Page 81 of I Promise You

“Already famous.”

‘“Football Player Mauled By Rogue Camel,”’ Serena declares.

I wave at the animal to move. “Get out of my car!”

“Alexa, play ‘Welcome to the Jungle’,” Nana chirps.

“There’s no Alexa,” I say, shaking my head, barely keeping up. “It’s Bluetooth. Your Bon Jovi playlist is on. As requested.”

“Just something we say, honey. Don’t fret.” She pets the dog and smiles at me. “You’re doing good, so good. Vane would have bailed after I asked him to drive. He never was any fun.”

“Nana…” Serena warns.

We finally move on, and by the time we circle to the ostriches, I’m determined to prove my manliness and leave my window down. Hell yeah, I’m better than Vane. I eye the creatures carefully. I am not scared of you.

“Fun fact: ostriches have three stomachs,” Serena muses, her eyes finding mine. “They run up to seventy miles an hour.”

“Fun fact: contrary to popular belief, they do not bury their heads in the sand,” Romy adds, proving she has a lot of her sister in her. “Probably came about because they tend to hunker and lie low for their prey. Their feathers tend to blend in with the sandy ground cover.”

“Prey?” I inquire.

“Football players,” Romy announces.

Nana coos, “Such adorable animals.”

“Are you all crazy?” I exclaim on a laugh.

“We prefer original, honey. And yes, we love all nature’s creatures—until we eat them.” Nana gives me a smirk just as an ostrich peeks in her window. It’s one of the smaller ones, about five feet tall. “Hey there, handsome. You’re a young one.” She smooches at him as he gobbles at her bucket of feed. “Who’s a good boy? Who’s a good boy? You are, sweet birdie, and of course, I’d never eat you—”

She yelps when he nips at one of the floral accouterments on her hat then snatches it off her head. Betty barks, body quivering as she lunges toward the window. Her nails scrape at my door and Nana hollers, pulling Betty back in the car before she goes over. Frightened by the lunge or the dog, the ostrich darts a few feet away—hat in its beak.

In her haste, Nana’s knees bump the cupholder, and Bud Light overturns and pours out on the floor. “Oh, my beer—sorry, Dillon!” She shakes her head, in a tizzy, then calls out the window, “Bring my hat back!”

“Nana! You can’t get out of the car!” Serena yells when Nana tries to open her door. Thankfully, the child safety locks keep her in.

“Romy gave me the pin for my birthday! It’s a sweet memento, and I reckon I need all of those I can get at my age…” She swallows, a despondent look on her face.

“Alexa, play ‘Crazy Train’ by Ozzy,” Romy says, watching the ostrich as it prances with the hat, waving it in the air.

Well, hell.

I look at the ostrich. He’s only a few feet away, and his friends are on the other side of the car…

“I’ll get it,” I announce as I open the door and get out.

“Dillon!” Serena cries, reaching for me as I slam it closed. “Be careful!” she calls out the window then shoves her bucket at me. “Use this to distract him!”

I am not afraid of this bird, not his teeth or the rippling muscles of his carriage. He’s just a linebacker. Divert and grab. Watch for the blitz attack.

“Easy,” I say, stretching out my hand. I rattle the food around. He swings his head at me, gives me a beady look, and walks forward.

I yelp and back against the car. He stops, his long neck pivoting from me to Nana.

“Hey, little buddy, look at the nice chunky bits of brown. Come on, don’t you want a taste?” I barely manage to say.

Of you, his eyes reply.

“He wants the hat,” Nana says with a sigh. “It’s the pink. He wants the pink.”

Romy giggles.

People in the car behind us are yelling for me to get back in the car, and I tune them out. “Hand over the hat, buddy.”

He cocks his head, coming closer. Three more steps and I can reach—

His beak releases the hat to the road as he pecks at the bucket.

“Good, good. Alright, that’s right, keep eating…”

My body tenses as I kneel and swipe the hat with sweaty hands. In a rush, I fling the door open, jump inside, and slam it.

Cheers sound in the Escalade.

“You’re my hero!” Nana says as she pulls the hat out of my hand and plops it back on her head.

“I’m envisioning a cape, maybe a bird on your chest. Bird Whisperer? Ostrich Man? No?” Serena asks me.

I turn to look at the girls, seeing Nana as she smooches on Betty, Romy with her phone, still videoing—and Serena.

She laughs, and it feels as if there’s no one in the car but us. That thread between us tightens. The world stops, then restarts.

Tags: Ilsa Madden-Mills Romance