Remembering my resolution to try harder for Elijah’s sake, I squeeze my backpack straps tight and smile, even saying excuse me as I pass. Whoa. Points for Addison. One morning in bed with Elijah and I’m a whole new person. I wonder if he’s going to see this on the news and be proud of me. I want that so badly. I want him to be as proud of me as I am of him.

“Getaway Girl! Look this way!”

“Miss Potts! Do you have an explanation for Mattressgate?”

I giggle into the back of my wrist and keep moving. “Captain Du Pont is very particular about back support.”

That earns me some pleased laughter. This is easy. I can do this.

“Is it true Naomi Clemons is your half-sister?”

My skin shrinks head to toe, but having prepared myself to eventually get hit with this question, I don’t falter. “Sorry to disappoint. Just cousins.”

Contradictions are shouted at me. Nothing that can be proven without my consent. Nothing. I’m internally repeating that reminder when my attention is snagged by the loudest reporter. “Are you living here permanently? Do you have the ex-mayor’s blessing?”

My feet try to tangle together, but Kyle is there with a hand on my elbow, pulling me along through the throng of people. “I, um…”

“Are you aware Naomi Clemons is back in town, Miss Potts? Have you seen her?”

“Has Elijah been in contact with Naomi Clemons?”

“Does she wish to reconcile with the mayor-elect? Does she regret leaving him at the altar?”

I lose all of my breath. It’s just gone in a sickening rush. Ricky unlocks the gate and shoves it open, Kyle guiding me through, and I’m walking, but I can’t feel my legs. Naomi is back. She’s in Charleston? I don’t know why the news is so shocking to me. This is where her highly influential family lives. Her whole life is here.

Elijah is here.

Does he know she’s back, too? Does he…want to see her?

Has he already?

If two men weren’t watching my every move, I would sink down onto the gleaming floor as soon as we walk over the threshold. But they’re locking the door and checking windows and I’m just standing in the middle of the foyer, trying to act like I haven’t been struck by lightning. With Naomi off in parts unknown, it has been easy to pretend Elijah can go on like this forever. Naomi’s family runs in the same circle as Elijah’s, though. It’s only a matter of time before they’re in the same room together and he…and he…

Remembers what wife material looks like. Behaves like.

Remembers all the times they spent together.

Remembers he loves her. No. He’s never even forgotten. Didn’t he imply so last night at the bar?

“Miss Potts, the house is secure,” Kyle says. “Unless you need anything else, we’ll be back bright and early tomorrow to escort you to the market.”

How absurd. It’s all so absurd. Elijah dating a girl who works in the market selling dick joke ornaments. “Okay,” I croak. “Thank you.”

Before following Kyle out the door, Ricky stops. “Don’t let them get to you.”

I huff a laugh. “Easier said than done.”

He drums his fingers on the doorjamb. “I hope you don’t mind me speaking out of turn, but Captain Du Pont is one of the finest men I know. He honors his commitments.” His nod is firm. “If he made one to you, there’s nothing to worry about.”

Has he made a commitment? Walking through the now-empty house like a ghost, I admit he’s trying. Hard. He wants me to be his girlfriend, even if I know the offer was an attempt to do the right thing. I’m the one who forced more casual terms. But Elijah is honorable almost to a fault. He would hold tight to a commitment to a runaway bride, too, wouldn’t he? Especially if he still loves her.

Yes, he’s physically attracted to me. Cares for me, too. But she wore his ring.

And now she’s back within reach. Where does that leave me?

This morning, the walls of this house were an embrace. Just as suddenly, they feel temporary.

My phone jangles in my backpack and I twist around, digging the vibrating device from the front pocket. Elijah. Seeing his name makes my heart go off like a bottle rocket and I take several deep breaths to make myself sound normal. “Hey, Captain.”

“Hey, Goose.” His affectionate tone spreads through me like wildfire, banishing the cold. That’s all it takes. One instant and I’m calling myself ten kinds of fool for doubting what we have together. It’s unusual, yes. But it’s more real than anything I’ve ever had in my life. “Are you home safe?”

Cradling the phone to my ear, I sit down on the stairs leading to the second floor. “Yes, I’m here.”

“Good.” A chair creaks in the background and I picture his big body leaning back, thighs in his classic, epic manspread. “Are you planning on giving the men heart attacks every day?”