“Thank you,” she murmured. She tried to imagine herself living in a place so nice, but it was too big and too empty to feel comfortable. She was accustomed to sleeping in a bunk room with other women and children, relaxing to the sounds of breathing or soft snores. But still, she appreciated his providing this room, where at least she would be safe. She’d already noted the door had its own lock.
They stood facing each other, neither speaking, but each studying the other. Savannah shifted her weight, looking down at her baggy jeans and sweatshirt. She didn’t have a change of clothes, let alone pajamas or a toothbrush, but she wasn’t about to ask Cole for anything else. He’d been too kind already, and she didn’t want to wear out her welcome or cause him any objections to her staying.
Savannah was still standing in the center of the guest room, her bare feet buried in the plush carpeting. Cole suddenly found himself grateful for his sister Marissa’s interior decorating help. He’d resisted it at first, but she’d slowly worn him down, reminding him that he might still be a bachelor, but he wasn’t twenty-two anymore, and he was making good money. She said it was time to live like a grown-up. So he’d gotten a new bedroom set for himself, or more accurately he went along with Marissa to the furniture store, and handed over his credit card once she’d picked everything out.
She’d redecorated his place room by room, finishing with the guest room Savannah now stood in. He’d told Marissa it was a waste of money. This room had never held a guest in his three years of living here; it was where he kept his seldom used ironing board, luggage set and mountain bike. But now watching Savannah walk towards the bed and press her palm into the center of the fluffy comforter, he silently praised Marissa’s intervention, not that he’d ever admit that to her.
“Wait right here. I’ll be back.” Cole returned a moment later with a pair of his sweat pants and an old T-shirt, handing them to Savannah. “You can wear this if it helps.”
Savannah accepted the clothes gratefully, and Cole left the room so she could change. A few minutes later, he tapped on the door with his knuckles. “Are you decent?”
She opened the door and stood before him. The baggy clothes seemed to swallow her.
“We’ll figure everything out in the morning. Just get some rest, okay?”
Savannah nodded, yawning sleepily. Cole watched her crawl into the bed, his chest tightening at the sight of her in his clothes, looking so small and helpless in the big bed. “Night,” he uttered, his voice surprisingly tight.
He was grateful he had a few days off to help Savannah figure things out. How he would use those days, he had no idea. Of course, he would have to go back to work soon, and he had his Sunday visits with Abbie—which he hoped Savannah didn’t need to know about. But one thing at a time. She was safe and warm in the guest bedroom, and that was good enough for now.
When Cole woke the following morning, or afternoon as it were, it took him a moment to place the sounds coming from inside his apartment. Savannah. His heart did a little happy dance in his chest at the thought of finding her in his kitchen. He stretched and went to investigate. When he entered the kitchen, his bare feet thudding against the wood floor, Savannah looked up and froze like she’d been caught doing something wrong.
“Hi,” he offered, attempting to reassure her.
Her features softened. “Hi.”
Cole scanned the mixing bowls and ingredients spread across his counters, and the island covered in a dusting of flour. “Did you sleep okay?”
Savannah’s eyes wandered the length of Cole’s bare chest and stopped at the trail of fine hair grazing his lower stomach and disappearing under his waistband. She cleared her throat and looked down at her hands. “Mmm hmm,” she stammered.
Cole bit his lip to keep from chuckling. His muscular physique always got positive reviews from the opposite sex. And he was surprised to see that even after all Savannah had been through, she still noticed him. He worked hard to keep in top physical shape, kick-boxing three times a week, lifting weights, and running the rest of the days. He glanced down at his nak*d chest and abs. His pants had slipped ever so slightly down on his hips, exposing his lower abdominals and the lines along his sides that formed a deep V at his hips. He tightened the drawstring, doubling the knot. Down boy. Now was not the time to get a hard on.
He rarely wore anything to bed but had tugged on a pair of pajama pants last night just in case Savannah needed anything in the middle of the night. That way he wouldn’t have to fumble for his clothes in the darkness, or risk terrifying the poor girl with his nak*d manhood. He hadn’t bothered with a shirt; he found the material too damn restrictive. He preferred the feel of his satin sheets against his bare skin — it was the one comfort he allowed himself.
