That evening, Cole drove to Madison’s condo. He needed to see her. He could hardly explain, even to himself, about how much she was beginning to mean to him. But he desperately needed to make sure she was okay after everything he’d bombarded on her that morning.
How she had known he was going to be at the cemetery, particularly that one, he didn’t know, but he’d felt too careless to want to ask earlier.
His headlights beamed on the wall of her garage, and he could see her, even in the darkness, and it was like his soul had been called home.
Madison took one look at Cole’s car as he pulled it up in front of her house, and she instantly straightened her back at her seat on the porch swing. She bookmarked her place, and then set her book aside. Her heart went doubly fast as he killed the ignition, and tugged the driver’s door open.
She still couldn’t believe that his family were killers. But it explained so much about him, the pain he had and kept trying to hide her from. She knew he wanted her to be safe, no matter each of their feelings, but she was determined to make sure he didn’t fight his family alone. She’d even prayed about it very hard this past afternoon. She was going to do whatever it took to keep that smile both real and constant on Cole’s handsome face.
The very moment Cole walked up the stairs to her balcony, she tensed. Just by how he was standing, not to mention looking at her, she knew he was dreading being there, only because he dreaded answering any more of her questions she had. He dreaded watching her see him in pain, and she knew how badly he wanted to keep it all hidden. But she wasn’t going to be affected by it as much as he probably thought. She refused to be.
“Cole.” She tossed him a gentle, but bright smile. “How are you?” She stood.
“No, no.” He held up a hand. “You can remain seated.”
“It’s okay.” Madison waved a hand, even though she felt it tremble. He looked so appealing from under the dim light of the balcony, and she felt her pulse heighten. His shirt was a bit wrinkled, and his gaze was momentarily downcast, bangs draped over his forehead. His hazel green eyes looked real dark in the dim light, too, which sent her pulse into overdrive. “You feeling better than…?” She couldn’t bear to repeat what had happened between them this morning. She was almost even a bit embarrassed that they’d almost kissed again, or that she’d dried all his fallen tears.
Cole nodded, obviously knowing what she meant. “Yeah. Are you…all right?” He stepped forward. “I mean…” He swallowed hard. “Not that I…” He rolled his eyes, and then looked away.
Madison hugged herself, not because she was cold, but because she was unsure of what to do. It was a grave subject. “What do you mean, am I fine? You mean after everything you told me?”
He looked at her with surprise. “How is it that you can almost read my thoughts?”
She chuckled, and then walked over to lean against the balcony railing. “It’s not like I try.”
He chuckled, too, giving a real smile that tugged at her heart longingly. She could hardly explain the feeling, even to herself. “You’re amazing.” He shook his head.
She gave a shrug. “I’m dealing with it well, I think.” She was proud at herself for having that knowledge. “It doesn’t matter how or what you told me, Cole. I have God to give me strength to help me through it, anyway.”
He nodded curtly, and his gaze filtered across her mouth briefly before caressing the railing, away from her. “I’m glad. Or…relieved.”
“I’m so sorry that I didn’t trust you before, though.” Madison couldn’t help reaching up and gently touching his upper arm. “That was very wrong of me.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about. It’s completely understandable. I expected it.” He gazed back at her, and the intense look in his eyes took her breath away.
“I was being really rude, Cole.” Madison stepped forward, determined to show how sorry she was. It meant a lot to her that he knew, because she desperately needed him to keep his trust in her, so she could in him. “That was the very last thing you needed.”
He gazed down at her, and joy, to her great surprise, warmed in his eyes. “I trust you fully, Madison. Don’t even worry about it.” He smiled wistfully. “How did you know I was in the cemetery anyway?”
Madison raised her eyebrows. “I remembered you mentioning your mother, and after how cruel I treated you, I decided that maybe you went somewhere that you could be alone and no one could hear you.” She shrugged. “I guess I just pieced it all together.”
He quirked an eyebrow. “You must be smart like that.”
She grinned. “I guess I am, huh?”
Cole nodded stiffly, and then bent toward her, very hesitant. His hazel green eyes darkened, and he stepped even closer to her. Madison’s breath caught, her heart pounding fiercely from inside her as he reached up, hand trembling slightly. He lightly caressed her hair away from her face, and then with one finger, slid it down the jawline of her heart-shaped face.
