Page 3 of Hot Mess

“Not really,” Arielle replied. “He used worse words than that before I came in here.”

I bit back a laugh at that. The girl was full of spunk and sass, and she kinda reminded me of myself as a kid.

Charity murmured under her breath. “I’ll get you a lemonade. You sit there quietly, and no more repeating your daddy’s potty mouth, ya hear?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

I dropped my gaze so I wasn’t staring and turned to look out of the window. She was adorable, but I wasn’t in the habit of staring at people. Much less people’s children.

No matter how hard I stared out of the window, I couldn’t shake the feeling I was being watched. It was the last thing I needed to feel right now, but when I glanced around, the eyes I felt on me belonged to the little girl.

The moment she realized I knew she was looking, she jerked her head down and played with the napkin in front of her.

Great. She knew who I was.

I looked away from her and once again reached for a phone that wasn’t there.

Damn it.

“Here you go, darlin’.” Charity bustled over with my food, making me sit up straight. She set both the burger and fries and the small bowl of bacon mac and cheese on the table in front of me. “Can I get you anything else… uh, I’m sorry, honey, I didn’t get your name.”

“Elle.” I smiled. “I’m good, thank you.”

“Enjoy your food, Elle.” She winked and left me, flapping a hand in the direction of the girl who’d been watching me.

I didn’t want to be rude to her, but I really was freaking hungry.

I almost moaned when the mac and cheese hit my tongue. It tasted so good, like heaven in a bowl, but that could have just been because I’d been living off fried chicken and fast food burgers for what felt like forever.

After I’d inhaled half the bowl, I pushed it to the side and reached for a napkin to wipe my mouth.

“Are you Elle Evans?”

I jerked at the sound of my name. It was from the girl. I forced a smile to my face and nodded. “I am. It’s Arielle, right?”

She narrowed her eyes. “How do you know my name?”

“I heard Charity say it.”

“Oh!” She giggled. “Yes, I’m Arielle. Sorry to interrupt you eating. I just wondered.”

“Don’t worry about it. It’s fine.”

“Arielle. Are you disturbing this woman eating?” A deep voice with a strong British accent joined the conversation, and when I looked up, I swear my ovaries grew a mind of their own and leapt right out of my body, only to explode into fireworks above my head.

The man was tall—at least six-foot-three, and he had just enough obvious muscle definition that he didn’t look like a beansprout, as my mom called those kind of men. His dark hair was cut short on the sides of his head and left a little longer on the top, and stubble the same, chocolate brown coated his jaw, giving way for pink lips that were currently pursed in annoyance.

“No!” Arielle folded her arms across her chest. “She said it was fine, Dad.”

His ice-blue eyes softened ever so slightly. “Just because she said it was fine doesn’t mean it is. Some people are polite.” He turned his gaze on me, recognition flashing in her eyes. “I’m sorry she bothered you.”

I smiled. “It’s fine. Really. I don’t mind.”

“Told you,” Arielle grumbled, slumping down in her chair.

“Arielle,” he warned without taking his eyes off me. “She’ll leave you be now.” He walked over to the table without waiting for a response and sat opposite Arielle. “Stop slouching or I’ll have to ship you off to Paris. I hear they’re looking for a new hunchback.”

“Oh, my God. Dad.”

I hid a laugh, turning my attention back to my food. I was glad he’d come over when he did—I had no idea what Arielle knew about me, I had no idea if she knew what had happened, and the last thing I wanted was to have to go deep into something, especially when I was trying to hide.

So the fact I’d been discovered within thirty minutes of me rolling into town didn’t work in my favor.


“How was your food?” Charity swept over with what I was pretty sure was her trademark beaming smile on her face.

“Amazing,” I said honestly. “Best I’ve had in days, but I have been surviving off gas station snacks and fast food, so…”

She chuckled. “Where did ya drive from?”

“New York.”

“Ooh, I’ve always wanted to go there! All them fancy lights and big buildings. It’s a little different from where I grew up.” She winked. “Although I reckon I’d be fed up of it in a couple days and be beggin’ for the beach.”

I smiled. “You probably would.”

“Do you want your check?”