Colters' Lady(4)

By: Maya Banks


A waitress came over, and Seth ordered two cups of hot chocolate. Excitement and longing curled in Lily’s stomach at the idea of the rich, sweet brew. It was her favorite thing in the world, and it had been too long since she’d last been able to enjoy it.

When the waitress left, Lily glanced up at Seth and asked, “Why did you follow me?”

His lips twisted into a rueful grimace. “I don’t even know how to answer that, Lily. Have you ever been so affected by someone but not know why? Have you ever been compelled to see them again without knowing anything about them?

After careful consideration she shook her head. Was he saying that was how he felt after seeing her in the line? That didn’t even make sense. He was a police officer and she was nobody. Nameless and faceless.

People rushed by her every single day without ever seeing her. Why would Seth see her?

“I can’t stand the thought of you being out on the streets,” he admitted. “I followed you because I hoped you had somewhere to go. Shelter. Anything but a place between cardboard boxes in a deserted alley.”

Sorrow tightened her throat, and long-held grief and shame bubbled up. She looked down so he wouldn’t see how affected she was by his pity.



He squeezed her hand. “I’m not judging you, Lily. I was worried. Big difference. I didn’t want you to be out on the streets because I work the streets. I see what’s out there each and every day. I don’t want you there.”

His tone surprised her. For someone who’d just met her, he displayed a bewildering amount of concern.

She offered a casual shrug, not at all indifferent to the warmth in his gaze or the sincerity in his eyes.

“Not everyone has a choice.”

But you did and you chose to walk away. The thought took hold and reminded her of the consequences of her decisions.

He didn’t look happy with her answer, and in fact, it looked like he wanted argue, but the waitress returned with their hot chocolate.

She reached eagerly for the mug and blew gently over the surface, inhaling all the while as the rich scent of chocolate filled her nostrils. Closing her eyes, she sipped, savoring the first delicious taste as it hit her tongue.

Sighing, she lowered the mug and looked up to see Seth watching her intently.

“Will you come back to my house, Lily? I’ll make you all the hot chocolate you want.”

So startled was she by the blunt question, she nearly let the mug slip from her fingers. She set it down with a jarring thud, and some of the liquid sloshed over the rim and onto the table.

Before she could respond, he closed his eyes and blew out his breath. “That sounded bad. Really bad.

I didn’t mean it the way it came out.”

“How did you mean it then?”

“I want you safe. You have no reason to trust me. You don’t know me, but damn it, I feel like I know you. When I saw you in the line, there was something there and I can’t put a name on it. I only know that I need to know you’re safe.”

Flustered by the vehemence in his voice, she sat back, mug in her hands like a protective barrier. “I don’t know what to say. I mean, what does anyone say to that? Of course I can’t go.”

“Why not?” he countered. “Lily, let’s be honest here. You’re living in a cardboard box. I’m offering you a warm bed, a hot shower, hot food and all the hot chocolate you could possibly want.”

Her hands began to shake. It was insane that she even considered saying yes for half a second. But it had been so long since she’d had any of those things. It hurt to think about the life she’d left behind, the life that had left her behind. She didn’t want to remember. It hurt too much, the wound was still too fresh.

“What are you thinking about?” he asked gently.

She shook her head, refusing to go back even for a moment.

“Stay for one night,” he said. “At least give me that. Let me take care of you tonight. We’ll talk about tomorrow when it comes.”

12



One night. How could she say yes? How could she say no? Seth stirred emotions she hadn’t allowed herself to feel in a long time. She wasn’t entirely sure she wanted to give him the opportunity to unthaw her frozen heart. And he could. She recognized that.

“Why?” she asked helplessly. “You don’t know me. I’m nobody to you.”

“You aren’t nobody, Lily,” he said in a gentle voice. “I don’t know who’s convinced you that you’re no one, or if it’s you yourself that has perpetuated that lie, but that’s what it is. A lie.”

She took another long swallow of the hot chocolate and imagined sitting in his house, drinking more, allowing herself for one night to forget the past. To forget her present.

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