Colters Lady eBook: Page2

Maya Banks (2010)

Page 2

 

  With a curious look in his direction, she slid her small fingers trustingly into his. He gripped her hand, infusing his warmth into her cold fingers, and then he tugged her back down the alley to the street.

  Chapter Two

  Lily walked beside Seth until they reached the diner at the corner of the next street. Even then he didn’t let go of her hand. It felt strong and comforting around hers. Hard and lean like Seth himself.

  She studied his profile as discreetly as she could without being caught staring. He had the look of a cop—or one she associated with police officers. His stare was alert and always moving to take in his surroundings.

  He was tall and solidly built. Not overly muscled in a body-builder fashion, but he was physically fit, and he carried his strength in his features. Hard jaw, intense blue eyes, and yet there was also a quietness and gentleness to him that called to her. Maybe it was why she was inexplicably following him into a diner.

  He escorted her to a booth by the window and briefly let go of her hand so he could slide in across the table from her. Immediately he reached over and retook possession of her hand.

  A funny flutter began in her stomach as his thumb stroked over the curve of her hand and her knuckles. She was puzzled by this man and why he’d followed her from the soup kitchen. What did he want, and why did he insist on touching her at every turn?

  A waitress came over, and Seth ordered two cups of hot chocolate. Excitement and longing curled in Lily’s stomach at the idea of the rich, sweet brew. It was her favorite thing in the world, and it had been too long since she’d last been able to enjoy it.

  When the waitress left, Lily glanced up at Seth and asked, “Why did you follow me?”

  His lips twisted into a rueful grimace. “I don’t even know how to answer that, Lily. Have you ever been so affected by someone but not know why? Have you ever been compelled to see them again without knowing anything about them?

  After careful consideration she shook her head. Was he saying that was how he felt after seeing her in the line? That didn’t even make sense. He was a police officer and she was nobody. Nameless and faceless. People rushed by her every single day without ever seeing her. Why would Seth see her?

  “I can’t stand the thought of you being out on the streets,” he admitted. “I followed you because I hoped you had somewhere to go. Shelter. Anything but a place between cardboard boxes in a deserted alley. ”

  Sorrow tightened her throat, and long-held grief and shame bubbled up. She looked down so he wouldn’t see how affected she was by his pity.

  He squeezed her hand. “I’m not judging you, Lily. I was worried. Big difference. I didn’t want you to be out on the streets because I work the streets. I see what’s out there each and every day. I don’t want you there. ”

  His tone surprised her. For someone who’d just met her, he displayed a bewildering amount of concern.

  She offered a casual shrug, not at all indifferent to the warmth in his gaze or the sincerity in his eyes. “Not everyone has a choice. ”

  But you did and you chose to walk away. The thought took hold and reminded her of the consequences of her decisions.

  He didn’t look happy with her answer, and in fact, it looked like he wanted argue, but the waitress returned with their hot chocolate.

  She reached eagerly for the mug and blew gently over the surface, inhaling all the while as the rich scent of chocolate filled her nostrils. Closing her eyes, she sipped, savoring the first delicious taste as it hit her tongue.

  Sighing, she lowered the mug and looked up to see Seth watching her intently.

  “Will you come back to my house, Lily? I’ll make you all the hot chocolate you want. ”

  So startled was she by the blunt question, she nearly let the mug slip from her fingers. She set it down with a jarring thud, and some of the liquid sloshed over the rim and onto the table.

  Before she could respond, he closed his eyes and blew out his breath. “That sounded bad. Really bad. I didn’t mean it the way it came out. ”

  “How did you mean it then?”

  “I want you safe. You have no reason to trust me. You don’t know me, but damn it, I feel like I know you. When I saw you in the line, there was something there and I can’t put a name on it. I only know that I need to know you’re safe. ”

  Flustered by the vehemence in his voice, she sat back, mug in her hands like a protective barrier. “I don’t know what to say. I mean, what does anyone say to that? Of course I can’t go. ”

  “Why not?” he countered. “Lily, let’s be honest here. You’re living in a cardboard box. I’m offering you a warm bed, a hot shower, hot food and all the hot chocolate you could possibly want. ”

  Her hands began to shake. It was insane that she even considered saying yes for half a second. But it had been so long since she’d had any of those things. It hurt to think about the life she’d left behind, the life that had left her behind. She didn’t want to remember. It hurt too much, the wound was still too fresh.

  “What are you thinking about?” he asked gently.

  She shook her head, refusing to go back even for a moment.

  “Stay for one night,” he said. “At least give me that. Let me take care of you tonight. We’ll talk about tomorrow when it comes. ”

  One night. How could she say yes? How could she say no? Seth stirred emotions she hadn’t allowed herself to feel in a long time. She wasn’t entirely sure she wanted to give him the opportunity to unthaw her frozen heart. And he could. She recognized that.

  “Why?” she asked helplessly. “You don’t know me. I’m nobody to you. ”

  “You aren’t nobody, Lily,” he said in a gentle voice. “I don’t know who’s convinced you that you’re no one, or if it’s you yourself that has perpetuated that lie, but that’s what it is. A lie. ”

  She took another long swallow of the hot chocolate and imagined sitting in his house, drinking more, allowing herself for one night to forget the past. To forget her present.

  “All right,” she said before she could talk herself out of it. “I think I must be crazy. This just isn’t done. I know you feel sorry for me, but you shouldn’t. You don’t know¾”

  He held up his hand. “I know all I need to know. That’s enough for now. When you trust me, you can tell me the rest. ”

  She shook her head, but he reached across the table and caught one of her hands, bringing it down so he could hold it once more.

