“No.”

“There you go.”

Wheels crank behind his narrowed eyes. “We shouldn’t have to keep a friendship secret, dammit.”

His hand is resting on the table and I want to slide mine beneath it, so I tuck it under my thigh. It’s symbolic of what our relationship will be like. Hiding. Such a perfect parallel to the past, to my mother, I want to scream.

For the first time in my life, I understand her actions. I understand common sense taking a back seat to literally everything else. Pulse, heart, scents, sight. A week ago, I didn’t think there was a person alive on this planet capable of making me humble myself. He more than exists, though. He’s telling me he wants to exist with me. Not in the way my body and heart are craving, but it’s something. It’s something where nothing was before.

I’ve been living in the shadow of my mother’s poor choices. Men are a novelty to me. With every one I’ve enjoyed and discarded, I’ve been proving to myself I’m not her. That I’m better and smarter. My eyes are open. I didn’t realize how empty my actions left me until Elijah spent one single night in my apartment. He filled a space I didn’t know was available. Maybe it wasn’t available at all until I saw him standing at the altar. Whatever the timing, the idea of letting this chance pass leaves me anxious, the specter of emptiness opening a pit in my stomach. This situation is going to hurt no matter what I do, isn’t it?

“There are reasons you staying here would have to be a secret and you know it. They won’t believe we’re friends. And I’m not Naomi. I’m already seen as the tipsy girl in the newspaper wearing six-inch heels. Not suitable for the potential mayor. Ergo, potential mayor makes bad decisions.”

“No.” His jaw is harder than I’ve ever seen it. “That’s hogwash.”

“Watch your mouth.” We share a flat smile and I stand, throwing my hair back. “You don’t have to decide now. But if you’re staying tonight, you’re cooking. I’m not running a charity.”

My heart is in my throat as I leave the room, taking the bag of supplies with me and stowing it under my bed. I stand in the still, dark room for long seconds, listening, listening so carefully I can hear the dull thread of buzz in the silence. I don’t realize I’ve been holding my breath until I hear the clink of pots and pans coming from the kitchen.

I’ve either just made the best decision of my life or the worst.

Only time will tell.

CHAPTER SIX

Elijah

Getaway Girl tight-lipped on her way into the Market.

Association with Captain Du Pont over?

—Charleston Post

“Pass the glue gun.”

Without looking, I pinch the blue handle between my fingers and dangle it in Addison’s direction. “There’y’go.”

“Hold on.” She squints down at the wiggly eyeball she’s placing on an abominable snowman ornament. “Now I know why my grandmother always wore a wrist brace. At this rate, I’m going to get carpal tunnel before I turn thirty.”

“Art is worthy of the suffering that yields it. Isn’t that the saying?”

“It must have been coined before bedazzling was invented.” She tilts her head at the placement, nods and takes the glue gun. “How is your St. Bernard Santa coming along?”

I go back to tying a red bow around the figurine’s neck, but my fingers don’t want to cooperate. “Considering this is my ninth attempt?”

“It’s not like fashioning a Windsor knot, huh?”

“No, ma’am. Necessity forced me to get that technique down early.”

A smile ghosts across her mouth. “When you get it right once, it’ll come easier.” She’s quiet a moment. “You sound grim. Another fundraiser tonight?”

“Yeah. Glue gun, please.”

Addison passes me the hot tool, jerking back when I accidentally brush our fingers together. “You shocked me,” she mutters. “I, um. There’s a key on the dresser in your room. If it’s late and you don’t want to crash at the hotel, just let yourself in.”

Taken by surprise, my head comes up so I can search Addison’s face, but she’s busy cutting a swath of black felt to make claws for her evil snowman. “Thanks, Goose. You didn’t have to do that.”

Addison shrugs. “I was sick of you knocking at all hours and waking me up.”

I keep right on smiling at her until she looks up and acknowledges it.

She rolls her eyes.

Not a rare occurrence—her exasperation with me—but I enjoy it every damn time. Since my thwarted wedding, everyone walks around me on broken glass. Or they take the tough love tactic, slapping me on the back and telling me to get back in the saddle. Plenty of fish in the sea, old boy. Make hay while the sun shines. The world is your oyster, son. I’ve lost track of the bad platitudes and veiled hints to get back on the dating market. I’ve even been contacted by two national magazines about appearing in their Most Eligible Bachelors issues.

Source: www.StudyNovels.com