Chapter no 18 – Noah

When in Rome

Morning hits like a brick to the head.

Apparently at some point in the night I stumbled my way to my bed. It’s weird how drunk versions of ourselves can feel like totally different people. For instance, now that I’m sober, I’m able to cringe that I was so drunk I only managed to pull my shirt off over my head and out of one arm. It hangs limply off one shoulder until I rip it all the way off and throw it across the room to my laundry hamper. Just that slight movement makes me wonder if someone replaced my brain with a spike ball. Hangovers hit different after the age of thirty, which is why I never get drunk anymore. And definitely not at game night with my sisters. It was the only way I could get through it, though. They continued to pelt me with questions about Amelia and it was all I could do to stop thinking about her. Alcohol was my only shield, which actually turned out to be the knife I stabbed myself in the back with.

I groan, rolling over in bed and wiping my face with my hand. I feel a soft scratch of something across my face and squint at my palm. A Band-Aid. Annnnnnd there it is. Fuzzy memories of last night come back to me. I remember getting home and breaking a lamp when I bumped into the

table. I tried to clean it up and then I cut my hand. And then…Amelia.

Oh shit. I woke her up and she took care of my bleeding cut and then I told her how pretty she was and asked to kiss her again. This is unbelievable. All the work I’ve been doing to keep her at arm’s length, and after a few too many beers, I try to pull her into my arms. I’m such an idiot. Is it cowardly to climb out the window and hide until she leaves town? Even more unfortunate, it’s my day off today. I have someone who runs the shop for me on Sundays and Mondays, but today, I need my employee to go home so I can have my hiding place back.

Also, is that…I sit up, sniffing the air, and yep, that’s definitely smoke. I’m already throwing the covers off my body and launching out of bed when the fire alarm starts blaring. I fly out of my bedroom and into the kitchen where I find Amelia in her oversized pajamas, swearing like a teenager who just learned about cuss words for the first time. She’s surrounded by a cloud of smoke at the stove and fanning it with her hand.

“AH! Noah! Help!” She’s still swatting at the smoking pan.

I push by her and pick up the pan. She’s already turned off the burner, and nothing is on fire yet, so I carry the pan over to the sink and douse it with water. It hisses and pops loudly when the cold water streams over it. I leave the faucet running while I open the front door and a few windows for ventilation. Amelia is now standing under the smoke detector, swatting at it with a dish towel like it cheated on her with her best friend. She’s hopping to reach it over and over again. Hop, swat. Hop, swat. Hop, swat. The sight is too much. Before I realize it, my hands are braced on my hips and I have to angle my face down to

keep from cracking up. It doesn’t work. I feel the desire building in my stomach until laughter is rolling out of my mouth.

When the smoke clears and the alarm stops blaring, all that’s left is the sound of my voice. Amelia gasps and walks over to me. Her bare feet enter my line of sight. “You are not laughing at me right now.”

“I am.”

“Well…” she says, sounding righteously indignant. “Don’t! I’m so embarrassed!”

I raise my gaze and look right into her big beautiful blue eyes. They’re blinking and nervous—eyebrows crinkled together. I want to pull her into my arms and hug her, but I resist because that kiss request is still whispering between us. I can’t touch her again. I won’t. “What were you trying to do in here besides set my house on fire?”

Her shoulders sag adorably. “I was trying to make your pancakes.”

“With what? Gasoline?”

“Stop it.” She swats my chest with the back of her knuckles. At the same time, we both realize she’s just made contact with my bare chest. Her eyes drop and her voice softens, making me feel like she just doused me in lighter fluid and struck a match. “It was…” She swallows. “The butter in the pan. I must have left it in there too long.”

I feel exposed. I would not have come out here without my shirt on if I didn’t think my house was about to burn down to the ground. But here I am, standing in the kitchen with Amelia in my jeans and no shirt. Her eyes are eating up every inch of my bare skin. They linger heavily over my left rib cage where my only tattoo lives. It’s a pie nestled in a bouquet of flowers. Most people would think it’s a ridiculous tattoo to have, but Amelia sees it and her smile

says, I knew you were obsessed with flowers. And now I feel doubly exposed because not only is she seeing my skin, she’s seeing my…damn, there’s no less sappy way to put it, she’s seeing my heart.

I step away and turn off the sink faucet so I can give myself a mental shake. Next, I survey the mess on my counter. It looks like a flour bomb activated in here. “So was this all an act to get me to feel sorry for you and teach you my pancake recipe?”

Amelia is near me in the kitchen again, and I swear I can’t get away from her even though I’m trying my damnedest to. “First of all, rude. I tried really hard to make these, but I couldn’t remember any of your measurements, and you don’t have internet so I couldn’t research a recipe. But! Before I added the second bit of butter to the pan, I made this whole batch!” Her voice is so proud and full of excitement that I have to clamp down on a smile.

“You’ve never made pancakes before?” “Nope,” she says happily.



