“I just want to go back to bed,” I whispered.
“Okay.” He stepped aside and let me pass. I put my head down, hustled to the bedroom, shut the door and set to putting my pajamas back on. Blue checkered shorts and a white tank.
Just as I settled back into bed and pulled the covers to my chin, a small rap came at the door.
“You can come in,” I called out. And he did.
He stood in the doorway. The window on the opposite wall let in enough moonlight that it illuminated his face and hard torso. Shadows danced over the expanse of his smooth skin and made me think of some kind of Greek god.
Not saying a word, he walked straight to me, around to the other side of the bed, and climbed in. I went to turn to face him, but he just wrapped me in his arms, my back to his chest, and spooned me.
“I thought you wanted to keep this platonic,” I said.
“I do. Well, I should.” His mouth brushed my ear as he spoke, sending tingles to every part of my body. “I’m not putting the moves on you, Emma. I just want you to be able to rest. Whatever it takes to make you believe you’re safe, I’ll do.”
His arms tightened a little and his leg threaded between my two. My heart stuttered a bit. Not from his grip, but from the sheer mass of his presence weighing down on me. If I was the kind of girl that ran into the arms of a man, I’d hope to God that man’s arms were Rhys’s. Because he was the kind of man that caught a girl, and never let go. I might have only shared a few moments with him, but those moments were worth a thousand with any other man.
My chest tightened as the truth hit me hard. The answer to my question of why I responded to Rhys the way I did was clear. It wasn’t because he was different. It was because he was better. Better than most. Better than me. Just . . . better.
“I don’t get you, Rhys.” I whispered.
He buried his face in my neck. “I like you, Emma. I have no problem admitting that.”
The sentiment doubled the arrhythmia problem I was having. Just the thought of being on the receiving end of his attentions made my skin light up. Hell, I had firsthand experience in what his attention felt like. And it was addicting. But it was also not practical to think it could be more than a fleeting encounter here and there. Long-term and me didn’t mix. Especially when it involved a man. And that was when both of us were on an equal playing field, which Rhys and I weren’t.
“You don’t like me, you pity me,” I corrected.
“I think I can classify my feelings correctly.” His lips were just below my earlobe now.
“You say you can read me? I can read you back. I saw the look in your eyes when I told you about my past. That was pity.”
He laid there silent for a long moment, and it about ate me alive with anticipation. Would he leave? Tell me I was right? Either option made my stomach twist. Men didn’t ever touch me in a nice way. It was either purely sexual or abusive. With Rhys lying next to me, holding me, it felt different. Felt like he cared.
“I don’t like what you’ve had to go through, but I don’t pity you. I feel sad for you.”
I frowned and glanced over my shoulder the best I could. “Same thing,” I stated and went to shake him off, but his grip held tight.
“No, it’s not. Everything you told me helps me understand you. Your will, ambition and sense of survival is awe-inspiring. I admire you, Emma.” He brushed a piece of hair away from my ear. “But there’s not a single part of me that doesn’t wish you didn’t have to go through what you did.”
My throat ached and I tried to swallow but it was difficult because there was a lump rising in it. How was this man able to see right through me? See past the walls I had so diligently constructed a long time ago? It was a shock to my system. He admired me? No one had ever said such a thing before.
“I don’t want to be a charity case,” I whispered.
He shook his head slightly, the stubble on his chin scratching my shoulder. “I’ve never thought of you that way.”
And just like that, my soul, my heart, my entire body flushed with a deep ache that was dying for his words to be true. Like I had every other time he spoke. And if I wasn’t careful, I just might be on the verge of believing him.
“Get some sleep.”
I couldn’t argue. My body relaxed and the night crept up on me, making my eyelids heavy. It was like that one incredible night we’d spent together, I was once again surrounded by Rhys, his scent, his strength, and I fell into a deep sleep.
The morning’s rays flicked at my face. Groaning, I reluctantly opened my eyes. The smell of bacon and coffee came from the other room and my stomach growled on cue.
Rhys was gone, but I had slept great. Had he stayed the whole night with me? It felt like he had, even though the sheets were cold where he had been. I didn’t know what time it was, but judging by the bitchy sunshine coming through the window, it was breakfast time.
I got up and walked out into the main room. Rhys’s back was to me. He was at the front door talking to someone. His ass looked mighty fine in exercise shorts and a T-shirt that was a little sweaty. Of course he was out exercising already.
I couldn’t see who he was speaking with, but it was definitely a woman.
“I was going to come see you this afternoon,” he said quietly and in a smooth voice. The kind that was typically reserved for, “Hey, baby, I was going to call you, I swear.”
Ah crap. It must be Sara. I cleared my throat and Rhys turned just his head to look at me over his shoulder, not looking at all happy. He was obviously hiding the fact that Sara was standing in front of him.
“Oh, hello there,” a sweet voice rang out and a tiny woman with a blond bun on the top of her head peeked around Rhys.
“Hi . . .” I said, slowly taking in the dainty older woman.
“Now I see why you were being all mysterious. Shame on you,” the woman said and smacked Rhys’s stomach.
With a big smile, she bypassed Rhys and headed straight for me. I was barefoot, in pajama shorts and umph —
She damn near slammed into me, wrapped me in the tightest hug, then gripped my shoulders and leaned back to looked at my face.
“You are such a pretty thing.” Her gray eyes scanned over me. “I didn’t mean to drop by so early. It’s just that when my son,” she hollered in Rhys’s direction, “comes to town and I have to hear it from Teddy at the Slap a Stack, a mother gets worried.”
My eyes went wide and my mouth hung open. “You’re Rhys’s mother?” I asked. And if memory served, Teddy was the cook at the diner last night who had waved a spatula in our direction when Rhys walked in with me.