Authors: J.L. Drake
I start to shake. I feel it start in my legs then travel up my spine through my arms and hands, and my teeth start to chatter. I sit my untouched drink down since it’s spilling over my hand. Keith catches my eye, but I pretend not to notice.
“So if that wasn’t you on the tape,” Paul says, squinting like he’s not really sure he wants to know, “who was it?”
I feel Cole’s grip tighten. “They had a guy already drugged. His build was similar to mine. I don’t know who the poor bastard was, but we need to find out to let his family know. They obviously didn't plan it well, as they didn’t catch my tattoo.” Cole bends his head down, breathing deeply. “It's an understatement to say that was a pretty bad day.”
“Yeah, it was.” Mark looks over at me. I quickly wipe a tear away, shaking my head at him.
Cole looks down at me, then at everyone in the room. “Look, everyone, thanks. I’ll fill you in more tomorrow, but right now I need some time with Savannah, and we all need sleep.” He stands and pulls me up with him.
When we reach the bedroom, he takes in the couch that’s made up like a bed against the wall and looks at me.
“Keith,” I whisper, moving to the bathroom and attempting to tuck my feelings away. Once I’m washed and ready for bed, I head back out and see Cole sitting on the edge of the bed, staring at me. He holds out his hand, reaching for mine. He pulls me between his legs and looks up into my eyes. My heart squeezes when I think about how I almost ended my life, thinking he was gone forever.
“I know this is really confusing, and it kills me to realize you saw that tape, but I’m here, and I’m fine.” I swallow hard, needing to be strong. I run my hands through his hair.
“You kept your promise,” I say through a tight throat.
His mouth curls up and his eyes crinkle. “A promise is a promise.” He frowns when he studies my face. “What happened while I was gone?” I try, I really do, to get the words off my tongue, but I stay silent. Instead I reach for the hem of his shirt until his hands stop mine. “Savannah, please.” I shake my head no, and he doesn’t push…yet.
I hear him flinch as he raises his arms over his head, and a moment later I see why. My hands fly over my mouth as I gasp. A huge bandage is wrapped around his mid-section.
“I’m all right,” he hisses. “I'm just exhausted.”
“No, you’re not all right.” I carefully stand him up. Undoing his pants, I help him lie back on the bed and crawl up by his head. I lean against the massive headboard as he shifts to rest his head on my legs.
“What was it like?” I ask, wanting to compare what he went through with what I had.
He sighs and closes his eyes. “Frustrating not being able to defend myself physically. It was all mental, but thankfully I had something to focus on.” His hand slides over my thigh. “I think the hardest part was knowing I was alive but you all didn’t.”
“Yeah,” is all I can say. The lump in my throat has returned.
I run my fingers through his silky hair methodically until I hear his breathing become even. My mind is running a marathon, but I cannot make sense of any of it yet. I'm still off on the sidelines of it all, too exhausted to even try. I glance at the clock and see it's two in the morning. Unable to settle yet, I slip Cole gently off my lap, slide off the bed, and head downstairs.
I lean back on the cool bricks after lighting the fireplace in the living room, set a large glass of brandy in front of me and try to take a sip, but my stomach rejects the liquor. Everything becomes a blur as my eyes fill and tears spill over my cheeks. I rest the tiny teddy on my lap like one would do with a child and cling to the little silver frame wishing with all my heart I had listened when people told me to calm down. How could I be so blind? So selfish? I killed our baby.
“It’s not your fault.”
My head snaps up, and I find Keith watching me from the kitchen. He comes over and takes a seat next to me. I shift so he has some room.
“Yes, it is.” I sniff, swimming in a sea of emotions. “All of this is my fault, but the fact that I lost—” I shake my head and try to clear the terrible images flickering in front of me. “To top it off, I had a—” I can’t say the word so I skip over it, “to my head and almost—”
“You had what to your head?” Both Keith and I jump at the sound of Cole's husky voice. I slowly look over, seeing him standing there in his sweat pants, bare feet, and nothing else. His face looks angry and confused as he takes a few steps toward us. “Someone better tell me what the hell happened while I was gone.”
Keith reaches over and squeezes my shoulder as he stands up, nodding at Cole. Cole takes his seat and watches me closely. I take a deep breath through my nose, knowing this is the moment when I have to break his heart, as mine is broken, to tell him what we had and then lost—our child.
“What’s that?” He points at the teddy his father gave me. I hand it to him and watch his eyes roll over the little name stitched into its army jacket. His gaze flicks up to me, making my lip tremble. I slowly turn the small frame around and show him the ultrasound picture. “Are you…?” He looks at my stomach.
