He wasn’t there.
“Are you okay?” Colton placed his hand on my shoulder, turning me toward him. Concern was etched into his handsome face. “Abby?”
“Was that a…a gun?” The moment I spoke the question, I already knew the answer. If it had been a gun, I doubted Colton would just be standing there. “I’m sorry.” My cheeks burned as I looked away. “I know that wasn’t what that was.”
“It was a car backfiring. Probably down the street.” His hand curved around the nape of my neck and he guided my gaze back to his. “I get it.”
That was all he needed to say and I believed him. Nodding slowly, I forced an even breath in and then out. “I guess…I’m just a little jumpy after Friday. When I heard that, I thought…”
“I’m not surprised.” His hand shifted and he curled his arm around my shoulders, drawing me to his chest. “You freaking amaze me, Abby, with how you’re holding it together after Friday, but I know it has effected you and that’s okay. That’s normal.”
The citrusy scent of his cologne surrounded me and my heart rate slowed. The embarrassment from overreacting eased off. “Thank you.”
“There is no reason you need to thank me.” Leaning back, he brushed his lips over my forehead and then lowered his arm. He swooped down, picking up my purse. “But I want you to feel safe. Nothing is going to happen to you.”
I didn’t respond as he took my hand in his other one. Still holding my purse, he led me to where his truck was parked under a large oak tree. The leaves stirred in the warm breeze. “Reece has been keeping an eye on your place during the night and throughout the day, doing drive-bys.”
I stared at him, floored.
“It’s not perfect, but I doubt you’re ready for me camping out in your place like I want to until we get those shitheads and put them behind bars.” Stopping in front of the passenger door, he let go of my hand and opened it. “Up?”
I didn’t move, not even when he placed the purse in my hands. “You have Reece watching my place?”
“Yeah. And the other deputies know to keep an eye out.” He cocked his head to the side, studying me. “You look like I just dropped my pants.”
I liked to think I’d be rocking a totally different look on my face if he’d done that. “I’m just surprised. That’s a lot of trouble for them.”
“It’s nothing.” His gaze met mine. “And they’re glad to do it. You’re important to me. They know that.”
For the umpteenth time since he appeared Friday night, I was absolutely flummoxed by Colton. I was important to him? Since when? That question sounded like such a douche-tastic thing to think, but could he really be telling the truth? Did I have any reason to doubt that he was?
“You have that look on your face,” he said.
I snapped out of it. “What look?”
“Like you don’t believe a word I’m saying.”
My eyes widened. Was I that obvious? Holy crap. But he didn’t get it. He didn’t understand that there was a part of me, no matter how much attention or attraction he tossed in my direction or what he said, that couldn’t truly believe he really wanted all of this with me.
“That’s okay.” He tapped my hip with his hand, motioning me to get into the truck. I did just that, staring at him as he closed the door and jogged around the front. When he climbed in, he started the truck, cranking up the air conditioner. Snagging aviator-style sunglasses off the visor, he slipped them on and looked over at me. “Do you know why it’s okay?”
I shook my head. “I’m guessing you’re going to tell me?”
His lips kicked up on one corner. “Nah, sweetheart, I’m going to show you.”
* * * *
I’m going to show you.
Those words lingered in the back of my head throughout dinner, a tantalizing distraction that resurfaced whenever our gazes collided. Conversation wasn’t lacking though.
While we waited for the food to arrive, along with the wine, we chatted about high school and he asked about college. I talked about what it was like to live in a city like New York, and he’d admitted that he could never handle day in and day out in the city, not even Philadelphia. During the dinner, he led me into a conversation about editing, something that many people outside of the publishing industry would have absolutely no interest in, but he seemed genuinely curious about it.
And when I started to go fan-girl over the authors I worked with and hoped to work with in the future, he said I was cute. Again.
We didn’t talk about the investigation. I hadn’t brought it up, figuring it would kind of ruin the lovely dinner.
Sometimes I found myself missing what he was saying, just tiny bits, because as terrible as it sounded, I ended up just staring at him. It wasn’t just because he was that attractive. It was more than a physical thing. A mixture of his charm and kindness, the fact that he was actually here, after all this time, having dinner with me, had a lot to do with it. And yeah, some of it had to do with him simply being so freaking hot.
And I was woman enough to admit that.
I had to wonder what people thought when they saw us together. Like when the waitress’s gaze lingered on Colton, what crossed her mind? Did she wonder how the hell I ended up on a date with someone like Colton, who was universally attractive? No one wanted to admit it, but I knew people thought things like that. Hell, I had. After all, if they didn’t, there wouldn’t be a thousand articles online showcasing couples that didn’t match on the attractive scale.
Maybe I wasn’t giving myself enough credit. I didn’t want to think about things like that right now, because the dinner was sort of perfect, and the steady internal stream of nonsense was ruining it.
Night had fallen when we left the restaurant and bright stars blanketed the onyx sky. He kept his hand on my lower back until we reached his truck. It was such a simple gesture, but I felt like there was so much meaning to it.
The ride back to my place was quiet as I was lost in my own thoughts, replaying the dinner over and over. I wasn’t even aware of the fact that we were at my house until he parked the truck.
I glanced at him in the dark interior of the truck, half hopeful that he would come in and partly terrified that he would.
One hand rested on the steering wheel as his gaze met mine and held. His features were shadowed, so I had no idea what he was thinking. “Walk you to the door?”
“Sure.” Disappointment snapped at my heels. So he didn’t want to come in? Did I want him to come in? Colton dropped his hand from the steering wheel and reached over, and as he unbuckled my seatbelt, his hand brushed along my stomach. A series of shivers danced over my skin.
Oh yeah, I wanted him to come in. Like that door was wide open.
We walked to the front door, silent with the exception of the humming of crickets. I didn’t know what to say when we reached my door and I dug my keys out, unlocking it. I wished I could be brave and confident, invite him in with a sexy little grin, but it had been so long since I’d done this.
Actually, I’d never really done this before. Kevin and I had done the dating thing while in high school. Parents were involved then. Dates ended at the door and picked up again with late-night phone calls. This was a whole different ballpark I had no experience in. I looked up at him, drawing in a shallow breath.