars. His training kicked in. He glanced around at his surroundings, but nothing was out of the ordinary. He plucked the scrap of paper and unfolded it.
You took something of mine and I will be back for her.
Fuck. Shivers crawled up his spine and his muscles tensed. He had been fearing for weeks that Dillon would reappear. He pocketed the paper and tore back up the stairs toward Savannah.
He kicked off his running shoes in the foyer, thankful that Savannah liked to sleep in on Sunday mornings. He debated what he would tell her when she woke. At least the building required a key to enter. He ran a hand through his hair. He didn’t want to alarm Savannah, but was it even safe for her to go to work tomorrow? He paced the kitchen to avoid punching the wall. He needed to get his shit together and have his game face on by the time she woke up. He pressed the heel of his hand against his heart. Fucking chest was tight again.
He made a cup of coffee and brought it to the breakfast bar with trembling hands. He was too keyed up to sit, so he stood there, sucking down sips of the too hot coffee. He wouldn’t tell Savannah. Not yet. Tomorrow he would go to work, gather anything he could find on Dillon, and he’d have Savannah do the same. He’d escort her to her car, send her to work like normal and then set about tracking this a**hole down.
The week passed without another note or any sign that Dillon had been back, but Cole’s sense of panic hadn’t subsided. Not at all. He still hadn’t said anything to Savannah, but was more vigilant than ever — escorting her to her car, calling to check on her at work, insisting on taking Cuddles outside himself. He was beginning to suspect that she knew something was up, but it was almost as if she didn’t want to know what — refusing to ask any questions, and instead let him be the overprotective alpha male he needed to be.
Searching the database at the Bureau hadn’t turned up much, and he’d debated with himself all week about getting the police involved, and maybe even his boss Norm. If he did, he knew he’d have a lot of explaining to do about why a cult escapee was living in his home. He also knew that there was little the police could do with a vague handwritten note and only a gut feeling about who wrote it.
So instead he was extra diligent and watchful and kept Savannah close — the best he could do under the circumstances.
But Friday night when he got home from work and found another note — this time left at his front door — his passive-aggressive mode of dealing with this was over. The bastard had somehow breached the building security and delivered the note directly to his door. What if Savannah had been home? What if she’d let him in? And the messy text scrawled along the paper sent his heart racing into a murderous rage.
You took my heart. Now I’ll take hers.
He called Savannah and found she was on her way home from work. He placed his handgun in the back of his jeans, locked the door behind him and went to wait for her in the parking lot. She smiled when she saw him and jogged from her car over to his side. But her smile fell when she took in the tense set of his shoulders and the frown tugging at his mouth. “Cole?”
He dropped a kiss to her mouth and pulled her close. “Come on, let’s get inside.”
She allowed herself to be towed along beside him in jerking steps as he glanced at their surroundings.
Once inside, he pointed to the note on the island. “Do you recognize that handwriting?”
Her concerned gaze met his and she crossed the room carefully, as if there was a live tiger in the kitchen rather than a scrap of paper. She reached for the paper, and Cole grabbed her wrist. “No fingerprints,” he warned.
She nodded and leaned over the counter to read it. Her hand flew to her mouth. “Where did you get this?”
“It was stuffed into the crack of the front door.”
All the color drained from her face and Cole’s hands on her waist were the only thing keeping her on her feet.
“Do you know who it might be from?” He probed, wanting her honest assessment on the matter without his suspicions coloring her view.
“It’s from Dillon.” Her voice was certain and sure. “He used to always say that I’d captured his heart. And it looks like his handwriting too.” She turned into his chest, burying her face.
Cole’s arms circled around her back, holding her close. “We’re going to get out of here for the weekend. Go stay somewhere else while I figure this out. I don’t like that he knows where we are.”
Savannah nodded. “Okay.”
He gave her a quick kiss. “Go pack a bag. Be quick.”
“What about Cuddles?”
Shit. Damn dog. He considered dropping the thing off at Marissa’s, but if by some chance Dillon was tracking their movements, he didn’t want his sister involved. “We’ll see if Levi and Deb can take her for the weekend.”
He threw some clothes into a duffle bag, added his gun and an extra clip, then met Savannah in the kitchen where she was pouring dry dog food into a plastic bag. He threw their bags over his shoulder and they ventured down the hall towards Levi’s unit with a carefree puppy jogging beside them.
When Deb answered the door, Cuddles charged past them. “Sorry about that. Cuddles!” Savannah called after the naughty animal.
“Oh, that’s okay. What’s up?” Deb eyed the bags slung over Cole’s shoulder.
He placed an arm around Savannah’s waist and tugged her closer. “We’re going away for the weekend. Would you mind watching the dog for a couple of days?”
Deb’s mouth curved in a grin. “I knew there was something between you two. Sure. Why not?”
Savannah handed Deb the bag of food, Cuddles’ favorite toy, and supplied her with instructions as well as the dog’s likes and dislikes. A few minutes later, they were pulling away in his SUV, Cole watching the rearview mirror constantly until he was sure they weren’t being followed. Savannah reached over and found his hand. His death grip on the steering wheel let up just slightly. “I’m sorry,” she murmured.
“For unleashing this craziness on you…I doubt you wanted to spend your weekend on the run with me.”