“Not even before you got into music?” I ask in a skeptical tone.

Amelia taps her finger to her lips giving the question a second thought. “Oh wait, yes.”

“So you have?”

She rolls her eyes lightly. “No, Noah! I haven’t. Ask me a hundred different ways. The answer will still be no. My mom was a terrible cook, so we usually just ate cereal or threw a bagel in the toaster for breakfast. I only ate pancakes when we’d go out on Saturday mornings to a restaurant. And before you ask, I have no idea if my dad is a good cook or not because he abandoned us when my

mom got pregnant. So, would you like to keep asking me questions that remind me of my fractured relationship with my parents or try my pancakes?”

Hello, foot, meet mouth. I am such an ass. But also, I can’t help but love the way she bites back at me. Every day she seems to be coming out of her shell more and more, and I enjoy it that much more, too. It’s really becoming a problem.

“Point me to the pancakes.”

Amelia comes up beside me, arm brushing my abdomen as she reaches in front of me to lift a sheet of aluminum foil off a stack of pancakes. My stomach clenches and I press myself back against the counter to evade her touch. It’s like the game I used to play as a kid, the Floor Is Lava, except this time the game is called the Woman Is Lava. I can’t touch her or I’ll burn.

Amelia’s hair is down and long again today, looking wavy and wild around her. She’s still wearing my pajama set, but thankfully this time she’s wearing the baggy button-up shirt, too. For some reason, I love that her eyes are a little puffy from sleeping, and her cheeks are pink. I’ve never met a prettier woman.

Her pancakes on the other hand…

I squint down at them. “Did you add cocoa powder to these?”

“No.” She presses her lips together while poking the top pancake with a fork. “I think they might have gotten a little too done.”

“Just a little,” I say dryly, and this earns me a light elbow to the ribs.

And based on the fact that they have the texture of a wall, I’d say she used too much flour.

There’s nothing in me that wants to try one of these pancakes, but she looks so proud of herself for making something from scratch that I can’t help but take the fork from her hand, move a pancake from the plate, and cut off a sliver. Cut is maybe too generous of a word. More like I break off a chunk of the pancake. Amelia watches me closely as I raise the bite to my mouth. The second it hits my tongue, my body revolts and begs me to spit it out. But her eyes are lighting up and an excited smile is tugging her raspberry lips, so I keep chewing slowly and trying to think of anything nice I can say about her nasty creation.

“So? How are they?” She clasps her hands together under her chin. She’s a kid on her birthday waiting for her present.

I swallow the bite. “Oh, they’re shit.” Yeah, I couldn’t think of anything nice. “Like really, they’re bad. What the hell did you put in these?” I say, with a chuckle running through my voice as I try to bounce away from the dish towel she’s attempting to pop me with.

“Would it kill you to be nice?” She’s laughing, too, and chasing after me with that damn towel. The edge of it licks me on the back once and it’s for sure going to leave a mark.

I grab a pot and hold it in front of me as a shield. “You didn’t let me finish! I was going to say…but they’re your shitty pancakes that you made yourself, and for that, you should be so proud!”

“Oh yes, I’m just beaming with pride.” Her voice is all sarcasm, as she gives up her chase and sinks down onto a barstool. She puts her hand in her hair and tosses it over her head, making it look even more alluring somehow. “Are they really that bad?”

“Like sand at the beach that a dog has peed on.”

“Wow,” she says with an incredulous look. “Fine. I guess you’ll just have to teach me then.” She perks up like maybe I won’t remember I already told her no. Thing is, I could teach her the recipe. It’s not actually some great secret I want to take to my grave like I let her believe the other day. But I sort of like the playfulness added to the air by me keeping it from her. I have something she wants but can’t have. Seems only fair since she’s quickly becoming the someone I want but also can’t have.

“Nope. I already told you it’s a secret.” I pull down a mug and pour a cup of the coffee she made, hoping to all the coffee gods that it doesn’t taste anything like her pancakes.

“I’ll figure it out. How hard can pancakes be to perfect?”

I eye her charred stack. “For the average person, or for you?”

She scrunches her nose and then lobs the kitchen towel at my head. The towel lands elegantly on my shoulder.

“I’m wounded,” I say dryly as I lift the mug to my lips and take a hesitant sip. It’s good. Really good, actually. “Huh.” I raise the mug in silent cheers. “You make shit pancakes but your coffee is great. So that’s something.”

Her eyes twinkle with amusement. If she had anything else near her, I know it would get chucked at my head, too. Instead, she has to settle for words, and somehow I know I’m not going to like whatever she’s about to say. Amelia tilts her head, unconsciously showing off the graceful curve of her exposed neck. “Well, according to you, I’m also soooo pretty.”

I groan and roll my eyes away from her. “C’mon, don’t bring that up. I was drunk.” I was hoping she wouldn’t mention it—would just let us both go through the day

pretending it never happened. Guess my hope was misplaced.

