Chapter no 12 – Noah

When in Rome

Well, that escalated quickly.

Guess who’s in my truck, loopy out of her mind and fresh from a checkup at our local doctor’s office where I begged Dr. Macky to come in after hours? I’ll give you two hints: (1) She promised I’d not even notice her around; and

(2) She’s been nothing but noticeably around since I met her.

This woman has only been in my life for a few days and she’s going to be the end of me. The moment I saw her tonight I could tell something wasn’t right. Her eyes were glassy and her normal sparkle was absent. She looked horrified and out of it all at once. For a split second, I thought someone slipped something in her drink and I was about to flip every table in that bar until I figured out who did it.

But then I saw her pull those pills out of her purse and stare at them and it all clicked. The relief I felt that she wasn’t maliciously drugged was immediately replaced with terror. I checked the pill container only to find that she accidentally took a sleeping pill. I’m not a doctor, but even I know that mixing sleeping pills and alcohol is not a good thing.

Annie came back over to the table when she realized something was up, and I had her help me discreetly get Amelia to the truck. Luckily, everyone in the bar was so rowdy and dancing that no one seemed to notice us. I got her into the front seat of my truck and told Annie what was going on.

I sat with Amelia in the truck while Annie went inside and used the bar’s phone to call Dr. Macky. I’ve never driven so fast in my life, and I’ve never been more thankful to show up late to the bar before. If I had been there an hour earlier, I would have been blocked in just like my sister’s truck.

Anyway, we made it to the clinic and Dr. Macky did a quick evaluation of Amelia. Her blood pressure was fine, her oxygen levels were fine, and although she’s loopy as shit, the doctor said she’ll be okay and just needs to sleep it off.

Right now, she’s passed out across the bench seat of my truck, and I’m standing outside the door with my sister trying to find a way out of this responsibility I didn’t want in the first place. But even as I think it, I know there’s no way I’m leaving her like this tonight. I want to, but I just can’t.

Annie looks toward the open door of my truck where we can see Amelia with her dark hair fanned out around her and her cheek squished against the leather, mouth breathing to her fullest. “She kinda reminds me of a puppy. All lost and sad. Please will you keep her, Noah? Pleeeeease,” says Annie, putting her hands under her chin and blinking a hundred times.

See, the thing about Annie is, she’s quiet until she’s alone with me. And then she has no problem speaking her mind.

I roll my eyes, not allowing myself to ask why my sister thinks Amelia is sad. I’ve gotten that feeling, too, but…it doesn’t matter. I don’t need to know. In fact, the less I get to know that woman, the better.

“No. And all I’m saying is you and the other girls shouldn’t get attached. You can’t trust a woman like her.” I give her a stern look to drive the point home. I can already tell each of my sisters are falling in love with Amelia and there’s absolutely no good that will come from it. We’re no one to her. She won’t even look over her shoulder when she leaves town on Monday, and they’d do well to remember it.

“Oooh, stern look. You must really mean business,” she says with a deadpan delivery. “You know what? I bet she’s not actually a pop star but an undercover agent, sent to this small town to scout out a base for her new assassin agency.” She’s nodding thoughtfully. “You’re right, we better keep our distance.”

I narrow my eyes at her and try not to smile. “Smart-ass. I’m just trying to keep y’all from getting your hearts broken when your new friend leaves you high and dry.”

“Keep us from getting our hearts broken, or keep you from getting your heart broken? Again.

It’s annoying having siblings who know me so well. I refuse to play right into her hand, though. “Knock it off, and hop in the back.”

“Fine. Are we going back to your place?”

“Nope,” I say, closing the tailgate behind Annie after she’s settled. “She’s gonna take your bed tonight.”

Annie gives me a horrified look. “Why? You’re the one with the spare bed!”

“I may not like her, but that doesn’t mean I don’t want her to feel safe when she wakes up in the morning feeling like crap. She’s sleeping it off at your place tonight where

she’ll be surrounded by women and not in a house alone with a man she hardly knows.”

I can tell she wants to grumble but has too much of a soft heart to decline. “All right, I see your point. She can have my bed. I forget other people don’t know you’re a saintly old man like we do.”

“Not so saintly according to your cussing chart.”

She points a finger at me. “Which, by the way, you owe the jar forty dollars.”

I groan. I’ve paid more money into that damn jar than my retirement fund. If Annie didn’t donate it all to charity at the end of the year, I’d have stopped indulging her a long time ago. But for whatever reason, us not cussing is important to her, and so…I guess it’s important to me, too. At least when she’s around.

Just as I’m about to slide into the driver’s seat, Annie’s head pops around the truck. “And Noah? Grandma would’ve liked Rae, you know? No matter what you think, she’s got a kind heart. I can tell.” She smiles like she’s reliving a memory. “Grandma always wanted someone like her for you.”

I stare at Annie, trying to mentally bounce her words back to her instead of soaking them in. And then point to the bed of the truck. “Sit back. We’re leaving now.” She gives me a quietly stern look until I tack on, “Please.”

Does everyone in this town know my weak spot? It’s like I have a red-painted target on my chest. They know exactly the person to mention to rip my heart in two.



pull up the gravel drive to the house and cut the engine. Amelia’s head is only a few inches from my lap and some

of her hair is draped across my thigh. She whimpers when I poke her shoulder. “Hey, drunky. Wake up.”

“Imnotdrunk,” she says, cracking her blue eyes open to peer up at me. Shoot, Annie was right. She looks just like a lost puppy right now. I don’t love the protective instincts it’s triggering in me.

