Damn, when had he damaged such a huge part of his brain? He liked her. He liked her a lot. He wanted to get closer to her. He thought they could have a future together. He wanted to protect her and keep her safe and make her smile and laugh and forget all the bad in her past.
But they’d known each other such a short time. But she had trust issues. But she was damaged by her past. But he hadn’t even kissed her.
But he still felt he knew her in all the ways that counted, and he still liked her a lot, and he still thought they could have a future, and he still wanted her, damn it. Everything about her, easy and tough, good and bad, the pretty beyond description and the ugly beyond pain.
It still felt right.
* * *
Mila was sitting on the windowsill in Gramma’s living room when Sam came back. He let himself in—she hadn’t realized Gramma had given him a key—and hung up his damp hat on the coatrack near the door. She tried to tamp down the warmth and comfort just the sight of him created. She’d spent so much of her life alone. She could handle a few more hours of solitude. “Still raining, huh?”
He grinned. “You have a talent for stating the obvious.” He started toward her, stopping to give Poppy a rubdown where she half slept on the couch. “Where’s your gramma?”
“She’s visiting Mrs. Bushyhead on the third floor. Officer Gideon escorted her down there, and she’ll call Officer Bartlett when she’s ready to come back.”
“Mrs. Bushyhead…why don’t I know her?”
“Well, she’s probably about 107, and she doesn’t get out very often, but she has every sports channel known to man, so she’s good with that.”
“Oh, yeah, I remember. You have a gift for exaggeration, too. I have it on good authority she’s not one day over 104.” He smelled sweet as he came nearer, of rain and fresh air and home-cooked something or other. She imagined him at his family’s weekly dinner, in a crowd so big he hardly stood out, loved by all, liked and respected by most. She didn’t envy him. She was just glad he had it.
And she wondered if she could ever have it. She could envision a lot of things she’d never experienced before, but being a welcome member of a big family just wouldn’t form. Not enough experience, not enough knowledge how those things worked.
Small steps, she reminded herself. She’d sat at a table just this morning with five other adults, eaten and talked. That had been a huge deal for her. There were a lot more firsts between that and meeting his family.
Assuming that he would stick around long enough to want them to meet her, and that she could overcome enough fear to want to meet them.
Little tiny baby steps.
He nudged her, and she dropped her feet from the sill, straightening to make room for him to sit beside her. “I love these old buildings—the tall ceilings, the deep windows, the woodwork, the floors. The mayor wanted all of them torn down and rebuilt so we could have more consistency in styles, methods and materials in our downtown area.”
“He’s a putz.” Mila smiled when he narrowed his gaze at her. “He may have come up in conversation with Officer Gideon, and someone may have called him that, though it could have just as easily been Gramma. He tried to stop her from having her garden, and I believe she compared him to a cow—full of crap and shouldn’t be holding office.”
Sam’s responding smile was tinged with smugness. It was always nice when someone you liked disliked the same people you did. “I thought she gave me the complete tour last night. I didn’t see a garden.”
“Would you like to?” Mila slid to the floor before he could say no. She’d been inside more than twenty-four hours, and it felt like an eternity. She hadn’t even been allowed to take Poppy on her bathroom runs. She needed to breathe fresh air soon, or her skin might start mummifying.
He stood, too, and she headed for the door. Poppy raised her head and looked, then laid it down again. Maybe it was because of her own traumatic experience at Cedar Creek the day Gramma found her, but wet wasn’t something she particularly enjoyed.
Mila took an umbrella from the coat stand, then had to stand back while Sam checked the hallway first. He locked up, and she directed him to the door at the south end of the floor, accessible with the house key. There a flight of stairs led upward, opening onto the roof, where he stopped suddenly, eyes wide.