“If you’re going to apologize, don’t. I was out of line. You’re a grown woman. You don’t need me to hold your hand.”
Maybe she did. Maybe that was exactly what she needed. For someone to simply hold her hand.
“I have this overwhelming need to protect you,” Roth said.
The words almost seemed painful for him to admit. Had she just got a glimpse at a vulnerable Roth Lexington? The flash of weakness was endearing. Her lips twitched, but she didn’t want to smile. Just like him, she needed to play it cool. But the fact that he wanted to protect her melted her heart into a big, messy puddle. No man had ever said anything like that to her. How did she respond?
Roth continued, “Big brother instinct. At least that’s what my foster brothers would call it.” Roth blew out another breath. “I should be the one apologizing. From this point forward, I will mind my own damn business. You have my word.”
Big brother instinct? Was he suggesting he saw her as a kid sister?
Hell, no. No man would look at a sibling the way he looked at her.
“Still, I overreacted. You didn’t deserve that. I’m sorry.”
Roth studied her for a moment before he spoke. “I accept.”
They fell into comfortable silence, staring at one another in their way. She needed to give this thing they did a name. Something with fire in it, because every time they latched onto one another in one of these passion-swirling stare downs, flames burned through her as hot as lava.
Before she was completely consumed, she searched for something monumental to say, something that would convey her sentiment, a line that would reveal some things, but conceal others. Unfortunately, her brain was fried.
Roth stood staring out at Silver Point in the distance, recalling the conversation he’d had with Tressa that morning outside the general store. He’d given her too much. Why in the hell had he told her about his need to protect her? Way too much. But what he’d seen in her eyes suggested it’d been just enough. For her, at least.
Why did this damn woman leave him feeling so exposed?
Tressa’s reflections danced in the glass as she moved down the stairs. He wanted her in the worst way. There was truly no more denying that.
Tressa stood at the door alongside Roth. “God, this view is amazing. You can see the entire town below.” When he didn’t respond, Tressa glanced up at him. “Hey, are you okay?”
He flashed a low-wattage smile. “Sorry. I drifted off.”
They shared a laugh at their inside joke.
“So, what do we have planned for this gorgeous Saturday afternoon? Now that I have clothes that fit—perfectly, I might add—I’m down for whatever.”
“Whatever, huh?” That was a risky statement.
“Yep,” she said with confidence.
“Well, let’s get out of here, then.” He had the perfect outing. And the more time they spent out, the less time he’d spend daydreaming about being in her.
Twenty minutes later they entered the Blue Ridge Parkway. The drive along this stretch was stunning, even with the leafless trees and absence of color. Hands down, fall was Roth’s favorite time of year here with the vibrant reds, yellows and oranges.
Taking a quick detour, he veered off to the Grandview Overlook. Tressa stood staring out at the miles and miles of rolling mountaintops, clouds swooping low as if they were there to welcome the formations into heaven.
“If I’d known how beautiful it is here, I’d have come a long time ago,” Tressa said.
While Tressa took in every inch of the scene surrounding them, he took in every inch of her. Everything about her was so delicate, yet alluded strength. Definitely strong willed. He laughed to himself. It took a helluva woman to have gone through what she had and still be able to smile as bright as the sun. He admired that about her. That resilience. It was attractive as hell.
“Come on,” he said, leading her back to the SUV. “If you liked that view, you’ll love where we’re headed next.”
The road leading to the top of Grandfather Mountain was narrow, winding and steep. When they made it to the top, Tressa blew out a sigh of relief. He remembered his first time taking the trip and understood her reaction. “What’s wrong?”