“You might as well be,” I say, but she’s already asleep again. That pill and alcohol combo steamrolled her.

I get out and walk around my truck to open her door. Annie hops out of the bed of the truck and stands beside me. “Should we just tug one of her arms until she’s sitting up?”

“Seems like our best bet.”

Annie and I work together to get Amelia sitting upright. Her head lolls back against the glass and her mouth falls open—eyes closed. If we stuck a pair of sunglasses on her, people might think we’re reenacting Weekend at Bernie’s.

“All right, upsy daisy,” I tell Amelia, draping one of her arms around my neck and hauling her out. She gives zero effort—limply hanging off my side and forcing me to hold on so tight I’m afraid I’m going to bruise her. Annie goes to Amelia’s other side, but my sister is only five feet tall (literally, not an inch more) and isn’t much help.

“Screw it,” I say, turning so I can scoop Amelia up in my arms and carry her inside. This is much easier somehow, especially after Annie resituates Amelia’s face so her head is on my shoulder and she’s no longer hanging off me like a dead person. Geez, what a weird couple of days.

Annie runs ahead of me to unlock the door and turn on the lights as I carry Amelia up the front steps, remaining mentally detached from how she feels in my arms and how sweet her hair smells or how her breath feels against my neck. I get her inside and set her down on Annie’s bed, and

no sooner than her body hits the mattress does she whimper and clutch her stomach, curling into a little ball with her eyes closed. Is she nauseated? Dr. Macky said it could be a side effect. Again that instinct to protect and soothe startles me.

I look down at Amelia with Annie at my side. We’re both a little unsure of what to do now. Actually, I know what I should do. It’s time to hand this situation over to my sister. She can take care of Amelia since she’s the one who invited her out in the first place. The pop star is her problem now, not mine. I did my duty by getting her seen by a doctor, and taking her somewhere safe—now I can go home and sleep easy.

I should go.

She’ll be fine.

Turns out, I’m not going anywhere except to the corner of the room to push Annie’s reading chair closer to the bed. Next, I go to the bathroom and wet a washrag with cool water so I can dab it across Amelia’s forehead to help with her nausea. Annie watches all this with an overly indulgent smirk.

“What?” I ask her, even though the clip in my voice is clear and I don’t want to hear her thoughts.

She presses her lips together and shakes her head, amusement sparkling in her eyes. “Nothing. Nothing at all. I’m going to go get a shower really quick and try to wash off the smell of Hank’s. Can you dab my head with cool water, too, when I get out? Looks really nice.”

“Shut up,” I say, pretending to try to kick her as she skirts out of the room chuckling. I like when Annie shows fire, though. I wish she’d do it more around other people.

I continue to run the washcloth across Amelia’s forehead, not sure if this is even doing much, but I

remember seeing someone do it in a movie once. Come to think of it, it might have been one of those old-timey movies one of my sisters made me watch. And I can’t remember if the heroine was actually sick or just had a fever. Whatever, at least this makes me feel like I’m doing something.

Not even sure why I want to be doing something to help Amelia.

And then she groans again and her eyes crack open. She squints at me almost like she’s trying to decide if I’m real or a dream.

“Feeling okay?” I ask quietly. “Noah?”

“Yeah, it’s me.”

Amelia breathes in deeply and tries to keep her eyes open, but can’t. “Am…I safe?” she asks in a sleepy slur that twists my heart.

“Yes. You’re at my sisters’ house. They’re going to keep an eye on you tonight.”

She lets out a sound between misery and embarrassment, never opening her eyes. “Noooo. They were gonna be my friends. Now they won’t want to be.”

I frown and use my knuckles to wipe away the tear that has just streaked down the side of her cheek. “Why do you think that?”

“High maintenance.” She pauses and I think maybe she fell back to sleep before she speaks again. “People only like me when I’m easy.” With her eyes closed, her brows squeeze together and another tear drops down the side of her face. “Must always be polite.”

I shouldn’t, but I use my hand to smooth away another one of her tears, because I can’t stand seeing them streaking down her face. Amelia catches my hand with hers and squeezes it. I know she’s loopy out of her mind—

evidence that her eyes are still shut and her words are practically one long slur. But there’s a raw honesty that cuts painfully through the triple-reinforced walls of my heart.

“But not with you.” She nuzzles her cheek against the back of my hand. “I don’t have to be polite with you because you don’t like me anyways.”

“That’s not true,” I say, more to myself than her.

She hums. “My mom used to be my best friend—but she only likes me for my money now. Susan only cares about my success. And the world only wants me for Rae Rose.” There’s a long pause as she sighs deeply. “I’m drowning and no one sees me.”

I’m speechless as Amelia continues pressing my hand against her soft face like it’s the most precious thing she’s ever held. It’s agony and heaven to have her confide in me. To feel her holding me like she needs me. I shut my eyes against her words, because, dammit, I don’t want to feel anything toward her, but I do. She’s hurting and lonely and for some reason, I care deeply that she not feel either of those things. I’ve worked very hard ever since Merritt to not let another woman have so much power over my heart again, and of course, this woman—the most unavailable one

—is who squeezed her way through the bars and is making me feel things.

It’s not infatuation. Not even lust. It’s the worst of all the feelings…care.

Care is reckless because it doesn’t come with the seat belt that selfishness offers. Care has so much to lose, and almost always ends in heartbreak. Unfortunately, I’m powerless against keeping my heart in check around her anymore. There’s a very short list of people in my life that I

allow myself to truly care for, and it looks like I just added another name to it.

I push Amelia’s hair back from her ear so I know she can hear me. “I see you.”

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