Russell slipped some fresh produce and meat into the cart, but Gemma wrinkled her nose. “I don’t really know how to cook.”
Her response didn’t faze him, and he added a bag of spinach. “I’ll get someone to prep some things for you, and I happen to know the guard who works the late shift is an excellent cook. I know chocolate and ice cream are good foods for crying into, but you have to give your body at least some nutrition.”
“I believe your role is to protect me, not monitor my eating habits.”
“I’m protecting you from yourself, love.”
“Don’t call me that. And I’m perfectly capable of feeding myself.”
He just hummed and added a loaf of whole grain bread to the cart.
“Let me guess, you don’t put sugar in your coffee either.”
“I don’t. No cream either.”
“Healthy people are boring,” she muttered under her breath as she went down one aisle and then another.
A moment later, he heard her curse under her breath.
“What’s wrong?” He pushed the cart up next to her and waited while she stared at the shelf. Her shoulders shook, and he realized she was crying.
“Christ, Gemma. Come here.” He turned her around and pulled her against his chest.
While she cried, he kept one arm tightly around her and used his free hand to fish out his cellphone to text the driver of the car that had followed them.
Less than a minute later, the drivers of both cars approached.
“Pay for this and bring it back to the house. I’m taking Gemma home now.”
She lifted her head and wiped at her eyes. At first, he thought she might argue, but she nodded and let him lead her out of the store.
In the car, he handed her his phone. “Text that number what you need added to the list.”
She took it and sent the message.
“Sorry I’m a mess.”
He took his phone and squeezed her hand. “Don’t be. If anyone has a good excuse to be a mess right now, it’s you. I’m here though.”
He blinked and looked at her as he pulled out of the grocery store parking lot.
“Because you’re part of the family. Because I’m a bastard.”
Gemma blinked hard and jerked her head back. “How are you a bastard?”
“Because I can’t keep you out of my head. You just lost your husband and all I can think about is how good it felt to have my arms around you. Pretty sure that makes me a bastard.”
“It’s not like you’re being inappropriate. If your thoughts move beyond that into actions, then you might be a bastard, but so far, you’ve just let me cry on your shoulder and bought me food. I don’t think either of those things makes you a monster. That role is reserved for me.
At first, Russell didn’t respond. Just reached for her hand and gave it a squeeze. Gemma hated herself for breaking down in the shop. It was so embarrassing, especially at the point that he called in reinforcements to finish her shopping for her. And now he was being so sweet her heart almost couldn’t stand it.
“You’re not a monster. Let’s get you home where you can relax.”
She shuddered. “Don’t call it that. I am grateful for the safe place to stay, but we both know that isn’t home.”
He squeezed her hand again.
“I’m not saying this safe house will ever be home, but you can rest assured that you have people in your corner. We’re going to get you through this. And on the other side, when it’s safe for you to be on your own again, you can decide if you want to stick around a while or go back to the place you currently call home.”
When they got to the house, Russell opened the front door for her and let her in. Then he walked to the bedroom and into the bathroom where he turned the bathtub on and pushed the stopper down.
“You take a bath, try to relax. I’ll get your groceries put away and see what I can do to make this place a little more comfortable for you.”
“How long do you think I’ll have to stay here?”
He shook his head. “It’s impossible to say right now.”
“Can’t I stay with one of you? What about Holly or Dakota? I like them. It would at least give me some company.”
He picked up her hand and pulled her closer to the tub.
“Right now, we have to assess the danger and figure out who else might be in harm’s way. Once we’ve done that, we can talk about moving you somewhere else. Now, do I need to undress you and put you in the tub, or can I leave you to it?”
She smacked his shoulder. “Get out of here. I’m fine.”
He chuckled and headed for the door.
He turned to face her again.
“Just doing my job, love.”