“Wouldn’t you think I’d have some?” she exclaimed, tension vibrating through her body again.
“Hey.” He tugged her close again, kissing her forehead, her nose, the corner of her mouth. “I keep saying this—”
“It’ll come back.” She made an awful face at him. “But I also distinctly remember you telling me that the day of the assault might not.”
Was she associating her uncle Duane with that day? His alarms pinged. Damn it, Duane had implied she’d spent a lot of time with him, something Colin hadn’t known. Duane fit the pattern in some ways—never married, apparently not dating women his age unless you counted the possibly mythical woman in Portland. Colin felt sick at even so vague a suspicion.
“I’ve changed my mind,” he told Nell. With a nudge, he started her toward the kitchen. “It’s not gone, it’s buried. I think Beck had something to do with that night, and you know it. You’re resisting the memory because it’s so painful, but it’s there.”
Her expression was bleak when she met his eyes. “Even if it is, I need to remember.”
He wanted to reassure her by saying, There’s no hurry, but it would have been a lie. He felt a sense of urgency that wouldn’t let go. The assault on Maddie that long-ago night wasn’t as simple as they’d believed at the time. It sure as hell hadn’t been chance—a predator seeing a teenage girl alone on a dark path. No, it was all about Maddie. Maddie’s boyfriend, too, and in some way her family. Her intense fear all these years of returning home meant something. The pieces weren’t fitting together yet, but they would. The churning in his belly increased at the idea of Duane as one of those puzzle pieces.
Damn it, no! He’d worked closely with the man for twelve years. Colin knew how much Duane cared about the people they sought to protect.
But he found he couldn’t dismiss the possibility that Duane had sexually molested Nell, however much he wanted to.
“Pushing doesn’t seem to work,” he pointed out. “All it does is give you a headache. Maybe what you need is a long soak in the tub.”
A tiny smile rewarded him. “Actually, that sounds lovely. And I did cook.”
He swatted her lightly on the butt. “Go. I’ll take care of the kitchen. And I promise not to start the dishwasher until you’re out of the bath.”
“I don’t suppose you have bath salts? Or some bubble bath...?”
He slanted a look at her. She was giggling as she went down the hall.
His mouth quirked as he watched her go, but Colin’s mood wasn’t any lighter.
* * *
NELL STRUGGLED OUT of sleep, crying out as she surfaced. Hands were on her, and she thrashed wildly.
“Maddie!” Somebody was shaking her. “Damn it, Maddie, wake up!”
She kept fighting, some of the nightmare hanging on. I won’t, I won’t.
I won’t do what? she asked herself in bewilderment, halfway between states.
She opened her eyes to darkness. Heard herself breathing in gasps that rasped like skin over gravel. For a moment she had no idea where she was or whose hands were on her.
“Maddie,” he repeated, patient, gentle now that she’d quit fighting.
“Colin. Oh, God. Colin.” She threw herself at him, felt his arms close securely around her. Either his chest was wet or her face was.
She was crying. In her sleep?
“It was a nightmare. That’s all, love, a nightmare. You’re safe here with me. I promise.” He was moving slightly, as if trying to rock her.
She wasn’t close enough. She wriggled and scrambled until she was lying on top of him and she felt him from where her toes curled against his shins to the heart slamming beneath her to his breath moving her hair.
He kept talking; she hardly made out words. Crooning. It had to be five minutes before her frantic need to climb inside him eased. Her muscles gradually went slack, leaving her utterly drained.
“Are you all right?” he murmured, and she nodded, although she wasn’t sure she was.
Somehow she knew the nightmare had been a familiar one. This was the first time ever she hadn’t been alone when she woke from it, though.
“Angel,” she whispered.
He went still. “What?”
“Angel. Somebody called me angel.”
“Has anybody since you got here?”
She shook her head as well as she could without removing her cheek from his shoulder.
“Okay,” he said. “Do you remember the rest? Do you want to tell me?”
His hands were moving up and down her back, the patterns soothing. Here and there he’d stop to knead, seeming to find every knot.