“Roth Lexington! I can’t believe you just did that. I’m soaked.”
He closed his arms around her, causing her back to nestle against his chest. “Quit fronting, woman. You know you wanted to be in here with me.”
He could hear the smile in her voice. Tressa cooed as he pressed a kiss to her shoulder, the crook of her neck and the edge of her ear. “Thank you,” he whispered softly. “Thank you for taking such good care of me.”
Growing up in the system, he never got the luxury of homemade soup, specialty elixirs or back washes. And he sure as hell hadn’t encountered anyone as selfless as Tressa. She was unlike any woman he’d ever bedded.
Bedded? That sounded so cold. Tressa wasn’t just warming his bed; she was thawing his damn heart.
He honestly couldn’t recall the last time anyone had shown him such compassion without wanting something in return.
Tressa glanced over her shoulder. “You are very welcome. Plus, I feel partly responsible for you being sick. It was my idea to play in the snow.”
Now that she mentioned it… “Partly?”
“Ah, yes. Partly. I mean, you are a grown man. You could have said no.”
Roth pinched her playfully on the thigh.
“Ouch,” she said through laughter.
“As if I could have said no once I saw the way your face lit up. ‘Ooh, snow,’” he mocked.
She swatted him playfully. “I don’t believe those were my exact words, and I definitely don’t sound like that.” Easing her head back against his shoulder, she smiled. “Snow reminds me of my grandmother. My father’s mother,” she clarified. “Gram used to make snow cream every snowfall. Never the first snow. The first snow washed away all the germs.” She frowned as if the memory ushered in a great deal of sadness. “I miss her.”
“How long has she…?”
“Almost six years. Old age. She was ninety-seven.”
Roth whistled. “Ninety-seven. She lived a long life.”
“A long and vibrant life. After my grandfather’s death, she didn’t sit around depressed and withdrawn. She traveled, she explored, she adventured, she fell in love over and over again. Though she once said she’d never love a man the way she’d loved my grandfather.”
He kissed the back of her head. “Tell me about your grandfather.”
She perked up. “My grandfather was as royal as a king to me.”
She said it with so much passion Roth envisioned a Coming to America scene.
“He spoiled me and my brothers, but not with just material things. He spoiled us with knowledge and wisdom. He was a family and a community man. My grandfather was the man any and everyone in the neighborhood knew they could come to if they needed anything. Help with their mortgage. Help with utilities. Food for the dinner table. Clothing. School supplies for the kids. Anything.” She sighed. “He’s the reason I love to cook.”
When Tressa blinked rapidly, he knew she was blinking back tears. He tightened his grip around her. “You’re lucky to have grown up surrounded by so much love.” He kissed the back of her head again. “You’re so lucky. The only l-word I’ve ever truly known is loss. My mom died when I was three. My dad gave me to his sister to raise, then disappeared. When I was seven, my aunt died in a car crash. That’s how I ended up in foster care. No one wanted me.”
Tressa turned around to look at him. Tenderness blazed in her adoring eyes. “I want you,” she said in a delicate voice.
She straightened and rested against him again. “Because this feels right. Us. We feel right. Things for me haven’t felt right for a very long time, but this…this feels right. My life is not picture-perfect, Roth, but I really want you in it.”
“The last time I…” He stopped short of saying fell in love in fear of spooking her. “I was hurt once. I’ve had my guard up ever since.”
“She cheated on me.”
“From the start, I knew we hadn’t been right for each other. But I wanted someone to love. And someone to love me,” he added. “I entered into the relationship for all the wrong reasons. I wasn’t the man I should have been. I was closed off and sometimes cold. She sought comfort elsewhere.”