“Was,” I correct him through streaming hot tears. “I was five weeks till the day the video arrived.” His eyes widen then drop slowly and he shakes his head. He then covers his mouth with one hand.
I want to scream, sob, and run away from all of this pain. I can see I’m about to break him, by chipping away a piece of an already battered soul. It’s just not right.
So much of me is shattered.
“I’m so sorry, Cole.”
His red glossy eyes shoot up to mine. “No, no.” He kneels down in front of me, holding my hands. “No, baby,
so sorry you went through all of this without me. I-I…” His voice catches. “I can’t believe you were pregnant with our baby.”
Here it goes.
I pull back to look at him. “I don’t know how you feel about this, but I was going to keep it.”
“No,” he wipes my cheeks dry and moves to sit next to me, “
were going to keep it.” My heart swells as I fill him in on all the details, like how Sue and Daniel were the only ones to know, then Keith because I wanted him to keep my secret until he returned safely. I take him through the moments when I miscarried, sobbing quietly as I share the details with him. The whole time he holds me tightly, giving my head light kisses. Then we sit in silence for a while, grieving together. His sobs are hard to hear, but he needs to let it out. It’s hard seeing someone who is normally so strong crumble in front of you.
Suddenly he stops moving. “What did you have held to your head?” I try to move, but his grip won’t let me.
“I—I found your gun behind your night table.” His entire body starts to vibrate, and I spit out the words in fear I won’t be able to finish. “I lost you, I lost our baby, and I still don’t know who’s behind my kidnapping. I had no reason to live. I just wanted to be with my family.” The words are falling out of my mouth with no filter. “Then Keith’s cell phone rang, and I hesitated, and he saw me. He...he talked to me, helped me off the ledge.” I just keep talking as Cole's eyes bore into me. “It was a pretty dark time, Cole, the darkest I’ve ever been.” I shift to look up at him. His eyes are squeezed shut now, and I move to kiss his jaw. “I won’t say I’m sorry about it, Cole, because I didn’t know you were alive, and if I am to be honest with myself, I think I would have tried again. But now you’re here, but the baby isn’t, and I’m trying to tell myself it wasn’t meant to be, but it still hurts.” The painful lump grows larger. “It hurts so damn bad, but having you back makes me see we can get through this if we—”
He suddenly leans forward, capturing my mouth with his. I know the drive behind the kiss is fear, so I follow, letting him take the lead. He needs to feel in control, and I’m willing to hand over the reins. I am too emotionally exhausted to be strong right now.
“Come back to bed,” he whispers. “I need to hold you.”
He leads us upstairs and we climb into bed. I shift carefully so as not to hurt his staples, and wrap my arm over his chest and my leg over his waist. I burrow my face in his neck, and it starts to sink in that he is really back. I feel his chest rise and fall, and with a deep sigh his fingers find mine, entwining them.
“Do you hurt?” he asks in a tight voice.
“Not in the way you’re thinking.”
Just my heart.
I hear him swallow loudly and clear his throat. I know it is all hitting him now. We lie tangled, letting each be strong for the other while we take turns to grieve.
“I love you, Savannah,” he whispers.
“I love you too, Cole.”
Cole wakes to an empty bed, noticing Savannah laid out his painkillers and a bottle of water for him. He downs the two pills and heads for a much-needed shower. It takes him longer than normal to get dressed, which is annoying as he also has to change the dressing on his staples. The cut is healing well and the infection is gone; he just has to wait a week before he can get the staples pulled. He makes his way downstairs and into the kitchen where Abigail is baking something and talking quietly to his mother.
“How’d you sleep, dear?” his mother asks him, giving him a kiss on the cheek. She looks him over silently, probably to satisfy herself that he is really here and in one piece.
“Fine.” He yawns and reaches for the coffee.
Keith enters the kitchen and comes up next to Cole, looking out the window.
“Thanks, Keith,” Cole says quietly, “for taking care of her when I couldn't and for stopping her—”
“Don’t thank me. Savi is like a sister. I’m just glad you’re back.”
Speaking of her…
“Do you know where she is?”
“Really?” Abigail and Sue both say at the same time.
“Yeah, I know.” Keith turns to them.
Cole looks around the room, seeing their faces. “Why are we surprised?”
Sue shakes her head. “She stopped the sessions after we found out you were…gone. I guess she just needed some time to sort things out on her own.”
Cole leans back against the island, feeling beat even though he just got up. He checks the time, as he has a meeting with the guys in his office in fifteen. His stomach flutters when he hears her voice down the hallway.
“It’s therapeutic, Savannah,” he hears Dr. Roberts say. “Sometimes things that used to bring you comfort can still help you heal new wounds and old wounds too.”
“Maybe,” she sniffs. “It’s just it makes me think of him, and it’s hard to know where to place those feelings right now.”
