Gasping for air, Savannah untangled herself from the sheets and fought to get her breathing under control. It was just a dream. Dillon wasn’t there. Jacob was gone. And she was safe. Tell that to her heart, currently thundering in her chest like she’d just sprinted a marathon.
“Savannah? What is it?” Cole sat up in bed, running a hand across his face.
“Sorry, nothing. Just a bad dream,” she mumbled. “I didn’t mean to wake you.”
Cole reached over and flicked on the small bedside lamp. Savannah blinked against the warm glow, finding Cole’s features etched in concern and his hair rumpled from sleep.
Placing his warm palm on the center of her back, he rubbed slow circles, working to calm her. Savannah drew a slow shuddering breath and attempted a smile, trying to show him she wasn’t as broken as she felt.
“What was the dream about?” he asked, his voice thick with sleep.
Blinking a few times, her eyes adjusted to the light and Savannah took notice of Cole’s shirtless form. His broad bare chest was enough of a distraction, and she focused on him instead of the memories swirling in her head. “It was just something that happened a few weeks before the raid. Dillon sat me down and explained that his father had promised him that I could be his. That was why he needed to go away and work, to save up money for our future.”
Cole’s brow wrinkled and his hand stilled on her back. “What do you mean promised you could be his?”
Savannah shrugged. She knew she didn’t want to belong to anyone. She wanted to be her own woman, and be loved and cherished in her own right, but free to come and go, make her own choices. Living with Jacob, or Dillon for that matter, that wasn’t possible. Which was why she was so grateful for Cole. She kept most of these somber memories to herself, preferring instead to focus on the good things — like the children and the few friends she’d had there. But she couldn’t control her subconscious, and dreams of Jacob’s crazy rants and Dillon urgings needed to stop.
“Can you just hold me tonight?” she whispered to Cole.
His expression was guarded, but he nodded his consent and held open his arms. Savannah crawled closer, nestled herself into the crook of his arm and he lowered them both to the bed, reaching over to flip off the light. Savannah breathed in his warm, male scent and rested her head against the firm plane of his chest. As crazy as it was, she felt completely safe and at ease with Cole. She took a deep breath and closed her eyes, slipping into a restful sleep in Cole’s solid embrace.
That Sunday Cole got changed and readied himself for a tough conversation. He ventured to the living room and found Savannah on the sofa, little magazine clippings on the coffee table in front of her like she was in the middle of some project.
“I have this thing I do on Sundays,” he started.
Savannah looked up him curiously, Cuddles dozing near her hip. “Okay.” She turned back to her magazine cutouts — pictures of puppies and babies, and other nonsensical things.
“I’ll um, be back before dinner.”
He slipped into his shoes, still waiting for her questions, but they never came.
Savannah didn’t say a thing. Didn’t even raise an eyebrow about where he went on Sundays. What would he say if she did? How would he explain his relationship with Abbie? Perhaps it was best to shield Savannah from the whole situation, including his messy relationship history. Things were manageable now. Two hours on a Sunday were all that was required to keep things running smoothly. And so far, Savannah hadn’t asked a single question. Perhaps it was one of those things better left unknown. Easier for all involved. He was trying to do the right thing by Abbie. Of course, now that Savannah was in his life, things had gotten considerably more complicated. He didn’t normally do complicated.
Cole had always felt confident in his decision to maintain his relationship with Abbie. He was doing the right thing to help a friend in need — simple as that. Then why did it feel like a f**k of a lot more suddenly? The fact that Savannah didn’t know about her turned it into some dirty secret. He had enough skeletons in his closet, and he didn’t particularly enjoy adding another. But he drew in a deep breath and shook off the tension building between his shoulder blades. Just because he had Savannah in his life didn’t mean he could walk away from his other responsibilities.
Cole ran his hands over his face, pressing the heels of his palms over his eyes. Why women didn’t come with an instruction manual was beyond him.
Monday morning came too quickly after another pleasant weekend spent with Cole. Savannah yawned and smoothed her hair back, securing it in a low ponytail at the nape of her neck. The least she could do to say thank you was to help out around the house, not to mention if they wanted to eat, the responsibility seemed to rest on her. “The coffee’s ready,” she called to Cole.
