I parked the truck in the attached parking garage and took her elbow so I could guide her to the elevator that would drop us off in the penthouse loft. She didn’t say a word the entire ride up, and when I unlocked the door and ushered her inside, I was expecting her to be impressed by the high ceilings with their crisscrossed ductwork and the exposed brick that made up the back wall of the kitchen. I was expecting her to let out a little gasp at the three-hundred-and-sixty-degree views that showcased both the sweeping Denver skyline and the soaring mountains off in the distance. It was literally a million-plus view and it often did more to seduce women once they were in my home than anything I could say or do.
I should have known Avett wouldn’t respond in any of the ways I was used to. She paid no attention to the expensive leather sectional. The colossal media center, which could rival an IMAX movie screen, didn’t faze her. The imported marble floors under her combat-booted feet went ignored and so did the massive king-sized bed that was pushed up against a wall decorated with carefully curated artwork that probably cost more than her tuition for college had been. As a whole, she seemed entirely unimpressed by my meticulously decorated and designed home, but when her eyes hit the kitchen with its shiny, never-used stainless steel appliances and chef-quality range, some of her fire flared in her eyes.
She wandered over to the one part of my home that I never spent time in and caressed the six burner stove like it was her lover. She looked over her shoulder at me and flashed me a weak grin. “This kitchen is beautiful. I could spend a lot of time in here.” It was on the tip of my tongue to ask her what she thought of the rest of the place, but considering she had lost everything and no longer had anything, seeking validation for a place filled with useless trappings she didn’t even notice seemed thoughtless and adolescent. I wasn’t sure why I wanted her approval so badly anyway. I was the one that had to live here, the one that had to have the packaging that matched what I was trying to sell to the world.
“The bathroom is through the door on the other side of the bed. I’ll find you a T-shirt and some sweats to hold you over while I toss your stuff in the wash.”
She nodded stiffly and walked around the granite countertop that separated the kitchen area from the living room. She wrinkled her nose and tried to smile but it turned into a grimace that had my heart twisting as tightly as her lips.
“I smell like smoke, don’t I?” She picked up the end of her braid and pulled off the tie that held the dusky, pink strands woven together.
I bit back a groan and made my way over to where she was standing, looking lost and so out of place in this overly extravagant loft. She was more breathtaking than anything seen out those expensive-ass windows, and she was far more interesting and colorful than any of the art that hung uselessly on the walls. I pulled her hands away from her hair and tunneled my fingers in the thick and oddly colored strands so I could finish unwinding her hair for her. She looked up at me with a cyclone of emotions swirling in her eyes and I knew all she could do was work through what she was feeling and let the storm rage. For her, I wanted to be impermeable and weatherproof.
“It was only things. You know that, right?” My voice was gruff, and when I had her hair loose and falling all around her face like a wavy pink cloud, I took a step back and met her troubled gaze.
She shrugged. “Only things, but those things meant a lot. All the stuff my dad kept from his days in the service, and the memorabilia he kept from the bar over the years—none of that can be replaced and that sucks, no matter how you look at it.”
I grunted a little and moved towards the walk-in closet that lived under the stairwell that led to the upper loft, where my office and home law library were.
“You mean a lot, too, Avett. I’m sure your dad would be willing to sacrifice anything that he had as long as it meant you were safe and sound. You’re both lucky.”
She made a strangled sound low in her throat and started to move towards where the bathroom was located. I wondered if the slate walk-in shower, with its glass surround and multiple showerheads, would impress her half as much as the kitchen did. I doubted it, but I knew it would be a lot easier for her to let go, to break down in the shower, than it would be over the convection oven.
She paused at the doorway and looked at me over her shoulder and I knew that the tears she had been fighting back were going to fall any second. “Not exactly feeling lucky at the moment.”
I wasn’t surprised that was her response, but she was lucky. She was lucky she was out of jail, and that even though she tried to hide it, her innocence showed through. She was lucky that no one got hurt today and that the fire had eventually been contained so none of the neighbors’ houses had been damaged. She was lucky she had two parents that loved her and supported her, no matter what kind of situation she was in. No one blamed her for the blaze today, no one except for her. She was lucky that she was young enough that none of her bad choices would be the be-all and end-all of who she was, and that she still had time to figure her life out. She was lucky that so many people wanted to keep her safe, and be there for her while she finished what was started the night of the robbery. She was lucky she didn’t have to face anything that was happening or what was coming down the pike alone.
And I was one lucky bastard that she was here.
She wasn’t here for the million-dollar view. She wasn’t here because of the zeros attached to the balance in my bank account. She couldn’t care less that I was on the fast track to making partner at the firm, and she wasn’t here for what I could do for her. In fact, when the shit hit the fan, I had to force her to take my help.
When I got the call from Asa that Brite’s house was in flames and that Avett was taking the blow hard, it had been all I could do not to run out of the courtroom in the middle of my cross-examination. I’d had to call a brief recess and debrief my second chair to finish the questioning before I could leave. I’d never left court in the middle of a session. I’d never entrusted anyone else to do the cross-examination because I was always sure no one would get the job done as well as I could. But today I didn’t care; all I wanted to do was get to the scene of the fire and make sure that Avett was okay. As soon as I arrived, I knew I wanted to take her home with me.
She looked so small and fragile as the fire roared behind her. I wanted to take care of her. I was so convinced that Lottie had killed any kind of compassion and all the concern I had for other people, but when I saw Avett barely holding on, empathy flooded me. I wanted to make it better for her so badly I could taste it on my tongue.