Madison’s gaze followed his hand for a long moment, and then glanced up to meet his eyes. The pain riveted there was stark and much different than the fear of losing her he’d had before, the fear of mentioning a bit of his past, or the fear of anything else.
The back of Cole’s hand caressed her cheek, and then he leaned his mouth closer, just as his right hand gently cupped her chin.
Ready, Madison leaned into him. Cole’s mouth came down over hers, and then hovered for a long moment, so close she could almost feel how powerful his kiss was going to be. But when he pulled away and pressed her forehead against hers instead, disappointment hit her like a tidal wave. Because she knew exactly why he was resisting, not because she wanted the kiss so badly.
“I have to go,” he whispered, and then let go of her. He met her gaze for a long moment, and then turned away toward the stairs.
Madison’s heart pounded heavily from inside her. She frowned. “Cole.”
Cole froze, his left hand on the railing and one foot braced forward, almost in the air as if suddenly needing to get away.
“You just don’t want me close,” she said softly. “Because you’re terrified that you’re going to lose me, possibly to your own family. But guess what? I don’t care, Cole. I don’t.”
He sighed heavily, refusing to even look at her. “Madison—”
“No.” She shook her head, one hand bracing the white-painted railing lightly. “I don’t care what you say. I’m not going anywhere, Cole. I care too much about you to even think about doing that.”
Cole glanced over at her, and his eyes pleaded with her. Begged her to just let him be, to let him go to keep her safe.
“I’m safe with you.” She stepped over to him. “I am. I’m as safe as I can ever be, and I will keep all my doors and windows locked at night. Tightly. I will.”
Cole turned toward her, almost subconsciously, and his eyes looked suddenly torn between leaving and wrapping her in his arms like she so wanted him to do.
She reached forward, and held out her hand. “Just trust me, Cole. Everything is going to be fine, because God is watching over us.” She smiled gently.
But it was all the invitation Cole needed. Stepping forward, Cole cupped her cheeks without hesitation, breathless, and kissed her very gently. He gently pushed her against the balcony post as one of her hands clutched his shirt, the other sliding up into the back of his hair. He kissed her more deeply, his pulse thundering in his ears, and Madison let him.
When the kiss was over, he gently pulled back, and grinned at her happily. Happily!
Madison giggled, and she let him wrap her in his arms and kiss her again. This time, it definitely felt like paradise. It was like she had finally come home, that she had everything she could ever want with feeling herself in his beloved, strong and very capable arms.
At last, Cole pulled back far enough to gaze tenderly into her eyes. “I’ll be back tomorrow,” he promised amongst a whisper. “Maddie.” He grinned from ear to ear.
Madison couldn’t help grinning back, and she watched him go with so much relief she almost felt lightheaded. He was finally opening up to her, and that was a definite blessing. And an answer to her prayers.
Her soul continued to feel complete even when Cole was driving far away from her.
The next night, Cole slept better than he had in a long time. As soon as he woke the next morning, he read a few chapters from his old dusty Bible, one his mother had given him the day he’d discovered their family’s secret, ironically. After thanking God for Madison, whom he was now desiring to call Maddie because he was so sweet on her, Cole cooked himself a big breakfast, ate it all, and felt even better.
He remembered that Madison had classes instead of work all day, though, so he decided to actually attend his own classes this time around. He did so, and by the time he got home, it was four-thirty p.m.
Knowing he was welcome to, especially because Madison had been done with classes an hour earlier than him, he called her, and promised he would arrive at her house by five-thirty, if she wanted to go out with him again. She said that she did, and made Cole feel even more happier, which was a definite first for him.
When Cole knocked on her door, however, he was not prepared for the awkwardness of the situation he felt as he gazed into Madison’s beautiful blue eyes.
He smiled down at her, and when her sunny smile returned upon her face, he forgot all about everything that had to do with his family. What usually kept him awake at night. In fact, he felt so well rested that at the moment he could barely remember he even had a family.
“Hey, Maddie,” he greeted her tenderly, his gaze sweeping over her hair pulled back in a low ponytail for today, her honey blond, curly bangs swept to the side. She was dressed in a short-sleeved, purple blouse, jeans, and looked absolutely lovely.