“You expect me to not bring up what happened last night?” She laughs like that’s the most ridiculous thing she’s ever heard, and she then glances over her shoulder. “You begged to kiss me.”

I hold her taunting gaze and hmm lightly. Another leisurely sip, and I lean back against the countertop. “Begged? Interesting. That’s not quite how I remember it.”

Her smile falters and I could swear she holds her breath. You want to play, Amelia, let’s play.

“Well, you were the drunk one so I’m not sure how reliable your memory can be.”

“You came out of the bathroom. Wearing those pj’s. Wrapped your arms around me when I stumbled, guided me to the couch where I lay down on my stomach. You left me to go find bandages and when you asked where my first aid kit was I told you I’m not a mom but Band-Aids are in the bathroom.” I take a step forward, set my coffee mug on the kitchen island where she’s sitting. I lean on my forearms. “And then…when you came back from the bathroom, and before you doctored up my hand, I remember privately thinking how much you smelled exactly like my cologne.”

I know my speculation is completely accurate because Amelia’s eyes are wide as saucers and she’s almost holding her breath. Her cheeks are strawberries. I want to run my thumb across them. Instead, I throw my last memory on the table like a gauntlet. “And after I asked if I could kiss you, just one more time…” I let the words dangle, waiting to see if she’s brave enough to make the last leap or if I’ll have to push her.

The Amelia I first met would have made an excuse right now and probably slipped out of the room to avoid an uncomfortable situation. Or she would have laughed it off and blamed the tender forehead kiss on how tired she was or something. The new Amelia is dangerous. She sits forward—so close our mouths could touch if I tipped forward—and she controls that embarrassed strawberry blush into a seductive sweep of color as delicious looking as her full raspberry lips.

And then she grins. “…I kissed your forehead.” She pauses to stare at my mouth, a memory sparking in her eyes. She looks sharply up at me. “Because I wanted to kiss your mouth but knew you were too drunk.”

Mouth. Eyes. Mouth. Eyes. Mouth. Eyes. That’s the pattern of my gaze. The urge of my body is chanting, Do it! Kiss her. I already know it would be so good. And now it’s my turn to squirm. I lightly clear my throat and scratch the side of my neck, standing back up and hearing alarm bells sound in my head. I shouldn’t be tempting whatever this is. There’s no future for us—and I’m not into casual. Nothing has changed. I still have to stay in this town, and she still has to go eventually. So just knock it off, Noah.

“I’m sorry I asked last night. Shouldn’t have because I’m still not looking for anything romantic.” Lies.

For a fraction of a second, Amelia really does look wounded. Her eyebrows twitch into the beginnings of a frown. But she wipes it away quickly and recovers. “Who said anything about romance? It was just a forehead kiss, Noah. Plain and simple. Innocent at best. And you would have never asked me if you were sober—so it’s fine.”

My instinct is to bat that placative shit out of the park, but I can tell she’s saying it as a mercy to me, so I let it land between us and become the barrier it was intended to

be. I wish it didn’t make me like her more. Respect her more.

“Well, thank you for this.” I hold up my palm showing her the bandage. “I’m sorry you had to deal with me last night and all the glass, too.”

She smiles softly. “It’s no problem. Besides, romance or not, it’s nice to know that you think I’m pretty and sweet.” She blinks playfully. “Like powdered sugar.”

And that’s my cue to leave. With another groan, I take my mug with me toward the bathroom. She follows, like a puppy nipping at my heels. “Is it really true, Noah? Does the Grumpy Pie Shop Owner really think I’m sweet like powdered sugar?”

I try to shut the bathroom door, but she sticks her foot in the way so I can’t close it. I set the mug on the counter and look down at her. “Right now you’re just a pain in my ass,” I say, not realizing until I glance in the mirror that I said it with an overly indulgent smile.

She angles her chin up to me. “But you think I’m a pretty pain in the ass?” She says it softer this time, still playful but her tone conveys what she’s really asking. She wants to know if I meant what I said. I guess I’ll be walking a tightrope for the remainder of the time Amelia is under my roof. I like her. She likes me. And we have intense chemistry between us that I can’t indulge.

I hold her gaze and take a deep breath. “Everyone thinks you’re pretty. You know this.”

She doesn’t let me off the hook. “But do you?”

My eyes drop for a fraction of a second to her mouth, and I remember all too well how much I wanted that kiss last night, and still feel the desire today. “I always mean what I say.” I teeter a little on the tightrope. “Now, can we let it go and act like adults about all this?”

She laughs lightly. “That’s way too much to ask.” She turns away, grabbing hold of the bathroom door and pulling it closed behind her. But just before she shuts it, she peeks her head back in, eyes falling unashamedly over my chest and torso before looking in my eyes again. “But just so you know, I think you’re pretty, too.”

She shuts the door, and I don’t want to, but I smile again.

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