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|Strings of the Heart(Runaway Train #3) by Katie Ashley|
He placed a tender kiss on the top of my soaked head. “It’s all right. I’m okay,” I said, never taking my eyes off Rhys.
When Rhys winked at me, my heart fluttered, and once again, I found myself fighting for breath. “Yeah, she’s fine. She’s tougher than she looks,” he said.
“Come on. Let’s get you inside,” Jake said.
“No, I want to stay,” I insisted, unable to bear the thought of being deprived one second with Rhys, my savior.
“Are you sure?” Jake asked, concern etched on his dark brows.
“Hell, Jake, quit babying her. She said she’s fine,” Rhys countered.
“Fine. But just be careful, okay?” Jake replied.
I bobbed my head. “I will. I promise.”
With a final glance at me, Jake swam back over to where the others were. As Rhys turned to me, the sunlight hit the water droplets on his face, causing him to have an almost angelic glow. He gave me a beaming smile. “Stick close to me, and you’ll be fine. I won’t let anything happen to you.”
“Thanks,” I murmured.
Now three years later, I still loved Rhys with all my heart and soul. Of course, he didn’t actually know how I felt about him. And there was no time like the present to let those feelings become known.
“Hi Rhys,” I said.
At the sound of my voice, he whirled around. “Hiya Allie-Bean,” he said, tossing his cigarette to the ground. As he stomped out the glowing embers with his shoe, I wrinkled my nose both at the smell of the smoke and at him using Jake’s old nickname for me. “What are you doing out here?”
I shrugged. “I could ask you the same thing.”
“Well, I decided to have a smoke after finding your brother and Abby swimming in the fountain.”
I widened my eyes in surprise. “Is that why he’s all wet?”
Rhys laughed. “Yeah, it is. Not quite sure how they both ended up soaking wet, but I’m sure there’s a pretty good story about how it happened.” He winked at me. “Maybe even a naughty one.”
A warm flush filled my cheeks at his words and gesture. From the smoldering looks Jake had been giving his new girlfriend all night, I could imagine there was definitely something naughty behind why they ended up in the fountain. But I had also been glad to see the way he looked at her with love in his eyes, too. Since I was a romantic at heart, I hoped he had found someone to settle down with.
Shifting on my heels, I cleared my throat. “I just wanted to say thanks again for playing at my party. It was amazing.”
Rhys grinned as he reached in his pocket. After he dug out a tin of mints, he popped a couple in his mouth. When he offered me one, I shook my head. “You’re welcome,” he said.
Taking a few tentative steps closer to him, I said, “You always seem to be doing nice things for me. I mean, you saved me all those years ago and now you’re making my Sweet Sixteen something that everyone will be talking about at school on Monday.”
“Regardless of the fact that Jake would’ve whipped my ass if I had said no to your party, I was glad to do it.” He cupped my chin. “Anything for you, Allie-Bean.”
His simple touch sent my heartbeat thrumming wildly in my chest. Since it seemed so loud in my ears, I hoped that he wouldn’t be able to hear it over the roar of the fountain. “I’m glad to hear that,” I whispered breathlessly.
“I have something for you.”
He cocked his dark brows at me. “Do you think I’d come play at your birthday party without getting you a gift?”
“The fact you came and played is more than enough of a present,” I countered.
He reached in his suit pocket again. This time he brought out a small jewelry box with a pink bow. He thrust it at me. “Happy Birthday, Allie-Bean.”
Oh. My. God. He’d gotten me jewelry? With shaky hands, I reached forward and took the box from him. I don’t know how my trembling fingers managed to undo the bow, but when I did, I slid it off and opened the lid. Peeling away the tissue paper, I found a round pendant on a silver chain. A hand-painted white magnolia with glittering leaves of vibrant green filled the pendant. “Oh, it’s so beautiful,” I gasped, as I took it into my hand.
“You really like it?” he questioned, his voice lacking the confidence it usually had.
“Yes. Yes, of course I do,” I quickly replied, never taking my eyes off the necklace.
“When I saw it, I thought of you. A magnolia is a delicate and pretty Southern symbol, and you’re a pretty Southern girl.”
“I’ve always loved magnolias. Wherever did you find it?”
“My sister makes them. Well, she paints them.”
I jerked my gaze up to meet his. “Your sister?” In the three years I’d known Rhys, he’d rarely talked about his family, least of all mentioning a sister. I had assumed that he was an only child.
His expression saddened as he rubbed his neck furiously with one of his hands. “Yeah, my younger sister, Ellie. She’s really talented when it comes to painting.”
“We have something in common then,” I said, thinking about how I loved to draw and sketch. My dream was to one day become a fashion designer and have my own clothing line.
“Yes, you’re both artistic,” he murmured softly.
Sensing that was all I was going to get out of him, I smiled and replied, “Please thank her for me, and tell her what beautiful work she does.”