She giggled, and then locked her condo before turning to him. “Hey, handsome.” She smirked. “What are we doing today?”
He raised his eyebrows. “How about we start with a movie?”
“Okay,” she whispered. “Did you have a good sleep?”
“Yes, I did.” He grinned at her, pretty much unable to help himself. She was as bright and wonderful as sunrise, only better.
During the movie at the Billings, Montana theater twenty miles away, they laughed together at the good-natured comedy. One time, Cole laughed so hard that half the popcorn in its oversized container flew onto the floor, and Madison only laughed harder at him.
“I can’t believe we were going to see the movie first, then dinner,” Madison admitted after the movie around eight in the evening as they sat at one of the mall’s restaurants—the theater had been located in the city mall—and finished their fast food dinner.
Cole shook his head at her constant teasing him as he took a long swig of his soda. He did not want to feel any distance between them, especially after everything he had told her.
The one thing that he still had left to tell her was the fact that for years he had wanted to kill his own siblings and father for everything they had ever done. But he was afraid that she might hate him for that one day. He was afraid of many things when it came to Madison, but he had a good reason to. She was special, for one thing. She had brought light into his life when he hadn’t seen such for so long. Long before his mother had even died, in fact.
Now that she was in his life, Cole was destined to protect Madison with his own life, no matter what that meant. Once, he’d been terrified at losing his own life if he ever let down the family’s company. But now he really did not care. Madison meant more to him than anything in this whole world and it had all happened so fast. Yet, it was so worth it. He’d even begun praying a lot more again in the past several days since he’d met her, which was something he once thought he would never do again.
“You look thoughtful.” Madison pointed her plastic fork at him, and gazed at him with an endearing twinkle in her eyes. “What’s on your mind, sweetie?”
Cole smiled at her calling him that. No one had ever called him that before. “I was just thinking about how wonderful you are.”
“Really.” Madison chuckled wryly. “Why would you even think so, Cole, dear?” she teased lightly. “Some people think I can be annoying by my constant sunny attitude.”
“Well, you’re not to me.” He wanted her to know that, yet he still wanted to go slow when it came to their relationship. Even though every day it was feeling much faster-going with her around. “I’m not sure why anyone would think that. Although…” He winced. “When I first met you, I thought you were a little bit. But it has shown a lot more in so many other different ways.”
Madison looked speechless for a moment, her fork halfway to her mouth. Then, she shrugged it off. “Oh, stop. You’re not half as bad either, you know. You’re so kind and sweet.”
“I’m glad you think so.” Most days he didn’t.
“Your mother raised you well,” she added, and then hesitated at finishing off her hot dog, but it was probably to choose her words carefully, not just because she was hungry. “So did mine. And by the way, I have yet to tell you about my family.”
“Yeah, where are they anyway?” he decided to tease. He pretended to search their surroundings. “I don’t see them anywhere, anyone who does look like you.”
“Probably because they actually don’t look like me. Sometimes they tease me that maybe I’m adopted because of that. But over time, relatives have said that I look more like my grandmother, my mother’s mother, than anyone else in the entire family. The same goes with my brother. He looks like my grandfather on my dad’s side. It’s weird.” She took a sip of her own soda. “My brother is finishing off his years in medical school. He has to be the funniest person on the face of mankind, though.”
“Aww, I thought you were.” Cole winked at her, and grinned.
She giggled. “Nope, my brother is. He’s a good Christian, and humor means a lot to him in life. He wants to be the sort of pediatrician that entertains kids in hospitals and makes them happy and more excited about life. You know, sort of like Patch Adams, that one doctor that Robin Williams played in that movie. I like that movie. I have it on DVD at home. In fact…” She held up a hand, and tried to ignore Cole’s look of amusement at her carrying on. “I watch it every now and then to remind me of my brother. I don’t get to see Pat very often. He’s either constantly studying and going to his college Bible studies, or spending time with friends or with his fiancee, Tina.” She gave a shrug. “I guess we all have our own values in life.” She gazed up at him sweetly.
Cole looked serious as he studied her while chewing on a few fries. Once he swallowed, his face brightened, wanting to hear more about her life. “What about your parents?”
“They’re both mechanics.” She smirked.
