Twisting away from him, I crawled into the Jeep. In my drunken state, it was a formidable obstacle.
“You’ve been under a lot of wrong impressions,” I snapped, regretting the words instantly. I regretted them even more when I saw the smirk fall right off Cole’s face.
“I know,” he said quietly before shutting the door behind me.
This night had been fated to be doomed. That should have been clear when Mrs. Matthews said the words potluck, smokejumper camp, and pretty please in the same sentence. Stumbling on Cole, the woman he’d just got it on with, my mom’s old flame, downing so many drinks they started to taste like water, Derrick Davenport’s hands all over me, and now this. Hurting Cole with my false words.
It was time to put this day to rest.
When Cole leapt into the driver’s seat, he was stone-faced. The pit in my stomach grew. “Where do you want me to take you?” he asked, his voice just as stone cold.
“Um . . .”
Where could I go? There was no way I could show up this late at night, rip-roaring drunk, at home. Nothing good would come of that. I couldn’t go to the Matthews’ because that would be even worse than showing up at home. Dani was gone on some camping trip this weekend. Grandma M’s was the only option, but I didn’t want to bring her into this mess. I didn’t want her to have to keep my secrets for me.
I had nowhere to go. When I wasn’t maintaining that veneer of perfection everyone expected, I had no one to lean on. When I made a mistake and needed someone to fall back on, I had nobody. Everyone in my life, save for a couple, loved the idea of Elle Montgomery. Not the real me—not the warts and all version.
How a revelation of this magnitude was able to break through the haze of alcohol, I don’t know, but it felt like the most depressing thought I’d ever had.
“I don’t know,” I whispered, staring down into my lap. “There’s nowhere really.” I hated being this transparent with Cole, he’d already seen so much vulnerability from me that had clearly not impressed him, but there was no one else.
I felt Cole’s eyes on me for a long time. I wasn’t sure what he was seeing or looking for, but at least a minute must have gone by before he sighed. “Okay. You can stay at the camp,” he said, and then something unexpected happened. Cole’s hand rested on mine for a moment before his fingers wove through mine. “I’ll take care of you and then we’ll figure out what to do tomorrow morning when you’re not up to your ears in cheap vodka.”
Relief flooded me. At least for tonight, Cole would take care of me. He’d help me with this mistake when no one else in my life would. “Thank you,” I breathed, dropping my head back onto the headrest and holding onto his hand like it was a lifeline.
“You’re welcome.” Cole started the Jeep and pulled out onto the road. “It’s the least I can do given I was pretty much the one to blame for what happened tonight.” The motion of the car made me queasy, so I cracked the window, closed my eyes, and took long, slow breaths. “I’m sorry you saw that, Elle.”
My stomach heaved, but not from the alcohol. From the image of that girl wearing Cole’s undershirt.
“Will she still be there . . . when we show up?” I asked as unemotionally as I was could. Cole wasn’t mine, he had the right to bring a girl into his bed, but at the same time, he felt like he was mine and had no right to sleep with any girl that wasn’t me.
“Highly unlikely since the only person that peeled out of that parking lot in more of a rage than you was her two minutes later.”
My brows came together. “Why’s that?”
“It might have had something to do with me telling her to get the hell out and give me my shirt back,” he answered.
“Do you think you’ll see her again?”
“Do you want to?”
“Did you sleep with her?” Wonderful. The alcohol was making me ask questions I didn’t want answered.
Cole exhaled. “God knows I tried,” he said, “but I just couldn’t do it. No matter how damn hard I tried.”
I opened my eyes and peered over at him. If ever a man could brood, Cole was doing it now.
His hands tightened over the steering wheel. “Because I couldn’t get the face of another girl out of my head,” he said. “I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to get her face out of my head.”
My heartbeat quickened. Was he saying what I thought he was?
“Me?” My voice was a whisper.
Cole nodded once. “You,” he admitted like it was a sin.
I stared at his hand in mine and I let myself pretend everything could work out between us. I let myself play “make believe” that Cole and Elle would get to live happily ever after. That was one of the benefits to the alcohol—it skewed reality and make believe enough that they almost melded into one.
We just pulled into the smokejumper camp when Cole broke the silence. “Will you promise me something, Elle?” he asked as he parked and turned off the engine. “Promise me you won’t do something like this again. If Biggie hadn’t called me . . . Who knows what . . .” Cole’s face lined. “There’s no shortage of Derrick Davenports out there, Elle, and as much as I wish I could promise that I’ll always be here to swoop in and save you, I think we both know that would be an empty promise.”
Not in my world of make believe.
“So I need you to promise me you won’t do this again. Please,” he said, almost begging.
