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|Strings of the Heart(Runaway Train #3) by Katie Ashley|
I nodded in acknowledgement like I knew what he was talking about. A shadow of a smile played on his lips. “It’s right over there.” He motioned to the side of the carriage house where a building with a glass roof was connected.
“Okay, I’ll wait for you there.” I watched as he and Trudie made their way across the yard and got Ellie into the car. I stood in the same spot until the car backed down the driveway and disappeared into the night.
Thankfully the backyard was lit up for the party, and I didn’t have any trouble finding the front door. As I pushed it open, I let out a low whistle. The “house” was actually one long, glassed-in room that appeared to have been built over an existing pool. I couldn’t help wondering if it had been done as a safety means for Ellie.
On one side of the pool, there was a fully stocked bar that I was tempted to stop at. After the last half hour, I desperately needed a drink to calm my nerves. As I kept on walking, I couldn’t help shaking my head. Of course, Rhys’s parents didn’t have just your average pool. Oh no, it had a partial waterfall in the deep end that led into an alcove with faux rock formations. There was also a large Jacuzzi within the alcove. At the end of the room, my attention was drawn to two wooden doors. With my heels clicking on the tile, I headed to the room. When I opened the door, my nose was assaulted with the smell of Rhys. It must’ve been where he had been staying. There was a large, four-poster bed along with several pieces of furniture. His suitcases and clothes were strewn all around on the floor.
Several picture frames adorned the nightstand. Most were of Rhys and Ellie while there was some of Runaway Train. With my heart beating wildly, I reached forward and snatched up one of the frames. It was a candid picture from Jake and Abby’s wedding with the guys and their families. Instead of the professional one I’d seen in the wedding album, this one captured everyone in a moment of brevity. As my finger traced over the glass, I saw an island paradise in the background as Jake, wearing a teasing smirk, grabbed Abby’s boob while she stared wide-eyed with horror out at the camera. Rhys had his head thrown back laughing at something AJ had said about Jake’s antics. One of his arms was slung around my waist, drawing me close to him. I stared up at him with an adoring smile. Out of all the pictures, I wondered why he had chosen that one to frame. Surely, he could see by both my eyes and expression that I felt far more for him than friendship.
After I sat it back on the nightstand, I left the bedroom, closing the double doors behind me. With nothing to do but wait for Rhys, I sat down on the edge of the pool. Taking off my naughty heels, I slid up my dress and let my feet drop into the water. I leaned back on my hands, swirling my feet through the cool water.
I don’t know how long I had been sitting there lost in thought when Rhys’s voice caused me to jump. “Hey,” he said softly.
“Hi,” I replied.
He dropped down to sit beside me, stretching his legs out on the tiled floor. “Is Ellie okay now?” I asked.
A sad smile formed on his lips. “Yeah, she was just fine when I left. She was listening to music and painting. I suppose I should be grateful for the small mercies of life.”
“That she’s able to find happiness?” I questioned softly.
He exhaled harshly, his head falling back to gaze up at the moon glowing over the glass roof. “While my heart aches each and every day for Ellie and her situation, sometimes there are days where it aches more for Lucy.”
I stared curiously at him. “Why is that?”
“One day when Lucy is older, she’ll be cognitive enough to realize that there is something different about her. While I know that Bray and Lily will never do anything to cause it, Lucy will compare herself to Jude and to Melody. Most likely, she’ll feel anger and sadness that she isn’t the same as them.” Rhys glanced over at me. “Ellie never has to do that. She never has to compare herself to me or feel what it’s like to not live up to our parents’ expectations. She’s thankfully oblivious to all of that.”
I slowly processed the truth in his words. My chest tightened at the feeling of sweet Lucy ever having to feel bad about herself. Eyeing my painted toenails in the water, I tried to tune out the voice in my head—the one that was nagging me to question Rhys. But then I realized that I had to ask or else I would never be able to look at him the same way. “Rhys?”
“Hmm?” he replied, staring out at the water.
“You’ve never brought Ellie around the guys much, have you?”
“No, I haven’t.”
Gnawing on my lip, I finally dared to ask the question that was haunting me. “Is it because you’re ashamed of her?”
Rhys jerked his gaze from the water to meet mine. His dark eyes bulged. “How dare you ask me that?”
“It’s an honest question. I’ve only heard you speak of her a few times before tonight. You never mention your family when you’re with the guys.”
Scowling, he crossed his arms over his chest. “You should know by now that I’m a very private person.”
“Private or emotionally shut off?”
Flinching prematurely, I prepared myself for him to yell at me, but he surprised me by murmuring, “A little of both.”
“You don’t have to be that way with me. I want you to be able to trust me, Rhys.”
“I do trust you. If I didn’t, I would have never let you meet Ellie.” Rhys exhaled an anguished breath. “The truth is I could never be ashamed or embarrassed by Ellie. The reason I don’t speak of her or bring her around is I’m more afraid of my reactions to the way others treat her.”