He chuckled. “Both of them, huh?”
“Yeah. They work together. But they love spending time with each other, so they don’t care how much money they make, as long as they’re together. It’s so awesome.” She studied his left hand lying on the table for a long moment, as if she wanted to hold it. “Sort of like us.” She gazed into his eyes, and then gently smiled.
It felt like a plow had suddenly zoomed through Cole’s gut. How could someone as sweet and wonderful, not to mention a positive-thinker, like Madison end up with a guy like him? It didn’t feel right, or sound right. She should be with a guy with similar values and interests, whose own family didn’t have such a secretive, violent past, not to mention the same kind of present. Maybe even the same kind of future, if he didn’t get both he and Madison out of it as soon as possible.
He swallowed hard, but not even a long swig of his soda could keep his throat from feeling parched. It was like Madison had been meant to be to make him feel this way, to make him feel—and know with every fiber of his being—that no one could ever feel the same amount of tenderness, not mean anything more to him than she did. It was weird how it had ended up that way, but maybe, just maybe, God had planned this for him. Yet why would He let Madison be in danger this way, unless He didn’t want Cole to die alone?
Cole mentally shook his head, and pushed aside the fear trying to trap him. He wouldn’t let his family near Madison. He would make sure of it even if his own life depended on it. He decided right then and there that it was time to enjoy this evening better, and try not to think about what could come after this first date.
The drive back to Madison’s condo was filled with lighthearted and hilarious stories about the funny stuff her cat and dog had ever done to drive her up the wall, or anything else. Cole just listened, chuckling now and then, because he was too focused on keeping all the negative thoughts at bay, and any thoughts about his family. Madison didn’t need to know anything of what he’d already told her anyway.
Cole helped her out of his car, and then walked with her up the stairs to her condo door. She was grinning as she fished her keys out from out of her little brown leather purse, and then turned to him. Her eyes were sparkling with laughter, happiness, and excitement, and just the sight of her standing before him made Cole want to kiss her senseless. But it also made him feel jolly and warm inside, shoveling any such negative feelings fully out of his body. It was amazing what real love could do to a person when it came to that.
“So.” Adorable, Madison curled her hands behind her, and leaned against her doorjamb. “I had an awesome time with you tonight.”
Cole stepped back to give them both a bit more breathing room as he grinned at her. How could one sweet girl make him feel so wonderful? “I’m glad you enjoyed yourself,” he said honestly, “because I did, too.”
“You’d better,” she teased. “Because I think there should definitely be a second date after this. What are your thoughts?” She quirked an eyebrow.
“You’re absolutely right.” He nodded. “That would be incredible. When would the best time work for you, Maddie?”
She thought a moment. “How about tomorrow?”
He almost laughed. “It’s another school night, though.”
She shrugged. “I hardly will make time for homework at night anymore, Cole.”
She had a point there, Cole thought. He nodded. “You know what? Me, too.”
Madison nodded. “Good.”
“Yeah.” He smiled gently. “So…” He didn’t want to make the situation any more awkward than it already was. Besides, the kiss they’d shared the night before had definitely been something. He wanted to move very slowly and did not want to scare her.
So he hoped he wouldn’t surprise her too much when he gently took her left hand from within his right, and lightly kissed her forehead.
He leaned back, and grinned at her tenderly. “Good night, Maddie. Sleep well. Pleasant dreams.” He stepped back, and turned away.
But he was almost to the stairs when Madison reached out and wrapped a hand around his left forearm.
“Oh, no, you don’t.” Giggling, Madison stood in front of him, and then looked up tenderly into his hazel green eyes. “You’re not getting away very easily, Cole. Just because you told me stuff gives you no reason to want to be weird about it.”
Cole sighed heavily, and then finally shook his head at her. “Maddie, you don’t even have to ask me twice.”
Without hesitation, she lifted her head and welcomed his lips gently coming down onto hers. She let his left hand graze her jaw lightly as she returned the kiss, and then let go gently.
Madison smiled at him. “That’s better. Good night, silly.” Chuckling, she turned and went back over to her door, where she unlocked it, and slipped inside. Right before waving at him.
Cole shook his head with mirth as he walked back down to his car. He had a big feeling that it was going to be a lot different and better between them from now on.