Hidden away, p.9
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       Hidden Away, p.9

         Part #3 of KGI series by Maya Banks
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Page 9



  SARAH eased her bag onto the steps and then rubbed her hands up and down her arms to ward off the chill. The sun beat down on her but she still felt cold on the inside. She watched as Garrett sauntered down the beach, his pace unhurried.

  He was a puzzle to her. He seemed so big and intense yet he was laid-back and . . . casual. Easygoing. It didn’t compute. He should terrify her, and in some ways he did. And yet the idea of him being in her cottage even for a little while sent waves of relief down her spine.

  “He saved you, dumbass,” she muttered. “It’s the rescue syndrome. You feel safe because he saved your ass. ”

  And now she’d invited him in. To her house. To a place she should feel safe. Idiot.

  Her hands shook and nausea rose, sharp and overwhelming. She looked at the door to her cottage and then back down the beach where Garrett had disappeared. Then making a decision, she hurried up the steps, ducked into the cottage and closed the door behind her. She leaned heavily on it, her heart slamming against her chest like a fist.

  She pried open one eye to see Patches on the couch watching her as she bathed a paw. Sarah walked over to the couch and collapsed beside the cat. Her bag hit the floor with a thump and she sat there, head turned up so she stared at the ceiling.

  “I’m a mess, kitty. One big ball of mess. I can’t live like this. ”

  Tears pricked her eyelids and she blinked, refusing to let even one fall. The time for crying was over. It didn’t do anything other than bring back the feeling of abject helplessness.

  The knock on the door startled her. She shook her head at her idiocy. It was just Garrett. Garrett, who she was supposed to have waited for on the porch. Garrett, who she’d agreed to have dinner with.

  She sat there for a minute, indecision wracking her mind.

  “Sarah, it’s me, Garrett. Can you come grab one of these bags?”

  The request acted like a slap in the face. She lurched to her feet and hurried over to open the door, forgetting that she planned to hide in the house and ignore him when he came over. Yeah, that was mature.

  She swung the door open to see him looming in the doorway, his arms full. She reached for the bag on top, which leaned precariously, and pulled it away. She stepped back but he didn’t make a move to enter. He just looked at her while she fidgeted like a moron.

  “Come in,” she invited, stepping back again.

  He smiled and walked past her. “Mind if I put these on your table?”

  She hurried around him to put her own bag down. “No, go right ahead. Whatever you need. The fridge is over there. ” She pointed at the obvious and then felt ridiculous. “Of course it’s there. Hard to miss. ”

  Garrett plopped the stuff down on the table and then turned to her. His expression was serious but he didn’t make a move toward her. “Relax, Sarah. You don’t have to be nervous. If you aren’t comfortable with me being here, I can go. No problem. ”

  Was this guy for real? He was so calm and . . . unthreatening. Which, God, she needed. She couldn’t do threatening right now. She needed something sturdy. Something to believe in even if just for the space of a dinner.

  “I’m losing my mind,” she said in a cracked voice. “I want you to stay. That is, if you still want to. ”

  “What I want is for you not to be afraid. I want you to feel safe. ” He took one step toward her but hesitated as if testing her willingness to let him close. Then he touched her jaw—just a fingertip. But she felt it all the way to her soul. “You’re safe with me, Sarah. I’m not going to let anyone hurt you. ”

  Coming from anyone else, the statement would be melodramatic and corny. But he didn’t so much as blink when he made the declaration. He was dead serious, and the thing was, she totally believed him. She wanted to believe him.

  She stood there, not flinching away from his touch. It was . . . nice. Comforting on a deeper level she didn’t quite understand. It had been a long time since she’d taken so much pleasure in a man’s touch. Just the simple gesture, the brush of his fingers. It touched something inside her that had been paralyzed with fear for so long.

  “Who are you?” she blurted. “Are you real? Or did I conjure you up?”

  He looked startled by her question. He cocked his head to the side and then emitted a soft chuckle. “I don’t know about me, but the food’s real. ”

  She peered curiously at the bags on the counter. “What did you bring?”

  He turned and open up one of the sacks and pulled out a package of steaks. “I thought we’d start with a little meat, progress to more meat and finish with—”

  “Let me guess. More meat?”

  He grinned. “I’m a growing boy. Need my protein. ”

  She rolled her eyes and then frowned when her gaze lighted on his shoulder. “How did you hurt yourself?”

  He lifted one brow and leaned his hip against the counter.

  She flushed. “I watched you from the window. It seems to bother you when you’re exercising. ”

  He flashed a wry smile. “Yeah, I might have met with the wrong end of a bullet. ”

  She blinked. “Is either end of a bullet good?”

  For a moment he stared at her and then he threw his head back and laughed. “Okay, you totally got me there. ”

  “So what happened?”

  “Let’s just say some bad people were trying to hurt someone I love. ”

  “And shot you in the process? You look military. Were you in the army?”

  He visibly shuddered. “Army? Hell no. ”

  She studied him through narrow eyes. “Marine? You used to be a Marine?”

  “I am a Marine,” he corrected.

  “Oh, you’re still enlisted then? Are you on leave?”

  “You sure do ask a lot of questions. I feel like I’m playing volleyball. ”

  She flushed. “Sorry. I get carried away. ”

  “S’okay. And no, I’m not enlisted anymore. But we don’t exactly call ourselves former Marines. ”

  “Oh, yeah. Once a Marine . . . ”

  He nodded.

  She pursed her lips, ready to ask another question then thought better of it. He smiled. “You can ask. I was only kidding about you asking so many questions. Well, not kidding, but I don’t mind. ”

  “You’re awfully laid-back,” she said.

  He looked at her in astonishment and then laughed again.

  “What’s so funny?”