“I understand and that makes perfect sense. Try to pull from the old happy memories. You need to find a release, and this sounds like a perfect way to do it.”
“I prefer Mark’s way better,” she huffs, rounding the corner.
“You’ll get the poor guy fired, if Logan finds out.” Dr. Roberts smiles when he sees everyone staring at them as they enter the kitchen. “Hi, Cole, it’s great to see you looking well.” He extends his hand for a shake. Before Cole leans back, he reaches for Savannah and guides her to his side, needing her to ground him. She nuzzles and molds herself to him.
“How was the session?” Cole asks.
“Good.” Dr. Roberts smiles at Savannah. “But I’m sorry, I must get going.”
“I’ll walk you out.” Abigail jumps to her feet.
Cole leans down and kisses Savannah on her head. “I have a video conference, but will you come see me afterward?”
“Sure.” She gives him a smile, but he can see she is raw from her session. She leans up and gives him a kiss.
“Oh, Savannah,” Abigail holds up a spoon full of cookie dough, “can you taste this? Something’s missing.”
Savannah’s face goes funny as she moves to Abigail’s side. She runs her fingers delicately over the top of the red Mixmaster.
“Something wrong, dear?”
“My mother,” she whispers through a tiny smile, “she used to have one just like this. Cherry red.” Her eyes light up. “I haven’t seen one in years.”
Abigail kisses her cheek, making Savannah notice everyone is staring at her. She takes the spoon and tastes the dough. “A pinch of cocoa powder.”
“That’s it!” Abigail shouts, giving her a hug. “Maybe I should leave the baking to you.”
Cole smiles at the interaction between Savannah and Abigail, and leaves the kitchen to head to the conference room.
“How’s the…?” Mark points to his side as he takes a seat at a large table in a conference room downstairs.
“Annoying,” Cole grunts out, feeling the burn from within his deep cut.
“I bet it is.” He winks. Classic Mark, he’s always thinking about food or getting laid.
Guess that’s not such a bad obsession.
Daniel, Keith, Paul, and John take their seats around the table while Cole fires up his laptop and gets Frank on the conference call. His face flashes on the large screen on the wall, and Cole centers the microphone between them.
“Logan, good to have you back.” Frank nods as he rustles some papers on his desk.
“Good to be back. How is Mills doing?”
“All things considered, he’ll be just fine. Has a long road to recovery, though.”
Cole spends the next hour going over every detail of what happened. Meanwhile, Frank is emailing his snapshots of the two main men were who were helping The American, and one recent one of Luka Donavan, still in Mexico.
“Strange that he’s still there,” Cole says, leaning back in his seat. “I would have thought he’d be hightailing it back to New York to warn the mayor I’m gone. They know they screwed up by telling their dirty little secret.” All the men look at Cole, clearly wondering what he’s referring to. “Luka and Lynn,” he explains, “her best friend and family friend, are the two who are behind this whole shit storm.”
“What?” Mark nearly chokes on his coffee. “You mean to tell me that Savannah's only real family, the woman she talks about all the time, is behind her kidnapping?”
“Yes.” Cole nods. “Not only was she behind it, but she hired a guy to pose as a potential client for the company to take Savannah out and to get her home at the right time for those savages to take her.”
“What about her father?” Frank asks, fishing for a lead. “Anything there?”
“According to Donavan, when her father got word she had been kidnapped and Luka was behind it, he decided his little pistol was better off staying with
Los Sirvientes Del Diablo
than to be there with him getting in his way.” Cole makes a face. “He is up for reelection, and with his daughter being kidnapped his votes skyrocketed. He knew she was eventually going to be killed, and dear old Dad did nothing about it. He completely wrote her off.”
“This is insane,” Keith mutters, getting up from his chair. “How do you tell her something like this?”
“You don’t,” Frank says, moving toward the camera. “Until we have proof of this, Savannah is not going to hear about it. She's been through enough already.”
Cole glances at his father, who is watching him. His father shakes his head, agreeing with Frank's decision.
Cole drops his gaze, knowing it’s best right now to keep quiet. She’s been through too much.
Mark turns to Frank. “Okay, so what now?”
“Now, we start to dig.”
I lie down on the floor and shimmy myself under the branches of the Christmas tree. It was something I always did as a child, looking up at the lights and enjoying how they lit up the needles and made it look so pretty. It is a peaceful thing I haven’t done in a long time.
Scoot finds me in a matter of seconds and jams up next to my side, purring for affection. His big brown eyes close as I rub his belly.
I take a deep breath through my nose and let the smell take me away to a childhood memory where my mother and I chopped off a few branches to make a door to the snow fort we had worked on all afternoon. Dad came out with a tray of hot chocolates with marshmallows, and we all crammed into the fort and enjoyed our snack.
