Chapter no 3 – Amelia

When in Rome

No, I’m not!” I say quickly—panicky—with darting eyes that make me look like a squirrel trying to

protect a precious acorn secret. I want to stuff that secret into my cheeks and run.

He doesn’t flinch. “Yes. You are.”

“Nope.” I give a serious shake of my head. “I don’t even

—who is that singer, anyway?” I don’t quite make eye contact with him. I’m not a coward—I’m just not particularly courageous.

“Never said she was a singer.”

I scrunch my nose. Looks like Wilderness Ken has me cornered.

“Okay. You’re right. It’s me,” I say, letting my hands rise and then fall back to my sides. I refrain from tacking on a dejected and angsty, Now what do you want? But I can’t say that because Rae Rose is never rude to fans.

I was thrilled when he looked at my face outside and didn’t seem to know who I am. It was a stroke of good luck that made me feel as if maybe this adventure wasn’t a completely terrible idea. Now I’m back to doom, gloom, and terror. Don’t get me wrong, I love fans, and I love getting to know them. I just prefer for our introductions to happen

when I have a security team around and not when I’m alone in the middle of the night with this somewhere-over-six-foot man.

And now this is the point where fans either pretend they know very little about me, but I catch them staring at every turn, or they start flipping out and crying and having me sign random stuff. Sometimes I’m asked to call their mom or their best friend. Take a picture. Just something that lets them prove to their friends that they really met me. Maybe I could just go ahead and preemptively offer him a trade: one VIP ticket in exchange for not murdering me tonight? Seems like a good deal to me.

I step back into my Rae Rose skin. It’s softer, gentler— more regal than mine. Rae Rose is everyone’s best friend. She’s pliable and easy to love. “Well, since the cat is out of the bag, I’d like to offer you a VIP backstage ticket to an upcoming concert in exchange for letting me stay here, as well as financial compensation, of course.”

I look into Noah’s eyes. They’re bright green. Startling, sharp, and almost unnatural in their intensity. They’re nearly the exact color as the stripes on a wintergreen peppermint candy. Pair those eyes with the strong set of his scruffy jaw and the stern pinch of his eyebrows—and the effect is…unnerving. But oddly, not in a frightening way.

With his arms still crossed, he raises and lowers a shoulder. “Why would I want a VIP ticket?”

That’s not a question I was expecting. I flounder, and when I speak, it’s a bumpy delivery. “Umm…because… you’re a fan?”

“Also never said I was a fan.” Right. Wow. Okay.

Silence drops between us like a grenade. He doesn’t feel compelled to say anything else and I’m uncertain of what to

say, so we just stare. Propriety tells me I should feel upset right now. Offended even. Curiously, I’m not. In fact, there’s a giddy sort of sensation building in my stomach. It makes me want to laugh.

We watch each other closely for a long moment, chests inflating and deflating in a perfectly mirrored rhythm. I know why I’m cautiously taking him in, but what I can’t figure out is why he looks so concerned. As if I’m about to snatch his throw pillows and lamps and run away with them in the night. The Pillow Bandit on the run.

Okay, so he doesn’t want to come to my concert, but surely he knows I can afford my own throw pillows?

The longer I stand here and watch his flexing jawline, I get the distinct feeling that he’s not only Not A Fan, he’s the opposite. The normal glowing adoration I see in people’s eyes is replaced with annoyance in his. Just look at that deep crease between his brows. It’s surly. Grumpy. Agitated.

I don’t suspect he’s going to hurt me, but he seems to have a low opinion of me. Maybe it’s because I parked on his grass. Maybe it’s something else. Either way, it’s absolutely and wonderfully new for me, and because it’s late and I’m slightly hysterical, I decide to press his buttons.

I mimic his pose. “I see what it is. A ticket’s not good enough?” I give him a smile like we’re in on his secret together. “You want me to throw in a signed poster, too, don’t you?” I wiggle my eyebrows. There’s no part of me that believes he wants a poster.

He blinks.

Two VIP tickets and a signed poster? Wow. You drive a hard bargain, but I’ll comply for my biggest fan.”

His face doesn’t change a bit, but something in his fierce eyes sparkles. I think he wants to smile but won’t let himself. Sometimes people decide not to like me for the most arbitrary reasons. Sometimes it’s just because I’m famous, and successful people make them uncomfortable. Sometimes it’s because I voted differently than them. And sometimes it’s because I frowned outside their favorite yogurt shop and now they want to cancel me forever because they think I’m against yogurt. I can’t help but wonder if I’ve found one of those very people. Usually my very elaborate security detail is around to protect me, but there’s no one standing between me and Noah right now, and I can’t say I hate it. A thrill zaps its way through my veins.

Noah shakes his head lightly and looks down to pick up my bag again. He’s done with this conversation.

“Follow me,” he says.

Two words. A command. No one commands me anymore

—oh, they still tell me what to do, but they phrase it so that it sounds like it’s my idea. Rae, you must be exhausted. The guest room is right down that hallway, perhaps it would be nice to go on to bed now and get some rest?

Noah Walker is too confident for manipulation.

Follow me.

He takes my bag with him down a hallway off the foyer and disappears into a bedroom. I want to wander around a little, but most of the house is dark, and it seems like invading someone’s home and flipping on lights, opening some cupboards and digging around might be a weird thing to do. So I settle for walking down the hallway after Noah just as he instructed. Follow me.