He entered the kitchen with a frown. “Not in the mood.”
He always drank coffee. Always. “What’s wrong?” she asked, turning to watch him fasten the last few buttons on his dress shirt. She helped him with the cufflinks that his fingers always stumbled over. “Here. Let me.”
“Thanks.” He smiled weakly.
“Are you sick?” she asked, noticing the dark circles beneath his eyes.
“It’s just an upset stomach. I’ll be fine.”
She stared at him, having never seen him under the weather, and felt altogether useless. “Can I get you some ginger ale and soda crackers?”
He nodded. “Ah, sure. Maybe that’ll do the trick.” He slipped into his loafers while Savannah poured a small glass of the bubbly amber-colored drink. “My mom used to give me the same thing.”
“Here.” She watched while he munched down the crackers and then downed the soda.
“See, I’m fine Savannah.” He chuckled, passing back the empty glass.
“Okay,” she said reluctantly, accepting it. He’d done so much for her, it was the least she could do to be there for him. Savannah headed into the kitchen and switched off the coffee maker, having never developed a taste for the stuff herself, and watched from the corner of her eye as Cole stuffed his cell phone, wallet and keys into the pockets of his slacks. He was a man of routine, that much was certain. He kept all his essentials, plus some loose change, and a seldom worn watch in a small mahogany box on his entryway table, and repeated this same ritual each morning. Savannah continued to inspect him, appreciating the way he looked dressed up in his work clothes, when Cole suddenly darted from the entryway, passing her as he shot down the hall.
“Cole…” She followed him toward the bathroom, but the sounds of him becoming sick stopped her at the threshold. She stood with her back pressed against the wall just outside the bathroom door, wondering if she should go to him.
She heard the water running and him gargling. “Cole?” she knocked softly on the door. “Are you okay?”
“I’ll be out in a minute,” he called. His voice was tense and rougher than usual, making Savannah’s stomach knot with worry.
He emerged a second later, looking no worse for the wear and continued past her to the front door. “See you tonight.”
“Cole!” She met him at the door. “You’re still going to work?”
He nodded, pausing at the half-open front door. “Yeah.”
“But you were just sick!”
“So? I’m a big boy. I’ll be fine.”
“You have the flu; go get in bed.”
An expression of surprise crossed Cole’s face and he darted for the bathroom, cursing under his breath. She heard the telltale signs of him getting sick again.
A few minutes later, Savannah steered Cole into his bedroom, refusing to take no for an answer, and helped him step out of his dress slacks, pockets still full and belt dangling loosely.
“I need my cell.” He looked adorably cute standing there pouting in just his black boxers briefs and white undershirt.
Slightly exasperated that he was going to be a difficult patient, Savannah anchored her hands on her hips, ready to do what it took to force him into being an obedient patient. “No phones. No work. No.”
“I’m just going to send Norm a text and tell him I’m staying home today.”
She bit her lip, deciding if she could believe him. “Fine.” She handed over his cell phone and went to hang his slacks in the closet. From inside the closet, she heard him mumbling to himself that criminals don’t take a day off and neither should he.
She returned to his bedside and was ready to forcibly remove the phone from his hands, but as he promised, he sent one quick text, then set the phone on the bedside table. He rolled to his side, hugged a pillow to his chest and closed his eyes.
She pushed his hair back from his forehead, feeling for a temperature. She secretly loved how his hair looked when he first woke up, like a rakish young boy who’d been out all night raising trouble, or enjoying a tumble between the sheets. She pressed the back of her hand against his cheek and his eyes fluttered open. “You feel warm,” she whispered.
“Mmm,” he groaned.
“Think you can keep down some water?”
Savannah returned with a glass of chilled water and two pain relievers, which she set on the bedside table for later once she was confident he was done getting sick. Cole’s foggy gaze met hers, watching as she arranged the blankets around him and fussed over him. She tipped the glass of water to his lips and he swallowed a tiny sip, before dropping his head back to the pillow again.
