Rose didn’t think she’d ever move again. The picture he painted with his words was too horrific to be borne. She reached for him again but found she couldn’t touch him.
“I see her at night,” Cab went on, “when I try to sleep. I see…” He cut off and spun around, putting his back to her and she could see by the tightness of the muscles in his shoulders that he was physically struggling to get his emotions back into control. No, he hadn’t told this to Ethan, Rob or Jamie. She knew that for sure. A few moments later he let out a ragged breath. “She’s still alive, though. She’s a fighter, that one.”
“I’m sorry you had to see that,” she said softly.
“That’s my job.” He faced her. “It’s my job to keep people safe and in order to do that I have to think about what could happen—everything that could happen. I have to see shadows where they don’t exist yet.”
The tone of his voice told her he wanted her to understand and she did. At least she thought so. “That’s why you followed me home.”
“What if it had been you?”
Rose’s heart squeezed at the anguish in his tone and for the first time she really thought about what it must be like for Cab. He was surrounded by problems and chaos every day at work. She sold engagement rings. The full force of what he shouldered suddenly became real to her in a way it hadn’t ever been before. She was only responsible for herself. He felt responsible for everyone.
“I’m sorry I’ve been giving you such a hard time,” she said, understanding now he hadn’t been trying to control her, only to save her from the monsters he saw all around them. It didn’t mean she would tolerate him babying her, but at least she could understand the impulse behind his behavior. “Thanks for taking the time to show me how to shoot.”
He seemed to make an effort to shake off his heavy mood. “I can’t believe you’ve never done it before. Not even a rifle?”
He’d asked the question before. Rose shook her head, knowing he needed this trivial conversation to bring himself back into the present moment. “Not even a rifle. Mom and Dad weren’t into hunting.”
“What about you? Want to try hunting sometime?”
Rose considered this. “Maybe,” she said.
Cab chuckled and she was glad to see his sense of humor had returned. “I’ll take that as a no. That’s all right, we can find other things to do.”
Oh, yes, Rose thought with a sudden surge of feeling. She was sure they could. Especially now that she was free from any kind of obligation to Jason.
“Can I make you some lunch?” he asked.
“Yes,” she said before even thinking it through. She didn’t want to be alone and she didn’t think Cab should be alone, either. They both needed company right now. Besides, she enjoyed being near him way too much to back off now.
“Great.” Cab smiled and she forgot everything else.
An hour later they’d returned to Carl’s house, eaten soup and sandwiches and Cab was giving her a tour of the mansion. In some ways the grand home reminded her of Ethan and Autumn’s Big House, but apart from its log construction and the oversized living room with its floor-to-ceiling windows, there wasn’t a strong resemblance. Ethan and Autumn’s home was always filled with people, happy laughter and chatter. This enormous house was as empty as a cavern and about as welcoming as one. Rose knew Claire had helped to decorate it, and everything was very expensive and tasteful, but she couldn’t imagine people living in its rooms. The furniture was too pristine and decorative. There was none of the clutter one expected in someone’s home. If an interior design magazine wanted to do a photo shoot right this minute, there’d be nothing to clean up or hide away.
After they surveyed the eighth bedroom, Rose smiled at Cab. “I’m not sure I need to see any more.”
“Just one more room,” Cab promised her. He took her hand and led her down the hall to another door they hadn’t opened yet. Cab did so now as she warmed to the touch of his hand. Was he going to make a move? Did she want him to? Why was her heart beating so hard?
Because she was no longer tied to Jason and if Cab made a move she was free to respond to it. But should she? She wanted to learn to be her own woman and that was going to take time. She should be careful not to engage in any activity that led to falling straight into a new relationship.
As Cab led her forward into the room—a masculine space with heavy furniture and hunting trophies on the walls—all those rational thoughts fled her mind.
Smack in the center of the room stood a pool table.
And Cab was handing her a cue.
“We didn’t get to play each other the other night,” Cab said, pressing the cue into Rose’s reluctant grip. He didn’t look her in the face, afraid she’d remember how he’d met her gaze when Jamie joked about strip pool.
Afraid she wouldn’t remember it at all.
Cab didn’t kid himself that Rose would agree to such a thing, but he wanted her to know that he was ready for that kind of game any time she was. If Jason was out of the picture, he was ready to step right into it. Today they’d play a friendly game just like any two old friends might, but he hoped she’d think about other games they might play in the future.
“Ladies first,” he said when she didn’t answer. He racked up the balls for her, lifted the triangle away and stood back to watch what she would do next.
She slowly moved to take her place behind the table and placed the cue ball on the green surface. She leaned forward, allowing him a peep of cleavage beneath her sweater as she considered the table, lined up her stick, and took the shot.
One ball sank right away in a pocket. A second rolled close to a pocket, but didn’t go in. Rose straightened and smiled. “Thank God I got one. I’m not very good at this.”
“That was a good shot,” Cab said. He rested his own cue against a glass side table, then unbuttoned the long-sleeved shirt he was wearing and shrugged it off, exposing the T-shirt he wore beneath it. He laid it carefully over the back of a nearby easy chair, turned and caught Rose’s look. “What?” he said as innocently as he could. He knew they weren’t playing strip pool. He was just planting the seeds, that was all.
After a long moment she said, “Nothing.” She rounded the table and lined up to take the easy shot she’d gained from her last turn. It popped into the pocket and she glanced his way. Cab, who’d been standing with his hands shoved in his pants pockets, pulled out the handkerchief he carried in one, looked at it, then laid it on top of his shirt.