“I’m making pancakes. I hope that’s okay,” Savannah said quietly.
A box of mix sat on the counter. “Of course that’s okay. Thank you.” Cole crossed the kitchen to start a pot of coffee, stepping around her and noticing how unaccustomed he was to having someone in his space, though it wasn’t entirely unwelcome.
“Sorry, I didn’t know how to operate that thing.” Savannah eyed the coffee maker like it had personally offended her.
“Come here, I’ll show you.”
Once Savannah had wiped her hands on a dish towel and sidled up next to Cole, he couldn’t resist guiding her in between himself and the counter, so she was closer to the coffee maker, he told himself.
Savannah sucked in a breath at the contact, but didn’t protest, allowing him to maneuver her body as he pleased. He demonstrated how to add fresh beans to the grinder and then how to set the beans to roast, then brew. The coffee maker was fussier than he was used to, but it had been a gift from Marissa last Christmas, and now he was addicted to fresh roasted coffee beans.
Neither of them moved away as the coffee began to drip into the waiting carafe. A sudden vision of lifting her hair off the back of her neck and leaning in to plant a kiss on her soft skin danced through his mind. He was just inches from pressing into her, grinding his h*ps into her ass. He felt his c*ck stir and knew their lesson was over.
“Let’s eat,” he grumbled.
Savannah stood in stunned silence as he stalked from the kitchen. He grabbed a T-shirt and threw it on before sitting down at the breakfast bar. Savannah slid a stack of pancakes in front of him.
“Thanks.” He cast a quick glance up at her. He didn’t realize having this beautiful young woman in his home would affect him like this. He was a professional. He shouldn’t be affected by her.
He watched her move through the apartment, bending at the waist to collect the pile of mail he’d left by his arm chair, shuffling into the kitchen to arrange it on the counter and biting her lip as she studied a spot on the counter before wiping it away. Her lips were full and pink and he found himself wondering what they’d taste like before quickly pushing the thought away.
As she stood at the kitchen counter, Cole appraised her profile. Small but perky chest, dark hair curling around her shoulders, a flat stomach, and a nice shapely ass. He appreciated a fine ripe ass and getting that rounded backside in his palms played through his mind like a song on repeat, no matter how many times he reminded himself it wasn’t happening.
The tiny cut on her lower lip had healed quickly, just the faintest line of pink visible if you were looking for it. Savannah looked up and met his eyes, her mouth dropping open in an unspoken question.
He needed to stop staring at her mouth or she was going to get the wrong idea. He didn’t bring her here for any sinister purpose. He wasn’t expecting anything in return for letting her stay.
He found his voice. “Come sit down and eat with me.”
Savannah obeyed, carrying an extra plate and set of silverware over the breakfast bar to join him.
She helped herself to a few pancakes from the platter stacked high between them. Cole was glad to see that she didn’t seem overly self-conscious or shy.
She cut her pancakes into little pieces but still hadn’t taken a bite.
“How are you doing this morning?” he asked, trying his best at playing a nurturing role, something new for him.
She swallowed heavily and gazed over at him. “Is it stupid that I miss it there?”
The compound? He supposed it was all she knew. “No, I guess not. They were the only family you had.”
She nodded. “There are some things I won’t miss.”
He left her alone to her thoughts, fighting the urge to push her for details. He appreciated her personality — she didn’t feel the need to fill the silence with pointless chatter. She was more observer of the world than outright contributor, and he could relate. He approached most things with a healthy dose of suspicion, and relationships for him were no different. They were each still feeling each other out, each on guard, but for likely different reasons. She was a vulnerable shell-shocked girl in a stranger’s home, and he was a hardened FBI agent who’d experienced more than his fair share of loss. He rubbed a hand along the back of his neck. Christ, what a pair.
After a few seconds of quietly picking at her thumbnail, she asked, “Do you think anyone from the compound could find me here?”
He doubted that’d be possible. She was supposed to be at the halfway house. Though if someone was interested enough and started poking around, the facility coordinator may remember Cole and she could be tracked down through him, but why would anyone bother?
