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|Strings of the Heart(Runaway Train #3) by Katie Ashley|
“It’s magnificent. I love antebellum homes.”
“Well, it’s from the 1830s.”
“I can’t wait to see inside.”
“Then let’s go.” Rhys then climbed out of the car and came around for me. Once he opened the door, I slid out, careful not to stumble on my heels.
When we continued up the pathway to the back of the house, I couldn’t help asking, “We aren’t going in the front?”
Rhys rolled his eyes. “And have to pass through the doorman and all that bullshit? I don’t want any part of that.”
“Oh,” I murmured.
“What do you mean ‘oh’?” he questioned, as he walked ahead of me.
“I just thought you might be embarrassed of me,” I murmured.
Skidding to a stop on the brick walkway, Rhys stared at me with an incredulous expression. “You are not serious?”
I shrugged. “It’s not like I fit into this world.”
“Neither do I,” he countered.
“But you were born into it. You’re a blue blood for God’s sake. Besides, your mother made it very clear a few weeks ago that I wasn’t the type of girl that you should be interested in.” Realizing I had said too much, I quickly tried backtracking. “I mean, the type of girl you should be hanging out with,” I hurriedly added.
“I don’t give two f**ks what kind of girl my parents think I should be hanging out with. I like being with you. I can’t remember a time when I’ve had more fun or been more at peace than I have with you. You’re the only thing that has made this visit tolerable. All those reasons? They’re what matters, not my parents.”
Between his words and the intensity of his stare, I had to focus on breathing. In and out, in and out, I recited in my head as my chest rose and fell in harsh pants. Finally, when I felt like I wasn’t going to pass out, I murmured very ineloquently, “Okay then.”
He smiled. “Good. I’m glad we have that settled.” He held out his arm for me to take just like a gentleman of years past would. “Now come on. It’s time we jumped into the shark tank.”
I slipped my arm through his and let him lead me up the walkway. When we got to the backdoor, Rhys didn’t even bother knocking. Instead, he barreled right on inside. A flurry of activity was going on in the massive kitchen with its marble tiled floor and granite countertops. The caterers and wait-staff buzzed around like busy worker bees. I’m sure Rhys’s mother would have considered them more as drones. They didn’t acknowledge our presence. Only one elderly, African-American woman’s face lit up at the sight of Rhys.
“Why hello there, stranger!” she cried.
Rhys’s face broke into a smile for the first time since we’d pulled into the driveway. “Ozella, my most favorite cook in the whole wide world.”
She wagged a finger at him. “I’m the only cook you’ve ever had.”
He laughed. “You’re still the best.”
His compliment sent a beaming smile across her face. “Well, since you’re a world traveler and famous musician, I’ll take your word for it.”
After they exchanged a hug, Rhys turned back to me. “Allison, this is Mrs. Ozella Princeton. She was our family’s personal cook from before I was born up until a few years ago.”
She smiled. “If I hadn’t had to retire for health reasons, I’d still be here. But I always come supervise Mrs. McGowan’s major parties.”
I held out my hand. “It’s nice meeting you.”
“Likewise.” Once she released my hand, she smacked Rhys playfully on the shoulder. “Now why didn’t you call and tell me you had settled down?”
Both Rhys and my eyes bulged at her mistake. “No, no, we’re not together like that,” Rhys quickly corrected.
Ozella’s brows creased in confusion. “Then how are you together?”
“He’s my brother’s best friend,” I replied, at the same time Rhys said, “She’s my bandmate’s little sister.”
“Uh-huh,” Ozella replied, a knowing look flickering in her eyes. I couldn’t help wondering why she had jumped to such a conclusion. Had Rhys never brought girls around before? Or was it more in the way we interacted with each other?
Her comment left us all in an awkward silence with me gnawing my lip, and Rhys fidgeting with the lapels and then the cuffs on his tux top.
“Zell, we need you,” someone called from across the room.
“Be right there,” Ozella called. Leaning in, she gave Rhys another hug. “Sorry, honey. I’ve got work to do.”
“It was so good seeing you,” Rhys said, as he squeezed her tight.
“You too. Don’t be a stranger when you’re in town. Come to see me anytime.”
Rhys nodded. “I will.”
Ozella winked at me. “You’re welcome, too, Allison.”
“Thank you,” I murmured, not daring to look at Rhys’s expression.
After Ozella had hurried off, Rhys turned to me. “Come,” he said, holding out his hand to me. “Let’s go find my parents so I can properly introduce you.”
Although I nodded in agreement, I fought the urge to stay in the kitchen or anywhere that was far, far away from his parents. It had been bad enough spending any time with his mother. I couldn’t imagine his father would be any better.
Tucked close to his side, I followed him out of the kitchen and into a long hallway. It reminded me a lot of the entrance hallway at the Mercer Williams House. My heels clacked along the marble floor beneath my feet while two glittering, crystal chandeliers lit our way. From ahead of us, I could hear the sound of a string quartet playing. A classical repertoire floated through the air, and for a moment, the relaxing music calmed me.