  “Oh man, I gotta tell my brothers you said that. They’d kill themselves laughing. They think I’m the most uptight son of a bitch who ever lived. ”

  Shock widened her eyes. “Really? But you seem so easygoing. So . . . calm. ”

  He rubbed a hand through his mussed hair and grinned ruefully. “Maybe it’s the downtime. I haven’t exactly taken any in . . . well, forever. Kind of hard to be uptight when all you can see for miles is beach, water and blue skies. ”

  She rubbed her hands up her arms, drawn to the image he painted. Peace. That was the word that seemed to personify him. Longing welled like a giant wave, falling over her until it was all she could process. What would she do for peace? True peace. The kind that settled into your bones and invaded your veins until contentment ached bittersweet.

  She’d sell her soul to own even a little part of the peace that seemed to surround him.

  “What are you thinking?”

  “I’m thinking I envy you,” she said honestly.

  Their gazes connected and his blue eyes flickered, just a hint of reaction in their depths. He didn’t respond. Didn’t offer some hokey sentiment. He just watched and studied her as if no words were needed because he understood. She shook her head to rid herself of the ridiculous thoughts dancing around in her head. How could he understand anything when he was a complete stranger?

  She turned away, no longer able to look into his eyes, into so much warmth. He made her stupid. Completely and utterly stupid. He’d get no fr
ee passes just because he saved her. Her gratitude? Yes. She was extremely grateful, and not just for rescuing her, but for going beyond that to make her feel safe.

  Mentally, she put about six feet of distance between them. When she turned back around, her lips were set into a firm line. “Do you want me to make a salad?”

  “Nah. Would ruin the whole effect. You can season the meat though, while I go out and fire up the grill. ”

  Relieved to have something to do and that he was leaving the room for a bit, she nodded and went to retrieve spices from the small pantry. By the time she returned to the table, Garrett had disappeared out the front door. She heaved a sigh of relief and sagged against the counter.

  Never before had she had such a confusing reaction to a man. Garrett terrified her and yet he made her feel as though nothing could hurt her as long as he was near. She feared allowing him too close, and yet she didn’t want him to leave.

  She smiled when she saw that in addition to the steaks, he’d brought over chicken breasts and pork chops. He hadn’t been kidding when he’d suggested a three-course meat dinner. As much as he worked out and as muscled as he was, he probably had to consume a gazillion calories in a day. And lots and lots of protein.

  She liberally seasoned the meat and then washed her hands in the sink. As she gazed out the window overlooking the porch, she saw the fire blazing in the small grill. Garrett stood watching the flames and when they finally died down, he closed the lid and started back toward the front door.

  “Want to sit out on the porch while the meat cooks?” he asked when he returned to the kitchen.

  The idea was instantly appealing. She’d spent most of her time watching the ocean from the safety of her cottage. But sitting outside, smelling the air, feeling the ocean breeze on her face sounded wonderful. She wouldn’t be vulnerable and alone. She had Garrett.

  “That sounds wonderful. ” She even managed to smile as she said it.

  Suddenly eager to be outside and enjoy an afternoon of freedom, she rummaged in the sack for the still-cold beer. She held up three bottles, all different, and raised a questioning eyebrow in his direction.

  He grinned. “Pick one. I’m not particular. ”

  She shrugged and put one down on the counter. The rest she shoved into her fridge for later. Garrett picked up the beer and returned her questioning look.

  “Not having one?”

  She wrinkled her nose. “I’m not much of a beer person, I’m afraid. ”

  “Ah. ”

  There was a lot in that one little word and her gaze sharpened. “What?”

  “Just ah. You look more like a wine person. ”

  “What’s that supposed to mean?”

  He cocked his head to the side and studied her. “You have this refined, elegant look about you. I bet you enjoy classical music, going to the opera, fine wine and fancy food. ”

  She flushed. “You think I’m a snob?”

  His eyes widened in surprise. “Not at all. I don’t know you. Just a guess. Am I right?”

  “Hmm, yes and no. I do love classical music, but can honestly say I’ve never been to an opera nor do I particularly desire to go. I do enjoy wine. White only. But as for food, I’m afraid I’m a burger-and-fry kind of girl. ”

  Garrett clutched his chest with his free hand and staggered back. “Be still my beating heart. You’re speaking my language. I make a mean hamburger. ”

  “So you think I’m elegant and refined? Is that a veiled insult?” she asked with a smile.

  “No. I like elegant and refined. You look . . . classic. ”

  “Well thank you. I think. ”

  “It was totally a compliment. You’re a beautiful woman. ”

  Her cheeks heated under his scrutiny and she looked away, suddenly self-conscious. She’d all but fished for the compliment and now she was embarrassed by how obvious she’d been.

  Garrett reached around her for the platter of meat. “Can you get the door? I wouldn’t want to drop my beer. ”

  Sarah chuckled. “Oh the horror. ”

  She moved ahead of him to open the door and they both walked out onto the sun-warmed porch. It was an incredibly beautiful day. One she hadn’t had the chance to fully appreciate once her trip into town ended in disaster. She perched on the steps while Garrett put the meat on to cook.

  A few seconds later, he sat next to her, stretching his long, tanned legs down the steps. He took a long swallow of his beer and sighed.

  “It doesn’t get much better than this. ”

  She wanted to agree but couldn’t really. In other circumstances, yeah, this was truly paradise. She made a sound that could be construed as agreement and he glanced sideways at her as he lowered his beer.

  “So what were you in town for this morning? Did you need something? I can always run back in for you. ”

  Surprised by his thoughtfulness, she shook her head. “I went by the bookstore to pick up a few books. I dropped them when the idiot attacked me. ”

  “Sorry, I didn’t even see them. I was too focused on you. ”

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