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|Strings of the Heart(Runaway Train #3) by Katie Ashley|
“What do you mean?”
“I can’t respect anyone who finds fault with Ellie. Since I was a kid, I’ve been defending her. When I was in the fifth grade, I got expelled from a private school because I hit a kid with a golf club after he was telling people my sister was a freaky retard.”
“Oh Rhys,” I murmured.
He angrily shook his head. “I’ve ended many friendships, and even a few relationships, with people who expressed disdain and somewhat repulsion being in her presence.”
“She deserves respect just like anybody else, so why should I give my time to those who have no respect for my blood?” Rhys bellowed.
“No, I mean, it’s terrible that anyone would have disdain or repulsion for Ellie,” I said, softly.
Rhys’s expression softened. “Oh, I’m sorry.”
He shook his head. “I shouldn’t have bit your head off like that.”
“Stop beating yourself up.” When he still appeared unconvinced, I said, “It shows a great depth of character that you care so much about your sister. She’s so very lucky that she has you in her life.”
“I guess I’m really a bastard for not talking about her, huh?” he questioned. From the look in his eyes, I could tell it was something that really worried him.
“No, I can totally understand your reasons. But at the same time, you’re protecting yourself more than you are her. Your motives are better than your parents’, but at the same time, you’re still hiding her away.”
“The more people who know about her, the more ridicule she is going to have,” Rhys protested.
“Yes, but at the same time, think of all the good you could do for autistic people if you were to come out and talk about Ellie—if you lent your name to fundraisers and charities. Your celebrity might even change the way some people treat autistic people.”
Rhys weighed my words for a few moments. “You’re right. I can’t believe I didn’t see that before.” Tears sparkled in his eyes. “Makes me feel like a stupid, selfish prick.”
I shook my head. “Sometimes you’re just too close to a situation to truly see things the way they should be.”
“How could I screw her over like that?”
“Don’t you dare say that! You could never, ever do anything to hurt Ellie.” Reaching over, I cupped his cheek with my hand. “I’m not going to let you sit here and beat yourself up, okay?”
With a weary smile, he replied, “Okay.”
“You’ve got one of the biggest hearts I know, Rhys. There isn’t a malicious bone in your body. You would walk barefoot through a field of glass to make sure Ellie was happy.”
When he stared mournfully out at the water, I clapped my hands together. “You, sir, are in desperate need of a drink.” Holding my dress in place with one hand, I rose to my feet. “Come on. Let’s be cliché and drink away our troubles.”
Rhys stared up at me for a moment before a grin spread across his face. “You’re so f**king right. If there was ever a night to get plastered, it’s tonight.”
While I boosted myself onto one of the stools, Rhys walked around the side of the bar. “What sounds good?” I asked.
“I think the better question is, what is going to get us shitfaced the fastest?”
I giggled. “And if you get shitfaced, how will I get home?”
Rhys shrugged. “Guess you’ll just have to stay here.”
His reply caused me to gasp. “H-Here?” I stammered.
“Besides the f**king monstrosity main house, I’m pretty sure there’s room in the carriage house for you.”
“Oh,” I murmured, trying not to hide my disappointment.
As Rhys plopped a bottle of tequila down on the bar, he winked. “Of course, my bed is pretty big, and I wouldn’t mind sharing it.”
My mouth dropped open as I tried processing what he had just said. Like a typical guy, he’d been able to go from emotionally broken to teasing sex-fiend in less than two minutes. I don’t know how guys could inflict such whiplash with their feelings. But was Rhys’s joke just something to lighten the mood? Or was this really it—a proposition to be with him? Deciding not to let him get one on me, I replied, “I’d be happy to share your bed.”
Rhys’s dark eyes twinkled. “I think you’d change your mind pretty quick after you heard me snore.”
I laughed. “I hog the covers, so we’re even.”
“Two horrible bedmates, huh?”
“Yep,” I replied, although secretly I wouldn’t have cared as long as I got to share his bed.
Taking out two shot glasses from under the bar, Rhys sat them in front of me. “Think you’ve got it in you to do some hardcore shots?”
“I will if you will,” I dared.
“Oh, I will,” he replied. He unscrewed the lid on a bottle I wasn’t familiar with. When he glanced up, he must’ve noticed my questioning look. “This,” he began before waving the bottle, “is pure white tequila from the agave fields outside of Guadalajara.”
Rhys grinned. “Trust me, it is. They barely put in a capful of this shit when they make a margarita.”
“How did you come to get it?”