“Why are you asking?”
“There was someone…”
She looked down, once again becoming fascinated with her thumbnail.
“Answer me.” He didn’t intend the brute force behind his voice.
Cole racked his brain. The file mentioned that Jacob had a twenty-one year old son, Dillon, but he hadn’t been living at the compound at the time of the raid. “Dillon.”
“Is he dangerous?”
“No, nothing like that.” She hesitated for a beat, but before Cole could probe again, she released a sigh and continued. Dillon had lived at the compound up until last year. He’d gone away to look for a better paying job, but swore he’d come back for her. Despite Savannah’s platonic-only feelings for him, he was convinced they’d get married someday. He brushed off her hesitations, telling her they were meant to be together and he was going to take care of her.
Cole turned to her and took her hands, holding them in between his palms. “Listen. He’s not going to find you here. You’re safe. Okay?”
She nodded. “Okay.”
After breakfast Cole announced he was going to the grocery store. “Is there anything you’d like? You could make a list,” he encouraged, sliding his wallet into the back pocket of his jeans.
“Oh no, you get what you like. I don’t want to be a pest.”
“Savannah, you’re not.” His look of sincerity stopped any further arguments from her, but she didn’t provide him with a list. He didn’t want to press it, because even after setting a pad of paper and a pen on the counter, Savannah solemnly shook her head. He didn’t know if her refusal was because she really felt like she was overstepping her bounds, or if perhaps she couldn’t write; so he let it drop.
At the grocery store his usual routine was to grab just the essentials and juggle everything in his arms. This time though, he wandered down each aisle and practically got one of everything, throwing things into the cart at will. He ventured to the carpeted section of the superstore where there were racks of clothing. Savannah probably needed a few essentials, but he didn’t know her size, or what she might like, so he kept walking. He stood in an aisle, looking at the plastic packages of underpants. But damn, buying her panties seemed too forward. He fled, feeling odd even standing in the aisle.
He knew that if she stayed longer, they’d have to cross that bridge and get her more clothes, but not today. Not by himself. He’d have to bring her along next time so she could tell him her size. He didn’t allow lovers to stay over, so he didn’t have so much as a spare toothbrush in his guest bathroom, so he settled on picking up a toothbrush—something practical, yet still impersonal. He also tossed pink bottles of shampoo and conditioner into his cart before heading for the checkout lanes.
When he got home Savannah was nowhere to be found. Her bedroom door was closed, so he went to work putting away all the groceries, finding that the cabinets were fuller than they had ever been.
When Savannah emerged fifteen minutes later, showered, and once again dressed in the sweats and T-shirt he’d given her last night, he regretted not buying her any clothes. He wondered if she even had panties or a bra under them. He watched her move towards the kitchen and peek inside the cabinets and fridge.
“How’d I do?” he asked, coming up behind her, but bracing himself against the island to keep a physical barrier between them.
“Quite well. I can make lasagna, pot pie, do some baking. This is perfect.”
Cole smiled, glad that he had pleased her. “I got these for you too.” He pushed the toothbrush, shampoo and conditioner toward her.
Savannah’s eyes lit up as she took the bottles in her hands. “Thank you.” You would have thought he’d given her some elaborate gift. Sure, he splurged a little and bought a brand more expensive than his own cheap shampoo, but he figured she deserved some basic comforts right now. Her whole life had just been turned upside down.
Savannah watched Cole from the corner of her eye, trying to figure out his motivation. He only wants you for what’s between your legs. Jacob’s gruff voice in her head was unwelcome, yet familiar at the same time. What did Cole want with her? Thoughts like that had swirled through her mind since she’d first arrived here. Did he want to touch her? Would he be rough about it, or whisper and caress her sweetly as he touched her? Would she stop him if he tried? Scream and kick and run from the apartment? What would she do then? Maybe she would just let him do what he wanted, take what he wanted. His hands were calloused, but had been gentle when he’d cleaned her wounds, so perhaps it wouldn’t be so bad. She could just squeeze her eyes closed and think of something else.