I hear a click and bend my head to see who it is. I find Keith holding a camera and grinning at me. He kneels down and turns the camera around so I can see the picture. I laugh when I see Scoot’s and my legs sticking out from the bottom of the tree.
“Now that’s funny.” He offers me a hand to stand. “Cole asked if I could find you to see if you’d join him for lunch. He’s just finishing up some paperwork in his office.”
“The man never stops, does he?”
Hearing my heels click on the wooden floor makes me shake my head. I didn’t think I would be happy walking back to his office again. The door is already open, so I poke my head around and see him, arms crossed, standing in front of his huge floor to ceiling window. He looks powerful and strong, making me grin as I step further into the room. He’s still here with me.
He must have heard me because he slowly turns and graces me with a smile that hits me right in the center of my heart. “I was beginning to think you stood me up,” he teases.
“I was just admiring the view.” I make my way over to him and tuck myself into his side. “What were you just thinking about?”
His grip tightens on my hip but he doesn’t say anything for a moment then kisses my head and asks if I am hungry.
“I am.” I give him a wink.
“First…” He laughs, heading over to his desk and pulling out a square, flat box. He comes back and hands it to me. “Merry Christmas.”
I slide it out of his hands and pull at the bow. I peel back the top and my breathing nearly stops. “How did you get this?”
“I have my ways.” He leans in and grants me a soft kiss on the cheek. I swallow hard as my fingers stroke the record signed by Flat Street Tony. The very record that used to hang on my living room wall. But even more surprising is what is under it. My chin begins quiver.
“Oh,” I whisper.
“I hope it’s okay that I—”
,” I laugh through a sob, “this one was my favorites of us.” My heart lodges in my throat as I hold the 8x10 photograph of my mother and me, when I was ten, at a carnival. “Thank you Cole, truly it means the world to me.” I smile up at him, feeling my love for this man growing more and more. “I can't believe you were able to get these for me!”
“I’ll do anything to put that smile on your face, baby.”
“That I don’t doubt.”
We settle in on the couch and eat our lunch and make small talk, but I can sense he has something to tell me.
“I have to leave in three days,” he finally blurts out.
My heart jumps out of my chest. I know it would run right out the door if it could, just to avoid any more pain. He must sense this, because his hands grab mine quickly.
“It’s not what you think. Team Blackstone is going to help with a special training exercise for the Green Berets.” I feel my body go slack, allowing my heart to slowly recover. “Normally we’d be heading to North Carolina to Camp Mackall, but due to the sheer volume of candidates this year, we're doing the training at Camp Green Water here in Montana.”
“I didn’t know you guys helped out with the training.”
“We don’t have to, but we volunteer our time. Plus I’m looking for a new recruit. Derek won’t be staying on for much longer, and nothing is better than a fresh soldier I can mold.”
“Derek is leaving?” I feel kind of sad. We have become friends over these last few weeks.
“No, not really.” His eyes darken. “Frank has another position for him. He’s a good solider, but he doesn’t fit if he isn’t trusted.”
I want to argue but I decide against it. Cole makes logical decisions, so if Derek is to leave, it’s for a good reason. “How long will you be gone?”
“Oh.” My stomach twists.
He squeezes my hand. “I’m only going to be thirty minutes from here.”
My eyebrows shoot up. “Really?”
“Yes, will you come visit me?”
“Yes.” He grins. “I don’t want to go very long without seeing you, Savi.”
I swallow hard, trying to sort out my nerves. “Me either.”
“Six! Five! Four! Three! Two! One!
Happy New Year!
” everyone shouts, raising champagne flutes in the air.
I glance over and see Dr. Roberts sneak a quick kiss from Abigail. Mark sees it too. He rolls his eyes and looks away, muttering something about “that better be all he’s expecting tonight.”
I turn my attention to Cole, who has a wicked grin on his face. “Psssst,” I whisper as I sit my glass down on the mantel and flick my finger in his direction. “This is the part where you kiss me.”
He steps closer. “Then a kiss, Ms. Miller, you shall receive.” He quickly grabs my head with one hand and the other runs up the length of my spine. With one fluid motion he dips and kisses me until I am breathless. My world tilts as his lips work magic, waking up every single nerve in my body. When he pulls away I realize everyone is clapping for us. I am thankful it is dark, because I feel my face turns at least three shades of red at that moment.
Cole chuckles as he pulls me to my feet.
“I didn’t realize you were such a romantic, Colonel.” That is a lie, but I can’t think of anything else to say. I run my hand through my hair, taking a moment to calm myself. I pick up my glass and peer down into the empty flute. “Cole?”