  “You will trust me, Lily. I know it the same way I know you. We’re going to be something to each other. ”

  Again she shook her head, helplessness gripping her. But he simply rose and tugged her to her feet.

  “My truck is parked at Margie’s Place. We should head back now before it starts to get dark. ”

  Seth opened the door to his house and held it as he waited for Lily to walk in ahead of him. She was nervous and on edge, and he didn’t know what to do to make her feel more at ease. It would take time—time he was willing to invest—to make her understand that he had no intention of doing her harm.

  She hung back, clearly uncomfortable with walking into his space. He swept by her, allowing her to position herself between him and the door. He wanted her to feel safe and unpressured.

  “The guest room is down the hall,” he said. “And the bathroom is right next door. I thought you could settle in and get comfortable. I’ll cook us a good dinner and afterward we can kick back and watch a movie. You didn’t eat much at lunch. You have to be hungry. ”

  She smiled, and the shadows lifted and fled from her eyes.

  “And of course there’ll be plenty of hot chocolate,” he added with a grin.

  “I can’t wait,” she said huskily.

  He motioned for her to follow him down the hallway toward his bedroom. “There’s something I want to show you in the master bath. I know I pointed you to the guest bedroom and bathroom, but I thought you might want to take a
soak in the garden tub in my bathroom. ”

  When he flipped on the lights, he saw her gaze fasten longingly on the large tub in the corner. It was honestly not something he used or needed. He hadn’t even drawn water in it once. He always used the shower. But he could see Lily in it, up to her nose in hot water.

  His heart beat a little harder and his groin tightened because he suddenly saw her naked in the tub. He shook his head, feeling like a bastard for the turn of his thoughts.

  “Are you sure you don’t mind?” she asked anxiously.

  But Seth could see how much she wanted that tub. He smiled and touched her gently on the cheek. “Why don’t you hop in now and I’ll get a start on supper. ”

  He left her to run her water, and he headed into the kitchen to see what he could rummage up for dinner. It was lucky for him he’d gone to the market the day before so he had all the ingredients on hand for a decent meal.

  His dads had taught him to cook—taught all his brothers to cook—because A. his mother was hopeless in the kitchen and B. his dads lived by one truth: Women should be cherished and protected, and there wasn’t a woman more loved or cherished than Holly Colter.

  Maybe that’s where the overwhelming protective urge he felt when he first saw Lily came from.

  He shook his head. No, he felt a certain obligation to any woman in need, but it was different with Lily. She was his. He couldn’t explain it—in truth he was utterly baffled by it—but he didn’t fight it. It felt…right.

  After browning the boneless pork chops in the pan, he put together the casserole and then popped it into the oven. It wasn’t exactly cordon bleu, but pork chop casserole was great comfort food, and Lily looked like she needed comfort most of all.

  He set the timer and then his cell phone rang. The ringtone signaled it was someone from the Colter household. Probably his mom. With a smile, he dug his phone out and said hello.

  “Hi sweetie. ”

  His mom’s voice, filled with warmth and love, came over the line. He relaxed. It was a natural reaction around her. He didn’t know of anyone who didn’t do the same when she spoke to them.

  “Hi, Mom. How are you?”

  “I’m good. I’m more interested in hearing how you are. You haven’t called in a while. ”

  There was gentle reproach in her voice that he didn’t miss. Guilt made him cringe.

  “Sorry,” he mumbled. “Haven’t had much to say. ”

  “Are you feeling all right? Are you still hurting?” she asked anxiously.

  “I’m fine, Mom. I swear. My shoulder hardly bothers me anymore. I have a psych evaluation next week, and as long as I don’t froth at the mouth I should be cleared for work. ”

  “You should come visit before you go back to work, Seth. We don’t see enough of you anymore. After you go back to work, you’ll never make it over. ”

  “I’ll see what I can do. Promise. How are the dads?” he asked.

  She sighed but allowed him to change the subject. “They’re as good as ever. Ethan is in town helping your brother do some repairs on the pub. They had trouble last night. ”

  Seth frowned. “What kind of trouble? Is Dillon all right?”

  “Oh, he’s fine. Just a bunch of drunk college kids. Broke out a window. Lacey locked them up and they spent the night in jail. ”

  Seth smiled. Life in Clyde. It never changed.

  “Adam and Ryan are here. Did you want to speak to them?”

  Though it was voiced as a seemingly innocent question, it was anything but. It was a command, and one he didn’t dare ignore. His mom was about the sweetest woman on earth, but she was also a tyrant when it came to her family.

  “Sure, put one of them on. ”

  Seth sighed and waited.

  “Son, how are you doing?”

  Adam Colters’ voice, as gruff as ever, came over the line, and Seth smiled. Damn but it was good to hear their voices. His mom was right. He didn’t call often enough.

  “I’m good, Dad. How are things there? Is Mom doing okay?”

  Adam sighed. “It’s not your mother you need to be worried about. ”

  Seth laughed. “What’s she on your asses about now?”

  “You,” Adam said bluntly. “You know, if you’d just come see her, our lives might go back to being peaceful. ”

  “Is it my fault you married a tyrant?”

  “Don’t sass me, boy,” Adam growled. “I can still whip your ass. ”

  Seth laughed again and felt the tightness in his chest ease. A tightness he hadn’t realized he’d carried around so much lately.

  “How is everyone else? How is Michael’s practice doing?”

  “Good. Real good. He’s busier than a one-armed paper hanger. Your mother stays after him about sleeping enough. Ryan and Ethan and I keep telling her that the only way the boy is going to make a success of his practice is if he gets out there where the animals are. You know your mother, though. She’s only concerned that he’s eating and resting. ”