“You didn’t make yourself famous,” he said through gritted teeth. “None of it was your doing.”
She shrugged in acknowledgment. He knew what she was thinking. Yes, it was still possible that some action of hers had led to the assault and abduction. He couldn’t imagine what action that could have been. She’d been a good girl, not a troublemaker. Even if she had been...she was fifteen years old. A kid.
“Word will get out no matter what,” he repeated. “If we don’t do it this way, you’re going to have reporters waylaying you everywhere you go. That might be worse.”
“I don’t know.” Expression closing down, she jumped to her feet and began clearing the table.
Colin didn’t push it. He helped her clear, then loaded the dishwasher while she put leftovers in the refrigerator.
Finally, as she was pouring the coffee, her back to him, Nell said abruptly, “Okay. You’re right. How bad can it be?”
He hadn’t forgotten the hysteria back then, but refrained from saying, It won’t be good.
Once again, Maddie Dubeau would be a nine-day wonder.
NELL WOKE THE next morning to find the world outside cloaked in white. Colin had said something about expecting a trace of snow, but this was more than that. For a moment she felt a child’s sense of wonder at the quiet beauty. An occasional tiny flake still floated down, adding to the powder snow that made Mount Bachelor a world-renowned destination ski resort. Standing at the window looking out, she could tell from the set of tracks cutting through the smooth sheet of snow that Colin had already departed for work.
That was all it took, the sight of those tracks, to make her think about him. The better she got to know him, the more of a puzzle he became for her. Part of it was him, the man with the hard face and intense eyes who could still be so gentle that all of her certainties were shaken. The coward in her wanted to believe that gentleness was a lie. She could hold more of herself back if she was sure he was intent on manipulating her.
But Nell didn’t believe it. He’d been too honest with her. By asking her to stay here, opening his home to her, he’d also opened his life. She’d seen the yearning on his face when he talked about his sister. Nell was still stunned that he had held her hand at her parents’. He hadn’t bothered to worry about the way her parents would interpret it. Resting her forehead against the cold glass, she closed her eyes and remembered how that hand had felt, engulfing hers. She shivered at another memory, of him standing close to her, his fingers delving into her hair and stroking so gently over that old scar. She’d been sorry when he stepped away.
In fact, she’d felt something so unfamiliar, it wasn’t until later, lying in bed, that she had identified it as sexual attraction.
A few times she had wondered if he were feeling something similar, but she wasn’t sure. Maybe it would be better if she never found out. She had always known that, if she ever came to trust a man enough to want the kind of relationship she saw other people having, she would have to tell him more about her past. The part that would repulse most decent men.
But he had hinted that he knew and understood.
He thinks of me as Maddie. He’s been obsessed with Maddie.
No matter what, that wasn’t who she was anymore.
It would be better not to think of Colin that way, even if he were the only man who had ever made her feel safe. Safe enough to feel...well, other things, too.
I’ll wait and see, she decided practically, and turned from the window to get herself breakfast.
Nell had eaten and was sipping the tea she preferred to coffee when she thought to check her phone. He’d left her a message.
“I made some calls, including a talk with your father. We’re set for two o’clock at the police station. It’s no longer next to the old courthouse.” He gave the address. “Why don’t you aim to get here at least half an hour early? We can talk about the kind of questions you’ll be asked, how you want to answer.” There was a long enough pause for her to think he might be done, but then he added, his voice subtly different, “If you go out, be careful, Nell.”
Sitting locked in this apartment was not an option, certainly not this morning. All she would do was freak out about the upcoming press conference or think about Colin, the man. She needed a distraction.
Last night she’d searched Facebook for Emily Henson and Hailey Allen. She now knew the name of Emily’s husband—Jason Barr—and had even seen a picture of him, albeit one taken with her when they’d apparently been mountain biking and were tousled, sweaty and laughing. He looked nice: thin, with sandy-blond hair and wire-rimmed glasses. Emily’s face produced nothing as concrete as a memory, but it looked familiar and Nell felt a funny stir of emotion. She had lingered a long time on Emily’s Facebook page.