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|Strings of the Heart(Runaway Train #3) by Katie Ashley|
Rhys chuckled. “Too scary of a prospect for you, Allie-Bean?”
His somewhat condescending tone irked me. “No, it’s more the fact that I don’t think your mother would approve of me groping you in the middle of her fancy fling.”
“I really don’t give a damn what my mother thinks.”
“Yes, well I do. Besides, I have my reputation to contend with. I’m going to have to pass this time.”
“Pity then,” he replied, his eyes twinkling mischievously. He then ducked his head to where his breath warmed my earlobe. “I’ll be nice and put you out of your misery. I’m wearing boxer briefs.”
“Oh,” I replied, unable to hide the disappointment in my voice. I don’t know why it really mattered to me.
Pulling back, Rhys eyed me with an intense expression. “You know, I think we’re entering dangerous territory.”
I swallowed hard. “W-We are?”
He slowly nodded. “I’m saying things to you tonight that I really shouldn’t. It’s not right.”
“I don’t want you to say or do anything different, Rhys,” I countered.
“You don’t?” he asked, his brows rising in surprise.
“No, I don’t. I like you just as you are—the good and the bad.”
The sound of a shriek, followed by breaking glass, snatched us out of the moment. Rhys dropped his arms from me and raced back into the house. I followed right on his heels. When I got to the doorway, I froze. In the middle of the room, Ellie was throwing a tantrum, crying, pulling her hair and stomping her feet. Most of the partygoers in the ballroom had scattered to the opposite end of the room and were whispering behind their hands.
Elliot and Margaret made a half circle around Ellie as if they were trying to contain her. They spoke no soothing words of comfort. Instead, they eyed her with contempt. Rhys, however, barreled right past them to try to calm Ellie down. “Ellie-Bellie-Mellie, please don’t cry. I’ll make it right.” His words, coupled with his expression, broke my heart for him. “Shh, it’s okay. I’m here. No one is going to hurt you,” he said soothingly.
Ellie’s crying quieted to whimpers, and she no longer stomped around. Instead, she swayed back and forth, humming the tune that the quartet was playing.
“What did you do?” Rhys demanded, his eyes narrowing at his parents.
Margaret’s face was the shade of an eggplant from anger, not embarrassment. “We couldn’t hear each other talk over her playing. I simply asked her to stop. When she refused, I closed the lid to force her to stop.”
The veins on Rhys’s neck bulged in fury. “How could you? She wasn’t hurting anyone.”
“She was ruining your mother’s party. She should have never been here in the first place,” Elliot replied.
Ignoring his father, Rhys tentatively put an arm around Ellie’s shoulder. “Come on. Let’s get you back home. You can play the piano all night if you want to.” When Ellie started to resist, Rhys began humming the same music she was. It seemed to calm her, and she willingly let him lead her out of the house. I followed close behind them, unsure of what to say or do. Part of me felt responsible. I’d worried about suggesting she come to the party. Of course, I’d feared some stranger ridiculing her. I never could have imagined her own mother would have treated her so horribly.
When we got to the doorway of the carriage house, Ellie balked and pulled away from Rhys. She started walking across the lawn to the garage. “She wants to go home,” Rhys murmured.
“But isn’t this her home?”
“Not when she feels hurt and angry. I guess you could say it’s her way of running away, putting distance between her and my parents.”
Trudie opened the door. The moment she saw Rhys’s face she gasped. “What happened?”
“I need to take Ellie back to the Brandewine Institute. Now.”
With a nod, Trudie replied, “Let me get my bag.”
“You know you don’t have to stay with her there,” Rhys said.
Trudie smiled and patted his cheek. “I don’t have to, but I want to. She needs me tonight.” She then disappeared back into the house. Across the yard, Ellie waited patiently at Rhys’s car, swaying to the music that floated back from the tent.
Tentatively, I took a step forward. Placing my hand over Rhys’s heart, I said the words that were sorely lacking in the moment, but the only ones I could think to even comfort him. “I’m so, so sorry.”
He brought his agonized gaze to mine. I could see he was troubled, not at Ellie, or it seemed, not even at me, but, he was too highly strung to form words. Instead, he just nodded his head in acknowledgement at my words.
“Look, I know you need to be with Ellie tonight. Don’t worry about me. I’ll call a cab and—”
Rhys furiously shook his head. “No, please don’t go. Stay here and wait for me to get back.” He squeezed my hand that still rested on his chest. “I need you tonight, Allison.”
The emotional weight of the moment and his words made it hard to breathe. When I could finally speak again, I didn’t realize the irony of my words until after I’d spoken then. “Of course. I’ll wait for you, no matter how long it takes.”
“Thanks, Allie-Bean.” We were interrupted by Trudie coming out the door with a small suitcase. “You can wait for me in the pool house. That’s where I’ve been staying.”