Even if I hadn’t already made that promise to myself, I couldn’t deny Cole when he looked at me that way.
“I promise,” I said, giving his hand a squeeze. It hadn’t left mine the entire drive, and when it finally did as Cole hopped out of the driver’s side door, my hand went a little limp.
Cole jogged around the front of the Jeep and opened my door. He helped me out, and before how I knew I got there, I was in his arms.
“Cole?” I said after I’d nuzzled my head under his chin.
“Elle,” he said, his tone all tease.
I nudged him. I was trying to be serious here. “I don’t hate you.”
He took a few moments before he replied. “I know,” he said as we went through the front door. “But sometimes I wish you did. Leaving you alone would be so much easier if I knew you hated me.”
The building was still dark. Everyone must have still been out having a good time.
“Why do you want to leave me alone?”
Cole’s body went a little rigid. “Because I can’t have you the way I want you. I know I told you at first that I was fine with any piece of you, but that changed when I—” he cut himself off abruptly. Clearing his throat, he carried me into a large dark room filled with a handful of bunk beds lining the walls. “I tried being content having a piece of you, but then that changed, and I wanted all of you. I needed all of you. But since I can’t have all of you, I’ll just have to figure out how to live with nothing of you.”
I didn’t know which was sadder: his voice or the way my heart felt after hearing those words. It was all or nothing of me with Cole. He would only settle for all of me or nothing of me. Those were the two options he could live with, but I could really only live with one.
That was my answer. I couldn’t live without him. Cole. I couldn’t live without him. I’d tried and failed miserably.
“Come on,” he said, walking across the room. “Let’s get you into bed.”
“Let’s do,” I said, raising my voice in expectation.
Cole chuckled softly. Stopping at the bunk on the far end of the back wall, he set me down. When he’d steadied me and seemed mostly convinced I wasn’t going to fall over, he jogged across the room again. “I’ll be right back. Try not to fall over or hurt yourself.”
Once Cole had left the room, I fumbled with the button and zipper of my cutoffs. My fingers weren’t quite themselves, but were at least working better than they had fifteen minutes ago.
As I let my shorts drop, all I could think about was crawling into Cole’s bed and falling asleep. This entire day from start to finish was exhausting, and eight hours of sleep in between Cole’s sheets sounded like just the way to end the day.
Winding my arms back, I unclasped my bra and worked each arm out of it before sliding it out of my camisole. Wasn’t exactly my every night kind of pajamas, but this wasn’t exactly the way I spent every night either.
“You need to drink both of these and take three pain relievers before you crawl into bed unless you want to wake . . .” Cole charged back into the room shaking a pill bottle into his hand. It took him a few seconds to look up, and when he did, his mouth fell open a little.
I glanced down at myself. Maybe I should have crawled into bed before he came back into the room because my lace underwear and thin cami my n**ples were presently poking through were more lingerie than sleepwear.
Cole’s eyes wandered down me, taking their time, and had made a return journey before he unfroze himself from the floor. His eyes darted away from me as he came closer.
“I’m the top one,” he said, motioning at the bunks behind me. “Take these and drink these.” He held out his hand and waited for me to open mine. When I did, he dropped three white pills into it before unscrewing the cap off one of the bottles of water.
He wouldn’t look at me, but that apparently took a significant amount of restraint. He wanted me. I could see it in his face, I could tell from the way his chest lifted harder, I could see it under the zipper of his shorts.
Knowing Cole was ready for me in every way a man could be made me respond in every way a women could. When I wanted to throw myself on him, I forced myself to drop the pills into my mouth. Cole handed me the bottle and I lifted it to my lips. I could feel his eyes on me again as I kept the bottle tilted until I’d drank all of it.
When I tilted my head back down, my assumptions were confirmed. His eyes were on me again, staring at the area just south of my belly button. My inner thighs clenched.
And now I was as ready as I could be for him. In every way.
“Cole,” I whispered, stepping towards him.
His eyes clamped shut and he took a few steps back. “No,” he replied. “I can’t, Elle. I want you so damn much, but not if you’re not mine. All mine.”
I almost whimpered in dismay. I’d wanted Cole before, wanted him bad, but this was different. This was so all consuming it was all I could think about. I had to have him inside me. I wanted him to be the first man I felt like this. But that wasn’t all . . . I wanted him to be the last, too.
It was a lot for a young woman to take in, especially when she’d had about three too many drinks, but I could already feel the liter of water making its way through my system, clearing out some of the alcohol haze.
“Let’s get some sleep and sort out whatever needs sorting in the morning.” Cole hung his hands on his h*ps and nodded at the top bunk. The bulge in his shorts had only grown, but so had his resolve it seemed.