Gavin looked at Katrina, sitting on the couch, anguish in every sound swirling through the air towards him, and cursed himself for his clumsiness. He wondered what he had said that triggered her fear. He should never have kissed her, touched her after so upsetting a day. What an idiot he was! He had never been out of control before with a woman.
But then, a small voice deep within himself added, he’d never been in love with any woman before, either. With a shock, Gavin went cold all over as he realized that he did love this woman—deeply, completely, and forever.
Watching Katrina sob as though her heart had just broken, Gavin chastised himself again for taking such a foolish chance with their future. She must not guess his true feelings for her, or what his part was in the macabre coil. It was crucial to his case to remain aloof, not to mention it was in the worst form for him to be getting personally involved with someone who was so central to his current work assignment.
Additionally, and most importantly in his own private book, he couldn’t stand causing more pain to this beautiful woman because of his own desires and passions. He wondered if she would ever forgive him. He prayed she would.
He would have to hold himself in check until this whole business was finished, no matter how difficult that would be. Gavin questioned his ability to withstand the temptation she posed. Could he be with her and not kiss her tender lips? He couldn't simply do an about face, either. He had been tender with her. He couldn't simply show no consideration for her now. If he did that abrupt an about-face, she may become suspicious. If that happened, he would never get the final answers he sought. What a mess! If only Charleston would have…
Katrina, finally settling somewhat, wiped her nose on the back of her hand, bringing Gavin's attention back to the present moment. He stood and walked to her, handing her a handkerchief. He knelt beside her as she wiped her eyes and blew her nose. He gently took her hands in his. Her eyelids fluttered, her gaze reaching his before dropping to the square of linen in her hands. Her face, expressive as ever, showed the terror had gone now, leaving a wariness behind and a great deal of fatigue.
"Gavin?" Her voice was weak, timorous. Her grip tightened on his hand.
"Yes, Little One?" 'Slowly, now, gently,' he cautioned himself. He schooled his face to show his concern for her, but only that.
"What…" her voice died in her throat. She licked her lips, swallowed, and tried again. "I'm…sor…ry."
"Sh-h-h-h. Don't try to talk. I apologize, Katrina. I shouldn't have pushed things. I got a little crazy. Will you forgive me for being such a brute?"
Katrina looked at him, her eyes roaming his face. She nodded, then grimaced at the pain the motion caused her, putting her hand to her forehead.
"Would you like a little water to drink?"
This time, she just smiled a little, not moving her head.
Gavin returned her smile, kissed her fingertips, then released her hand. He stood as he said, "Done. Your humble servant scurries to do your bidding." His eyes moved to her lips, then returned to her eyes. He smiled at her once more, giving her a small bow. Turning, he went into the kitchen, wondering how long it would be before he could claim her as his own, or if that time would ever come.
As Gavin returned to the living room, he noted she had straightened her clothing, and tucked her hair behind her ears.
"Here's water for my tattered waif," he said, smiling.
Katrina gave a weak smile as she took the cold glass, then grimaced slightly.
"I wish I could give you something for the pain, Little One. That has to wait until morning. Doctor's orders." He watched as she drank the water. She must have been extremely thirsty; she drained the glass without stopping for a breath. Handing it back to him, she smiled shyly. The wariness had faded from her eyes, but the fatigue remained.
"Would you like some more?" Gavin smiled gently as he asked the question, reaching for the glass.
"No, thank you."
He put the glass on the table, next to the lamp and turned back to her. "It's been a somewhat busy day. You look a little done in. Are you very tired?"
Katrina nodded. A small, shaky smile played over her face then was gone just as quickly as it had emerged, pain again washing across her features.
"Well, then, Dr. Gavin prescribes a good night's rest and plenty of sleep for one Katrina Lee McSwayne!" So saying, he picked her up in his arms and headed for the bedroom. Katrina offered a mild protest, but he swept it aside as he strode across the room.
He gently lowered her onto the bed, then sat on the edge, taking her hand in his. "Katrina, do you have nightmares often?"
Her eyes flew to his face, then she looked away again.
"I…haven't had any for a very long time. For the first two years, I had them almost every night." She looked at the quilt on her bed, her fingers plucking nervously at the yarn tufts, where the quilt was tied together, unknotting one as she tugged. Gavin reached over and deftly re-tied the yarn.
“Katrina, the next question you don't have to answer, but I would like to know. If you don't want to answer it, tell me to go to blazes, all right?"
Katrina looked up at him with very large eyes, then dropped her gaze back to the quilt. She nodded her head, making a small sound in her throat with the pain.
He lifted her face with his knuckle, but she closed her eyes.
After a brief hesitation, he asked his question, allowing her to keep her eyes hidden from him behind their lids. "Has there been…anyone else since that night with Robert and Charleston?" He watched her face closely. Misery and shame, pain and fear crossed her features, moisture seeping from beneath her lashes, remaining at the edges of her eyes. After a long moment, she barely moved her head 'no', tears slipping from the ledge of her lashes, wetting her cheeks.
"I...haven't even...dated. I...I was afraid to…let that...happen again,” she whispered, her voice so quiet Gavin had to strain to hear it, even as close as he was to her just now.
"You haven't even let anyone kiss you?"
"No." It was said simply, with no emotions, no explanations, no excuses.
"But I…you let me…" He stopped mid-sentence, his eyes never leaving her face, his hand dropping from beneath her chin.
"You make me feel...different. I never knew it could feel good to be kissed and to be...touched...like that. And tonight, I...I…." she stopped, blushing furiously.
"What did I say wrong, Katrina? I have to know." He didn’t care what the consequences might be, he had to have the answer so he wouldn't say anything that would terrify her ever again.
"I really don't know. I...it felt so good to be kissed and touched. Then, suddenly, Charleston was there, and I...knew he was going to hurt me again. I'm sorry, Gavin." Her voice ended in a tearful whisper.
"Don't apologize, Kitten. You have no reason to." He tucked his finger gently beneath her chin once more, raising her face to his. He saw the trail her new tears were leaving on her cheeks. Inwardly groaning at his desire to kiss them away, he knew she would only be safe from him if he got out of her bedroom, and fast!
"Goodnight, Little One. You're safe. Sleep well." With that, he was gone, closing her door quietly behind him.
Gavin walked into the living room and retrieved the telephone book from its place beneath the phone. He rifled through the yellow section, then stepped to the nook and made several phone calls, marking notes in a small pad he’d taken from his pocket.
Smiling with grim satisfaction, he hung up the phone and returned to the kitchen. His mind firmly on the knotty problem of keeping Katrina alive while locating Charleston and Jason, he quickly finished cleaning the dishes, leaving them to air dry overnight.
He retrieved the pillow and blanket from the hall closet where he’d stashed them and made up his bed on the uncomfortable couch again. It was a good thing they’d be in a motel tomorrow night, he thought as he composed himself for sleep, because if he kept sleeping on this couch, his back was going to end up deformed in a permanent kink.