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|Strings of the Heart(Runaway Train #3) by Katie Ashley|
“It isn’t your fault.” I glanced up to meet his gaze. “I guess I should say that I truly meant what I said. Regardless of what my parents did, I think cheating is very wrong. It’s something I could never do.”
Leaning forward, Rhys patted my hand tenderly. “You don’t have to worry about it. I know as well as anyone that we are not our parents.”
“You’re right,” I murmured.
“Now why don’t I tell you about Jax peeing in my face when Jake made me change his diaper last weekend?”
I giggled. “Oh no, he did?”
Thankfully, the conversation then flowed just as easily between us as it had all day. While it certainly wasn’t the first time we had ever been together, it was the first time it had been just the two of us. Usually we were with at least Jake and Abby, if not AJ and Brayden and their families. Rhys wanted to know about the classes I was taking. In between the appetizers of my gumbo and Rhys’s fried green tomatoes, I steered the conversation away from me and to him. “So how long are you here in Savannah?”
He took a bite of crispy fried tomato. “It just depends. Two weeks, three weeks, or until my parents drive me absolutely f**king nuts, and I have to flee for my sanity.”
My spoon filled with gumbo paused in midair as my heart ached for him. “Is it really that bad?”
With a shrug, Rhys replied, “Now they’re more annoying than anything else. Once they realized they weren’t going to be able to control my life, they eased up a bit.”
“Jake told me once they had disowned you,” I said, softly.
“Oh yeah, they did that after I left law school when the band got its first deal. As their firstborn son and keeper of the family name, they were not exactly thrilled I was ‘throwing away my life on a foolish dream.’”
Processing his words, I took another steamy bite of gumbo. Once I had swallowed it, I asked, “Did they change their mind when you had more financial success?”
Rhys speared a piece of tomato a little more forcefully than necessary. “No, it had more to do with my grandfather’s death, and the stipulations of his will.”
“Oh?” I asked, but I was interrupted by the waiter bringing out dinner. Although I was already half full from chocolate and now gumbo, the platter full of fried shrimp, oysters, and scallops made my stomach rumble in appreciation. After Rhys and I both dug in, a silence hung over the table while we began devouring our dinner.
After we both made a dent in our plates, I gave Rhys a sympathetic look. “I’m sorry about your grandfather.”
“Thank you. He was actually one of the most decent men I knew in spite of his wealth.”
“What was it in his will that made your parents change their minds?”
“One thing my grandfather believed in was family unity and putting on a strong family front to the world. As the only surviving son, most of the business investments would be going to my father. In order to receive them, he could not have his only son disowned. So in a way, my grandfather’s death paved the way for our reconciliation.” With a mirthless laugh, Rhys added, “It wasn’t so much that they cared about me. They cared about the money they would otherwise be losing.”
I shook my head. “I don’t believe that. Your father could have always rigged something on paper and continued ignoring you in real life. He must’ve wanted a reason to reconnect with you.”
After dabbing his mouth with his napkin, Rhys leaned back in his chair. “Not everyone’s family is like yours, Allison. They don’t all have honest motives for what they do, and most don’t experience or share much love. My parents have never hugged and kissed me like your parents do. I don’t know if I ever even remember them telling me they loved me.” When I gasped in pain for him, he shrugged, “It’s just something I’ve come to terms with over the years, and something I’ve learned to accept.”
“But it’s so wrong.”
“I don’t need your pity. I’m perfectly fine with the way things are.”
“No, you’re not. I can tell you’re putting on a front for me when truthfully, the situation with your parents is something that bothers you a lot.”
“Dabbling in psychology along with fashion design, are you?” he asked sarcastically.
“I just don’t like to see people I care about hurt. I hate what your parents have done to you so much.” Before I could stop myself, I reached across the table for his hand. “You deserve so much more, Rhys.”
Disbelief at my words and actions momentarily flickered in his eyes. “You are aware that there aren’t many people in the world like you—people who are truly kind-hearted and care about their fellow man.”
“Maybe not in the world you grew up in, but there is in your band world. I hope you know how much you’re loved by them…by us.”
“I do,” he said softly.
“You’re loved by all your fans, too, but I know that isn’t a tangible love. You think that if they really knew you besides your persona that they might not love you. But it’s still love and admiration you should appreciate. Take that and couple it with the real love of your band family. So whatever the past was, you just have to see that you have so much love surrounding you now.”
“You know, you’re awfully wise for just a twenty-year-old kid.”