Page 18 of Hot Mess

Apparently, naked old ladies looking for a probing from the aliens was my breaking point.

I did what anyone else would do in my situation: for the first time in several days, since all this happened, I sank to the floor and cried.

And cried.

And cried.

CHAPTER SIX – THEO

“Because the law says we can’t keep monkeys as pets on Creek Keys,” I said, putting the bowl of cereal in front of Ari on the dining table.

“But why does it say that?”

“Because monkeys don’t make very good pets.”

“There’s a two percent difference in our DNA. Why can we live in houses but monkeys can’t?”

It was really bloody hard to argue with a child who threw logic like that in your face.

“Look, kid, I don’t make the rules. I just have to follow them, like you do.”

“Rules suck.”

“Yes, they do. Now eat your breakfast before I make a new rule that involves chores.”

She wrinkled her face up, creasing her nose in the process, but she did as she was told and scooped a big spoonful of cereal up.

Thank God she’d dropped that for now.

I did not need a monkey—not when I had a feisty runaway living next door.

Shit. I did not need to think about Elle right now. I was only going to fill myself with a mixture of guilt and curiosity, and I needed neither of those things this early in the morning.

I didn’t need them any other time, either, but still.

I finished loading the dishwasher with the dirty dishes I couldn’t be bothered to do last night and closed it. I would set it going when Arielle was done with her breakfast.

Leaning against the countertop, I picked up my cup of tea and looked out at the beach. It was so peaceful on a morning before everyone woke up and the tourists staying at the other beach houses flocked to the beach. It wasn’t the longest stretch in the world, but it was a secluded one and gave everyone in the houses more than enough of their own space to have some privacy.

After glancing at Ari who was happily eating and watching something on YouTube on her tablet, I took my tea to the back of the house and sat on the outdoor sofa. It was still early enough that it was pleasant to be outside, and I sighed as a soft morning breeze blew past the house.

I tried to focus on the incoming tide, but all I could think about was the woman staying in the next house.

Elle.

I looked over at the house. It was nowhere near as tidy as mine or the others on the right. It needed more than a lick of paint—it needed a whole damn French kiss of it. Everything from the walls to the shutters to the faded porch needed some love.

It wasn’t even a question of money. It was all about time. I’d intended to have it ready for this summer, but by the time I’d done minor repairs and paint touch ups on the other houses and the bastard of a cowboy plumber had messed me around, it was the start of the seasons.

I still couldn’t believe I’d rented it to her. For a week, no less. It was even annoying that it looked so damn good inside from what I’d seen last night. She really had done an amazing job cleaning it up, and I was grateful for what she’d done.

But I still didn’t want her there.

I didn’t know what to think about her. Or that bloody x-rated tape of hers.

Usually, if someone said they didn’t know they’d made a sex tape, they were lying. A video camera or a phone was pretty fucking hard to miss. And in what was apparently a cleaning cupboard?

I wasn’t sure if I bought her story.

Sure, she seemed like a nice, wholesome person on the internet, but that was the problem.

The internet was ninety-five percent absolute bullshit on a good day.

For all I knew, in real life, Elle Evans was a raging bitch.

All right, I didn’t believe that. She’d snapped at me last night, but it was the break of a person who’d had a shit day and pretty much wanted to be left alone, not a mean person.

That and I probably deserved her ire a little bit.

I hadn’t exactly been nice to her since she’d shown up.

Not that it was my job to be. The only reason she was in that half-renovated house was because Ari had begged me. I should have put my foot down with my daughter and said no, but I was a fucking sucker like that.

That was why I’d told Elle to stay away. The last thing I needed was for Arielle to have her dreams slashed if Elle wasn’t who she thought she was. She was only nine. She was too young to have her heart broken like that.

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