He squeezed her hand, running his thumb across her knuckles. “This isn’t your fault. I don’t want you to worry about anything. I’m going to take care of this. I promise. And I meant what I told Deb. You and I are going to enjoy a romantic weekend getaway. That is…if you’re game?”
She released a sigh. “You mean, like pretend all this isn’t weighing on us?”
He shrugged. “Why not? I promise I’ll take care of this. And you and I are going to relax, one way or another.”
“Okay.” But the deep crease on her forehead remained.
Cole turned south on the freeway and exited twice, looping around to make certain he wasn’t being followed before settling into the two-hour drive ahead of them. He knew where he was taking her. It was a lodge on a private lake that he’d researched several years ago when things with his girlfriend at the time had gotten serious. They never made it to the lodge, though. She’d cheated on him the weekend before he planned to take her there. Cole pushed the thoughts from his mind and laced his fingers with Savannah’s, doing his best to calm her.
She listened to his one-sided phone conversation as he drove. He had called someone named Norm who she believed was his boss at the FBI. It felt strange listening to him discuss her as though she wasn’t seated right next to him, but she knew he was trying to help. Savannah was most interested to hear how he explained her presence in his life, but he didn’t reveal much about their relationship, simply saying that Savannah from the Jacob Stone investigation was a friend of his and she needed their help.
She was surprised to learn that this wasn’t the first note Dillon had left. Apparently there had been another one left on his windshield a couple of weeks ago. Cole instructed Norm that it was in his desk drawer at work, inside a plastic bag, and to have it dusted for prints. Cole’s voice was raised and the vein in his neck throbbed, but after a few tense moments of back and forth with Norm, Cole seemed pleased.
“Yeah, let’s get this f**ker. Okay, thanks Norm.” Cole ended the call and set his cell into the center console between them.
Savannah swallowed, keeping her eyes on the road. “Everything okay?”
He reached over and took her hand. “Yeah. It will be. Norm says he’ll send someone out to pick up Dillon. The case hasn’t officially been closed yet, so there’s no problem with bringing him in for questioning, however loose the connection is between him and these notes. But at least they can talk to him — see what he’ll say. Let him know he’s still on our radar.”
“Okay.” She brought her legs up, folding them under her on the seat, and tried not to worry. Dillon was harmless. Wasn’t he?
They pulled onto the one-lane private drive leading back into the woods. The sun was beginning its descent, lighting the fieldstone and timber two-story lodge in a glow of pinks, oranges and golds.
“Wow.” Savannah sat up in her seat and smiled appreciatively. “This is beautiful.”
Cole was glad she was the first and only girl he’d brought here. And from what he remembered, the pictures online didn’t do this place justice. It had a secluded, rustic feel. It was perfect.
He led her inside, their bags once again resting on his shoulder. Fleeing from danger or not, he was raised in Texas, and that meant manners, opening doors for ladies and being an all-around gentleman
When he found out that Savannah had never stayed at a hotel before, he booked them a suite, complete with a private balcony overlooking the lake. The suite was comprised of a living room with a sofa and chaise lounge chair facing a stone-hearthed fireplace, a separate bedroom sporting a king bed adorned with a fluffy white down comforter, and a large bathroom with a glass enclosed shower and separate garden tub, but it was spacious and well-appointed. He watched Savannah explore the rooms, ending her tour on the balcony. The last rays of sunlight cast off the deep blue lake. He came up behind her, caging her in against the iron railing and nuzzled her neck, breathing in her scent. She was so soft, so lovely, she provoked in him not the hardened FBI agent needing justice, but a man in need of a woman. It was easy to lose himself in her, and he almost couldn’t believe he’d resisted her for so long.
The conversation with Norm had gone well, and he was confident that now that he’d bitten the bullet and involved the FBI that idiot Dillon would be taken care of. Yet he knew things were never that simple, and he felt sure he would have to come clean to Norm on Monday morning. Whatever was going to happen now was out of his control, so there was no use worrying about it. He would enjoy his secret getaway with Savannah before they were both forced to face reality and whatever came next.
They ordered in a simple dinner and ate on the couch with plates balanced on their knees. Cole had a bottle of wine delivered too, figuring they’d both need the help relaxing. Savannah did little more than pick at the food on her plate, and Cole’s appetite wasn’t much better. He cleared their plates and discreetly checked his phone in the kitchen. Still nothing from Norm.
He returned to living room, refilling both glasses. “Do you want to sit out on the balcony?”
Savannah lifted her eyes to his as if the sound of his voice interrupted some private thought. “Hm? Oh, sure.” She accepted his proffered hand and rose to her feet, dutifully following him to the cushioned bench seat on the balcony. The old-fashioned sconces provided a soft glow of flickering light, and the water lapping at the shore of the lake below was the perfect backdrop. Cole set the glasses on the table and pulled Savannah down to his lap, needing the distraction full body contact offered. He wanted to reassure her, to promise everything would be okay, but he couldn’t. So he held her instead.
She giggled softly, allowing herself to be maneuvered and folded into his arms. She turned so that she was facing him and placed her palms against his cheeks.
“Why didn’t you tell me about the first note?”
He swallowed and removed her hands, holding them in his lap. “I had it handled. I didn’t want you to worry unless you needed to. I just wanted to protect you as long as I could.”
“I would have rather you told me. You can’t protect me from everything forever.”