I stop when I get to two rooms opposite each other in the hallway. One door is shut, and one is not. In the open

room, I find my bag sitting on the floor, and Noah parachuting a fresh white sheet onto a queen-size bed.

I watch him in the doorway for a minute feeling very dreamlike. I ran away from my life of fame today, and now I’m standing in a strange man’s house watching him make up a bed for me even though he dislikes me. His actions are as much a paradox as that butter soft sheet is to his scruffy jawline. Susan would undoubtedly at this moment tell me to get out of this house immediately and go somewhere safer.

“Noah,” I say, leaning my shoulder against the doorframe. “How do you feel about yogurt?”

He pauses and sends a look over his shoulder at me. “Yogurt?”

“Mm-hmm. Do you like it?”

He turns his attention back to the sheets. “Why? Are you going to offer to throw in a tub of yogurt with the tickets and poster and money if I say yes?”

Aha! There is humor under that annoyance. I thought so. “Maybe.” I smile even though he’s not looking at me. “Well, don’t. I don’t want yogurt or the other stuff.”

I take a big fat Sharpie and mark off Angry because of yogurt shop picture.

Noah spreads a well-loved patchwork quilt onto the bed. It looks like it’s been passed down through several generations of loving family members. My heart tugs and twists to get away from the feelings the sight of that quilt evokes in me. I wonder if my mom even read my text message earlier.

“Can I help?” I ask, taking a daring step into the same cage as the bear.

He glances over his shoulder again and when his eyes land on me, his frown deepens. He turns back toward the bed and begins tucking the top sheet under the mattress. I

don’t tell him I’ll immediately untuck it before I get in. “Nope.”

I was reaching for a corner of the quilt, but when his single-syllable answer barks at me, I raise my hands and take a step away. “Okay.”

Noah’s eyes bounce to my lifted hands and for a fraction of a second, I see him soften. “Thank you. But no.” And then we fall into silence again.

I’ve done hundreds of press events over the past ten years, interacted with thousands and thousands of fans during meet and greets. Was live on Jimmy Fallon just last month where I sang an ad-libbed song in front of a studio audience without a moment’s hesitation. And yet, standing in front of Noah Walker, I’m not at all sure what to say. But I don’t feel like being polite. Or gracious. That thrill pulses harder.

I hover somewhere between the door and the bed so I don’t get in his way, watching as he silently retrieves a pillow and slides a pillowcase onto it. This is all so normal, and domestic, and it feels wildly out of place to be sharing it with a stranger who doesn’t like me.

I glance around the room and then over my shoulder and register the closed door across the hall. Suddenly, a thought strikes me. Is Noah married? Maybe that’s why he’s being so prickly and standoffish? He doesn’t want me to get any funny ideas. He’s seen a movie, or the covers of tabloids, and assumes all of us famous types are amorous home-wreckers.

I clear my throat, trying to find the right segue to let him know I won’t be trying to jump his bones tonight. “So, uh—Noah. Do you have a…special someone?”

His eyes dart in my direction and now he looks

considerably agitated. “Is that your way of asking me out?”

I do a hypothetical spit take. “What? No! I just…” I have zero amounts of Normal left inside me to give tonight. I was trying to put him at ease, and somehow, I’ve managed to make it worse as well as apparent that I don’t know what to do with my hands. I wave them back and forth like a T. rex trying to land a plane. “No. I just wanted to make sure before I spend the night here that I’m not…stepping on anyone’s toes.” I grimace. It’s getting worse. “Gahhh, I don’t mean stepping on their toes because I’m spending the night with you. I know I’m going to be sleeping in here alone. I’m not really into one-night stands anyways because they’re always so awkward…”

Oh nooooo. I’m saying too much. I officially entered sex into a conversation for the second time tonight with a stranger who doesn’t like me. I’m absolutely floundering, and I never flounder.

Noah sets the freshly cased pillow onto the bed and finally turns to face me. Wordlessly, he walks closer. I have to tip my chin up, up, up to see him. He’s not smiling, but he’s not frowning, either. He’s the Unreadable Man. “I am single, but I’m also not on the market.”

He continues to stand there as my face turns hot as lava and melts right off my cheekbones. That was the softest, most polite letdown I’ve ever received in my entire life, and I wasn’t even asking him out.

Thank goodness none of this matters. I’ll leave tomorrow morning, find the B and B, and Wilderness Ken will never have to be annoyed with me again.

But then why is he still standing in front of me like this? Why do I feel an instant connection to him? There’s something inside me, tugging me closer to him, begging me to raise my hand to his chest and run my hand over his soft cotton tee. He’s not moving. I’m not moving.

Noah’s expression suddenly turns awkward and he gestures toward the doorway that I didn’t realize I had sunk back into. “I can’t get through with you standing there.”



Polite, polite, polite. “Yes! So sorry! I’ll just…move.” His solemn expression does not crack as I step aside and gesture dramatically toward his exit.

“Drinking glasses are in the cupboard beside the sink in the kitchen if you need water. Bathroom is at the end of the hall. I’m headed to bed. Feel free to lock your door, I know I will.”

“Smart move. Wouldn’t want to let the Pillow Bandit strike,” I say, feeling that thrill surge once again after saying exactly what I want—untethered and without filter.

Maybe…just maybe this adventure wasn’t a mistake after all.

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