He smoothed her hair behind her ear, saw that his fingers had a faint tremor and withdrew his hand sharply. He retreated around the breakfast bar again, leaning a hip against it so that she couldn’t see the way his body had responded to the closeness.
Maddie, he told himself desperately.
“I don’t suppose you saw the gas station where you made the great escape.” He said that as much to refocus himself as because he wanted to know.
So much emotion swirled in her eyes, he knew the answer even before she spoke. He almost regretted asking.
“Yes. I...watched for it. It wasn’t that far north, between Redmond and Madras. It’s awfully dry out there, but there is an orchard and a vineyard somebody is irrigating. I can show you where it is, if you care.”
He nodded. “Eventually. Not right now. I’m sorry, Nell. That must have been rough.”
Her smile was wry. “I told myself it was like visiting the hospital where you were born. I’m different from most people, though, because I remember.”
“You cut your own umbilical cord.”
“Exactly.” Cradling her mug in both hands, she inhaled, then sipped. Hiding behind it, he thought. When she reemerged, her expression was merely inquiring. “Did you find a place for me to stay?”
He tensed. She might hate this idea, but his instincts told him to keep her close. Having taken a leave of absence from the library, she was free to stay for a couple of weeks to a month, at least. “I made a reservation in case you insist,” he said. “But I have a better idea.”
Her wariness became more pronounced.
“There’s a small apartment above my garage. Bedroom, bath, tiny kitchenette. It’s been empty since I bought the house. I’d feel better if you stayed here, at least until we’re sure nobody is disturbed by your reappearance.”
Her eyes searched his. “You really think somebody might be?”
“I have no idea,” he said truthfully. “We don’t even know if you were being kidnapped, say for ransom, or the driver of that car thought you were dead and was heading somewhere to dump your body. The fact that you were so convinced it wasn’t safe to come home is the part that unsettles me. If you knew the person who attacked you...” He shrugged.
Nell bent her head, once again hiding, this time behind fine brown hair that fell forward. Colin waited, not taking his eyes off her.
“If only I remembered,” she said in a small voice.
“The trouble is, even if memories start coming back, that particular one may not. After head trauma, people often forget the event that caused it and frequently the day leading up to it.”
“I remembered something on the way here.”
His gaze sharpened.
“Nothing important. It was going through Bend and seeing the signs for the turnoff to Mount Bachelor. I knew suddenly that my family skied. I didn’t really enjoy it because I was always cold and I wasn’t very good. I think my brother raced.”
Colin nodded. “He did. I searched old newspapers after I saw you in Seattle. I wanted to get more of a sense of your family.”
“Felix.” With the tentative way she said the name, Colin could tell she was trying it on her tongue. As if she hadn’t said it aloud before.
“Have you met him?” she asked.
Colin shook his head. “Your parents kept him out of the public eye. He never appeared at press conferences. After that first night, I never saw him again.”
“Would you like to see the apartment?”
On her nod, he took the key from the hook in a cupboard and led her across the frozen, crunchy ground to the detached garage with a peaked roof that echoed the roofline of the main house. The locked door opened to the foot of a staircase that was enclosed and a little claustrophobic. Better than an exterior staircase that would have been treacherous in winter.
Being optimistic, he’d turned the heat on a couple of hours ago to take the chill out of the air. The apartment was pretty bare-bones—he winced at that description. Livable, though, with a double bed, dresser, small table and pair of chairs. He had gone so far as to stock the kitchenette with extra dishes and pans and even a minimum of silverware from the house.
“It was unfinished up here when I bought the house,” he said, looking around.
“Have you ever rented it out?”
Colin shook his head. “No. I guess, in the back of my mind, I thought...”
Understanding softened Nell’s face. “That Cait might want to come home.”
Startled, he turned his head to meet her eyes. There wasn’t another person alive who could have guessed why creating this apartment had mattered to him. He’d revealed one hell of a lot of himself to her, and she’d done some reading between the lines, too.