As I wash her hair for the third time, she looks up at me with wide amber eyes and bites her lip, watching my face as I rinse the suds from her thick locks.
God, she’s so fucking beautiful.
“You’re good at this,” she whispers.
I smile down at her gently and cup her cheeks in my hands. “Are you still cold?”
She shakes her head but continues to shiver. Her eyes fill with tears. “Thank you for being so nice to me,” she stutters.
“Come here.” I pull her into my arms and we stand here, under the scalding water, pressed against each other. I’ve never before felt so close to another person, not even when I was making love to one.
Not even when I was inside one.
She breaks down into sobs, her forehead against my sternum, and lets go.
“It’s okay, baby, let it out. You’re safe.” I continue crooning to her, gently rubbing her back and her arms, kissing her wet hair, until the shivering slows and she takes a big, deep breath.
“What do you have to be sorry for?” I tilt her head back to look me in the face, and her eyes fill with fresh tears.
God, she’s killing me.
“For everything. Making you bring me here, falling apart. We’re naked, for God’s sake!”
“You didn’t make me do anything, Cara. I want you here. I’ve wanted you here for a while. You needed to fall apart, and having you naked is a fantasy come true, although I was planning on it being under very different circumstances.” Her shoulders relax and I lean down to plant a chaste kiss on her pouty lips. “Let’s get you dressed.”
I lead her out of the shower and begin drying her with soft towels. “How does your skin feel?”
“A little raw and it’s really itchy.” Her arms, face, and chest are irritated from the insulation, but her face is still far too pale, and I’m suddenly filled with more rage than I’ve felt in months.
She could have been killed.
“I don’t even have any underwear.” A single tear falls down her cheek and she just looks so defeated.
“You can borrow some of my things for the rest of the night, baby.”
I take her hand in mine and lead her to the bed, then step away from her to shuffle through my dresser drawers, pulling out a T-shirt and a pair of boxers and handing them to her.
She quickly pulls my T-shirt over her head and steps into the boxers, all way too big for her.
Even scared and upset she’s fucking adorable.
I lift her in my arms again and climb into my bed with her, pull the covers up over us, and turn her away from me, tucking her against me.
“You don’t need to keep me in your bed,” she whispers, but nuzzles more securely against me.
I’ll be damned if she’ll sleep one night in that damn spare room.
“I don’t want to be alone tonight, Cara.”
She looks over her shoulder at me, surprise written all over her face as she turns fully and wraps her arms around my waist. “Are you okay?”
“Are you okay?” she demands again, small tremors wracking her body.
“I’m better now that I know you’re safe,” I respond truthfully. “You scared the shit out of me.” I pull her against me and run my hands down her back. She rubs her sweet, small hands up and down my back at the same time, her amber eyes watching me. How she can try to soothe me after all she’s been through in the past hour is beyond me.
“Go to sleep,” I whisper, and kiss her forehead.
“You too,” she murmurs.
I smile against her forehead, suddenly exhausted. It feels amazing to have her here, safe and whole in my bed. “Sleep, sweetheart. We’ll figure everything out tomorrow.”
* * *
The ranch is a damn disaster.
After just a couple hours of sleep, wrapped around Cara, I pulled myself out of bed to tend to the ranch. None of the guys got any sleep last night, and we have a hell of a mess on our hands today. I’ve sent half the guys out on ATVs to check the fences, opting to stay close to home, and Cara, today. Seth is gathering scattered branches and other debris and throwing it all in a pile that we’ll roast marshmallows over later.
All of the animals are safe and accounted for, thankfully.
I left Cara sleeping in my bed this morning, and I hope she’s still knocked out. She needs the rest. I scowl at my watch when I discover that I’ve been gone longer than I thought.
When I push inside the house, I see Cara sitting on the couch, still in my T-shirt and shorts, staring wide-eyed at the TV.
Fuck, she’s watching the news.
“. . . can see, the tree fell across the entire left side of the house. The fire chief tells us that if it had fallen just two feet to the left, the homeowner would have been killed.”
“Cara, don’t watch this shit.” I hastily turn off the TV and lift her into my lap, settling back on the couch.
“I’m too heavy,” she whispers, and plays with the buttons on my shirt.
“No, you’re not. How are you this morning?”
She shrugs and sighs. “I need to go into town and look at my house.”
“It’s being taken care of.”
“Josh, it’s my house. I need to go look at it.”
I don’t like it. I want to protect her, and I definitely don’t want her going anywhere near that house.
“It’s not safe.”
“What are you doing here?” Seth asks from the doorway, his face full of surprise.
Cara tries to pull herself out of my lap, and because Seth is here, I let her go.
“The storm did some damage to Cara’s house last night, so she came here. She’s going to be staying with me for a while.”
Seth’s solemn gaze turns to Cara and he walks over to her, watching her carefully. “Did you get hurt?”
“Just scared more than anything.”
“What happened?” he asks, sounding much older than his twelve years.
“A tree fell on my roof.”
Seth blanches and his face goes pale. He suddenly throws his arms around Cara and hugs her tight.
She blinks back tears as she pushes her fingers through his dark hair soothingly. “I’m okay, sweetie. The house will be fixed.”
“I don’t give a shit about your house! You could have gotten really hurt.”
I love this kid.
Cara gives Seth a quick squeeze and brushes a tear from her cheek. “Can I borrow some sweats, Josh? I need to get some clothes from my place today.”