“Thanks,” he croaked, his voice raw. “Lay with me?” he asked softly. He’d never requested her presence before, never acted like it mattered. They’d cuddled and lain together so many times, but it was always at her urging. Her heart thumped in her chest at hearing him ask for her in that way. It was just because he was sick. But that didn’t mean she wasn’t allowed to enjoy it all the same.
She pulled back the covers, joining him in between the sheets where she could snuggle up properly. Cole cracked open one eye and lifted his arm, urging her nearer.
“Get closer, I’m cold,” he whispered.
His skin felt hot to the touch, but Savannah didn’t argue, draping her arm across his chest, and one leg over his h*ps as she wrapped her body around his.
He sighed a little sound of contentment and pressed a kiss to her hair. “Thanks, Savannah.”
Savannah awoke to an intense heat radiating around her. She flung the blankets off her, gasping for breath. God he was burning up. “Cole?” She shook his shoulders trying to rouse him. “Cole, wake up.”
He lazily opened one eye and let out a slight groan. “Need Savannah.” His hand raised and then flopped heavily against the mattress.
“I am Savannah. Sit up so you can take some pain reliever for me.”
“No…want Savannah,” he groaned, his eyes still closed.
She reached for the pills, pried open Cole’s lips and placed them on his tongue, then patted his cheeks and made him take a sip of water. He did so, lethargically, before falling back against his pillow.
“Savannah…” he breathed once more.
She smoothed her hands through his hair. “Shh. Just rest. I’m here.” She rubbed his neck and shoulders, finding them tense even while he slept.
Hope surged in her chest. Feeling needed and vital was a sentiment that she missed so much it brought tears to her eyes. She blinked them away and brought a palm to Cole’s roughened cheek, skittering her thumb back and forth. He only needs you because he’s delirious with fever. She ignored the empty feeling in her chest and continued smoothing his hair back and gently caressing him, doing her best to soothe both of their aches.
Having recovered from the twenty-four hour flu, Cole was back at work the following day. He’d spent the week working on a new case, but had hit a lull. He stretched at his desk, his neck cracking with the movement and decided to check into the cult case to see if there was anything new. He also wanted to learn more about Dillon.
He typed a search into the database and hit enter. He learned that all fourteen children had been reunited with their mothers —none of whom were charged in the case. He knew that would make Savannah happy. He thought about going home mid-day to check on her, but talked himself out of it.
There was surprising little about Dillon. He’d been tracked to Amarillo where he was working manual labor. He’s been given the news of his father’s death and was also questioned at that time, but the interview didn’t reveal much.
Cole continued perusing the file and stumbled across a photo of Dillon. It was a candid shot from his time at the compound, and Savannah was in the photo too, sitting on his knee in front of a rustic fire pit — a wide smile on her face. The picture ate away at him. Maybe she really was happy living there. Sure, she seemed to be adjusting well to staying with him, but seeing the pure bliss on her face — under a darkened, star filled sky, seated with friends and family next to her — he began to realize there was more to her life at the compound than crazy Jacob.
He studied the picture closer. Dillon’s hands rested on Savannah’s hip and his face was covered in a stupid ass grin. If this bastard so much as laid one finger on Savannah, he’d personally castrate the son of bitch. He considered how to bring up Dillon to Savannah to get more information about their relationship, but decided to proceed with caution. She was doing so well, he didn’t want to upset her. Savannah had seemed somewhat worried and hesitant to discuss Dillon, so at least for now, he’d let it drop. Savannah was safe. That’s all that mattered.
He knew he couldn’t just keep her holed up in his condo, even if he wanted to. He realized that in the weeks Savannah had been staying with him, she’d yet to leave the house, aside from her therapy appointments and walking the dog. It was Friday night, and he decided that tonight that would change. If Savannah really was going to be staying with him, he wanted to do all he could to help re-acclimate her to her new life. Step one to her gaining some confidence and independence was to get out of his condo on a regular basis. Her three times a day trips to take Cuddles outside didn’t count, though he supposed that was a start.