“Thank you, ma’am.” He took the brownies, heavy and gooey, and watched Jessica make a big production of getting Poppy and herself out of the room. Mila slowly approached him, hands loosely clasped in front of him. She glanced up a time or two, catching his gaze, then continued her slow meander around furniture that would be too much for a room twice its size. Slow was the only way to get around it.
Finally she stood in front of him, not too close—enough room for an overstuffed armchair between them—and she let her hands drop to her sides before lifting her gaze to his face. “Thank you, Sam.” Her voice was barely a whisper. Because she still wasn’t recovered from the unwelcome surprise she’d gotten tonight or because she desired privacy within distance of not one but two loud women?
He didn’t care. He just matched her whisper. “You’re welcome.” That jogged a thought in him, and he pulled a handful of business cards from his wallet. Finding an ink pen next to a notepad on a table, he scrawled his cell number on the back of every one. Then, just for an excuse to touch her once more, he put the cards in her hand and folded her fingers over them, just like he’d done with his debit card the other night.
Only this time he didn’t let go. “About the only time I’m truly not available is when I’m on the stand in a courtroom testifying. Any other time, if you need something, even if it’s just a friendly voice, call me, will you?”
Her gaze locked with his, she nodded. She looked nervous, flushed, awkward, regretful, hopeful… Every emotion he’d seen cross her face was crossing it now, along with some he hadn’t seen. Her fingers were motionless within his grip, like she wanted the touch but didn’t, couldn’t give in to it but couldn’t pull away from it, either.
Then her thumb moved. Not a lot. She didn’t clench it tighter to her palm. She didn’t try to pull it from his hold. She just slid it, bit by bit, until its pad was pressed in that webbed spot between his own thumb and forefinger.
As touches went, it was minor, petty, nothing, but damn, it felt like so much more. So much potential. So much intimacy. So much trust.
So damn much more.
Jessica’s crooning to Poppy was getting louder, finally forcing him to speak. “We’ll talk tomorrow.”
Their gazes held a moment longer before he reluctantly pulled away and turned to the door. “Good night, ladies.” He didn’t look back over his shoulder as he walked out, or when he said goodbye to Miz Wynona, or when he headed down the stairs.
By the time he reached his truck, his breath was coming in unsteady gulps, not because of exertion. Because he felt…different. There was no other way to say it. The Sam Douglas he was at this very moment wasn’t the same one who’d walked into Jessica’s apartment tonight. Mila’s trust had touched him in a very fundamental way.
Yeah, in the head, he could hear Ben saying.
He wasn’t sure exactly what had changed, or if things would return to normal, or if he even wanted them to. Normal was comfortable. It was familiar. It was risk-free. Normal stayed the same, year after year, success after disappointment, heartbreak after relationship.
He’d always been a very normal sort of guy.
He wasn’t cut out to be a not-normal guy.
But with Mila in his life, he wasn’t sure normal was an option anymore.
The woman’s eyes went dark with concern and worry and something else: doubt. She looked around again before refocusing on me. “Honey, are you okay?” she asked cautiously. “Did you have a fight with your dad? Does he know where you are?”
I’m not angry, I’m not trying to get back at him, I’m not lying, I’m trying to save your life! I screamed the words but knew they had voice only in my head. I glanced toward him but didn’t see him. That didn’t mean he was gone. He always moved someplace where we couldn’t see him, not until we walked through whichever door he had chosen and it was too late. This time I could feel him watching me. My skin tingled and burned as if he could use sheer hatred to make me burst into flames. My stomach was so twisted, so filled with helplessness and rage, that I felt as if I was on fire.