A night of celebration ends in tragedy, shocking Cole Patterson to his core. Cole’s brother breaks his promise not to drink and drive, causing a fatal accident. Cole greets the victims’ family, shouldering his brother’s guilt since he was no longer there to do it himself. Yet when he sees Margot Reed, something other than grief and guilt fills his soul.
Excerpt Chapter 4
Margot swallowed a yelp and stumbled back, barely missing the fist that had been trying to knock on her door when she had opened it. Her heart wanted to burst out of her chest, and she drew in large gulps of air to calm herself.
“I’m sorry,” Margot apologized, staring at her sock-covered feet, then laughter replaced her fright. She’d completely forgotten Cole had slept on her couch last night.
Laughter turned into a caught gasp, however, as she moved her eyes up his body to his face. He was bare-chested, his jeans hanging low around his narrow hips and water still beaded on his slightly tanned skin. She dropped her eyes again quickly, embarrassed. “So sorry!”
It wasn’t as though she’d never seen a man’s naked chest before, though it had been three years since the last time, and the ones she’d seen had never been white.
“I didn’t think this out very well myself,” came a rumble, and she looked up again. Cole was blushing, though there was something in his eyes that made her step back more and divert her attention.
“Was there something you needed?”
“I was just coming to check on you,” he said sheepishly, zipping up his jeans and slipping on his shirt. “I thought I’d have some time between the knock and you answering the door.”
“It’s all right,” Margot promised, slightly distracted by him buttoning his top. “Are you hungry? I am. I was about to get a bowl of cereal, but if you want something more I can make it.”
“Cereal’s fine,” Cole said. “I don’t generally eat breakfast anyway.”
Margot frowned. “That’s bad. It’s the most important meal of the day!”
“It’s usually a Dunkin’ Donuts coffee and a doughnut, if that. I get busy,” he said with a shrug.
“Be lucky you’re not my child,” Margot muttered, brushing by him and going down the hall to her kitchen. “I’d force you to eat every morning!”
Cole chuckled. “Believe me, I’m very lucky we’re not related!”
“You think I’ll be a bad mama?”
“Not at all,” he said quickly, stopping just at the entrance of the kitchen while she went inside and pulled down two bowls. “But…it’d be awkward.”
He blew air out of his nostrils in silent laughter. “It wouldn’t be good to check out your mother, would it?”
She’d been reaching for the cereal box when he’d said it, and she knocked it down accidentally. Tiny circles of oats overwhelmed the tile floor. “Lord…”
“Whoops,” Cole said, coming to her to help. “Broom?”
“That tall cabinet by the fridge,” Margot muttered, stepping around the mess to get the broom.
Cole refused to give it to her. “You handle breakfast. I’ll clean up.”
Luckily, there was another unopened box of cereal she’d purchased on her last grocery run, and she prepared the bowls while he swept. When finished, the pair sat at the breakfast bar, Cole reading the cereal box while Margot focused on the far wall.
“You’ve checked me out?” That shocked her. At no point during their acquaintance had she ever been dressed to merit such a thing. Cole coughed and Margot winced, rubbing his back as he got himself together. “Sorry.”
“That’s all right,” he said with a laugh, taking the napkin to wipe his mouth. “I didn’t expect the question.”
“I didn’t, either,” Margot admitted. “But…really?”
Cole glanced at her, running his fingers along his glass of orange juice. “You’re a striking woman, Margot.”
“I’ve looked a hot mess the entire time you’ve known me!”
“I disagree, and…you haven’t been dressing to attract attention, either,” Cole conceded. “But I’m not blind. I think you’re very attractive.”
If she’d been as light as her mother wished she were, Cole would’ve been able to see her blush. “In about three months, I’m sure you’ll change your mind!” Margot said in an effort to diffuse the tension that had suddenly enveloped them.
He didn’t answer her for a moment. “In three months, huh?”
It was then Margot realized what she’d unwittingly insinuated, and she was so embarrassed she was sure she could fry an egg on her cheeks. “Are you done?” she asked instead, looking at his empty bowl. She didn’t wait for his answer and took it and hers to the sink, rinsing them out with nervous hands and nearly scalding water. Cole reached around her to turn on the cold water, clearly seeing the steam rising from the tap as she tended to her task.
“Dr. Pierce only gave you a few days; I’m sorry to assume,” she said, interrupting whatever he had to say. She wasn’t in the mood for “thanks, but no thanks”; she’d rather just cut right to the end.
“You need me for longer than that, Margot,” he challenged.
“You don’t have to—”
“I don’t want you around because of guilt or pity,” Margot said, turning off the water and putting the bowls in the dishwasher. “I can do all of that by myself.”
“Of all the things I feel right now, Margot, pity is not one of them.”
He was closer now, and her heart raced in anticipation and fear. The timing was off; the situation was off; the everything was off, and yet…
She turned her head to face him, and he touched her chin gently. She closed her eyes, unused to such tender contact from a man who wasn’t family.