As bad as he wanted to, Roth didn’t push her to talk. When she was ready, she’d tell him what had frightened her so much the color had drained from her face. Roth didn’t know what had happened, but he was convinced it hadn’t been anything good.
Damn. Had he pushed her too hard? He should have respected her wishes.
It was a little after six in the evening when they pulled into the driveway. Inside, Tressa removed her gloves, coat and hat, then eased onto the sofa and hugged her knees to her chest. Everything inside him wanted to go to her and cocoon her in his arms, protect her. Instead, he lit a fire.
“Can I get you anything? Hot chocolate, maybe?” he asked.
Tressa shook her head. “No. I’m sorry for ruining the day.”
Roth eased down next to her and took her hand into his. “You didn’t ruin anything. I had a great time.” Simply because he was with her, but that part stayed with him.
“Yeah, until I spazzed out.”
“That was my fault. I shouldn’t have pushed you.”
Tressa swallowed hard. “When I was a child, I spent summers with my grandparents in the country. One day my childhood best friend, Cammie, convinced me to go with her to The Spot.”
“A place where all of the cool kids hung out.”
For some reason Roth got the feeling this story wouldn’t end well.
“We were only ten and shouldn’t have been hanging out with sixteen-year-olds, but we thought we were grown.”
Didn’t all kids at that age?
“It was all a lure. The cussing, smoking, drinking.” She chuckled. “Of course I was always the one too scared to do any of it. My grandmother didn’t play. She was old-school and wholeheartedly believed in ass whoopings.”
At sixteen, he’d done all of those things she had mentioned. However, he wouldn’t have classified himself as a cool kid. More like a menace.
“I begged Cammie to leave, but she wanted to stay. ‘Just a few more minutes.’” Tressa’s grip on his hand tightened as if she remembered something awful. “This boy Cammie had a crush on, Kevin Marshall—” she said the name with a scowl “—convinced her to jump off the bridge and into the river below, which wasn’t a big deal. Everyone did it.” Her voice cracked as she continued.
Tears welled in her eyes.
“Cammie hit the water wrong. By the time anyone got to her, it was too late.”
A tear slid down her cheek, and Roth brushed it away. A second later he draped an arm around her shoulders and pulled her against his chest. Tressa wrapped her arms around him and held on to him tightly.
“It was twenty-four years ago, but when I got out on that bridge, it all came rushing back.”
Roth stroked her arm. “You have no idea how horrible I feel for forcing you out there.”
“You didn’t force me, Roth. We made a deal, which I assume is void now.”
“Nah. I’ll still honor it.”
A beat of silence fell between them.
Tressa tilted her head to look at him. After several beats of silence, she said, “Thank you, Roth. For everything. You’re a good friend.”
“You’re welcome.” And before he knew it, he’d pressed a kiss to her forehead. When she reared back, their gazes held.
For the thousandth time, he told himself this had to stop. All of it. Especially this thing they did, this silent, powerful connection. It was too invasive. If it continued, she’d be in a place no one was allowed. Not even her, especially not her.
“What do you see?”
Roth’s brow furrowed. “What do you mean?”
“When you look at me that way, like you’re trying to read my mind, what do you see?”
The question was loaded and dangerous. “A beautiful, strong, compassionate, selfless, intelligent, sometimes-stubborn woman, who I wish would have come into my life at a different time. A time when things were less…complicated.” He’d fallen on his own sacrificial sword.
Tressa’s gaze left him briefly. “I see,” was all she said.
Forcing his eyes away from her hypnotic stare, he kissed the inside of her wrist. This was something he had to stop doing, too. But he did it again. Suddenly, her wrist wasn’t enough for his lips.