Chapter no 6 – Noah

When in Rome

Come again?” I ask Tommy over the phone, hoping I didn’t hear him correctly the first time.

“Ain’t gonna be done for at least two weeks,” he says, in his usual jumbled way. But this time, I’m uncomfortably sure that I hear him correctly. He’d just picked up the car a short time ago, and already he’s ruining my day?

I look over at Rae, who’s on her second stack of pancakes and chowing down like she hasn’t eaten in years. Today she’s wearing a light gray top, tucked smoothly into a pair of fancy, dark blue skinny jeans that end high on her bare ankle. It’s tight—that shirt. It’s made of a soft, stretchy material that begins around her collarbone, then hugs, licks, and bends over her chest and torso, revealing a slender figure that is fantastically woman. The sleeves cling down her long arms and stop just past the bend in her elbow. The only thing modern about the way she looks is her brown—nearly black if it weren’t for the lighter pieces that stand out when the sun catches it—hair. It’s still in a messy heap on her head, and she has one foot (with red toenails) propped up in the chair with her.

She’s leaning over the stack of pancakes, thick lashes fanned down toward her cheekbones as she forks another

bite into her mouth. I like her eyeliner (a makeup term I know from my sisters). It’s a precise black line painted at the base of those pretty eyelashes, extending out slightly and making her look straight out of a black-and-white film. She looks…wonderful.

I grimace.

“That won’t do, Tommy. We’re gonna need it done sooner than that. My friend has a life she needs to get back to.”

When I say the words my friend, Rae’s big blue eyes lift to me, so full of gratitude as she swallows a giant bite of pancake that I have to look away. I shouldn’t have said friend. I don’t mean it. I just didn’t want to say her name and alert the whole town to the fact that a pop star is in my house. Because believe me, I don’t want to be Rae’s friend or anything else to her. All I want is to ensure this woman gets on her way as soon as possible and out of my life so everything will go back to normal.

“Ain’t up to you, Noah. Got a shortage on radiator hoses and the soonest they’ll be back in stock is two weeks from today. I’ll tell ya when they’re in.” And then he hangs up and my hope deflates pathetically to the ground.

Two weeks. Surely she won’t stay in town for two weeks? Of course not. Who am I kidding? You’ve already dealt with a woman like her before, remember, Noah? Merritt was also a city girl, and she couldn’t wait to leave after her business here was finished. I’m sure Rae Rose is itching to get back to her fancy life. No need for me to worry.

“Everything okay?” she asks, and I hear the clink of her fork as she sets it carefully on her plate.

“Uh…yeah.” I face her, rubbing the back of my neck. “Well, no. Depending on how you want to see it, I guess.

Looks like your car won’t be fixed for about two weeks until they get a part you need. But the good news is, you can just call whoever it is that usually drives you around and get them to take you to…wherever it is you’re going. Was it the beach?”

“What? No,” she says in a daze.

“The mountains then?” I ask, taking the seat across from her in my small breakfast nook. I don’t like the way the light spills around her shoulders making her practically glow. I need to shut the blinds.

She shakes her head, looking visibly distraught. “No, I mean I can’t call anyone to get me.” Okay, now red flags are going up. Is she in some kind of trouble? Am I harboring a pop star fugitive? “I don’t mean to make it sound so dramatic. I’m just sort of…hiding for a while.”

“Hiding?” I echo in a grunt.

“Yeah.” She scratches the side of her neck and looks down at her now empty plate. “I’m not hiding from the law or a crazy ex-boyfriend or anything, if that’s what you’re thinking.”

“I was. Thinking both of those actually.”

She cracks the saddest smile, lowering her eyes to her plate. “My life quickly became too much. I needed a break from—”

I stand suddenly, making the chair legs scrape against the floor. That feels a tad too dramatic, but I don’t have time to sit here and listen to all the ways the pop star has a hard life. She can’t eat carbs? Big whoop. She asked for this life and I’m fresh out of pity parties. For a second there, I was nearly sucked into caring about her, wondering why her doe eyes look full of hurt and sadness. But I can’t go down that road with Rae Rose. She can go cry to her

entourage about it—I have enough people to worry about as it is.

“I gotta go to work. I’ve already been gone too long. But I’ll take you into town so you can get a room at Mabel’s bed-and-breakfast, because you can’t stay here.” That was blunt even for me. I can’t help it, though. Something about her makes me feel like I’m batting a hand away from touching a raw wound on my skin.

“Oh.” She blinks several times and then stands. Her movements are too gentle to ever make chair legs screech. “Of course. Yes. I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to suggest I’d stay here. That was never my plan.” She picks up her plate and scurries with it to the sink, two pink splotches now sitting on her cheeks. “I’ll just put this in the dishwasher and then grab my stuff.”

She hikes up her sleeves and frantically scrubs at the syrup on her plate, making me feel like the asshole James said I was. Great. Please explain to me why in the hell I feel guilty right now when she’s the one who interrupted my life?

I watch her hips shimmy back and forth from the force she’s using to remove that caked-on syrup with her hand and a drop of soap. Her shoulders are bunched up to her ears and I’m pretty sure if I looked at her eyes, they’d be clouded with tears. Did I mention I have three sisters? Yeah, I’m well acquainted with this frantic cleaning coping mechanism.

Except, clearly, Rae is a little out of touch with the world of cleaning.

I refrain from growling as I take two steps over to her, remove the plate from her hands, and use the green bristle pad I keep under the sink to easily wipe the plate clean. I can feel her watching me, but I refuse to return her gaze.

It’s not because I don’t trust myself to look in her eyes this closely again (I learned my lesson with the telephone this morning), but because I don’t want her to get comfy around here and think we’re actually friends. This is what I call drawing a clear line.

“Thank you,” she says quietly. “And…by the way…my name is…” A soft pause. “Amelia. Amelia Rose.” She starts backing away. “Rae is just a stage name.”

After she leaves the kitchen, I stand stock-still as her name rolls itself around my head. Amelia. Dammit, that’s something I wish I didn’t know.

The sooner I can get Amelia Rose out of my house, the better.


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