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|Strings of the Heart(Runaway Train #3) by Katie Ashley|
“You did that just like a professional.”
I smiled at his compliment. After I draped the measuring tape back around my neck, I stooped over my notepad to enter Jake’s measurements more formally than what I had scribbled on a scratch piece of paper.
When I finished and turned around, AJ was whipping off his “Drummers Bang Harder” T-shirt. I bit down on my lip to keep from laughing. “Um, you don’t have to be na**d for me to get accurate measurements.”
He grinned. “After doing your brother’s, I thought you might like to take in an example of a real man’s physique.”
Jake snorted as he collapsed onto the couch. “Keep dreaming, ass**le.”
While AJ preened in front of the mirror, flexing his biceps and dancing his pecs, I pulled the tape from around my neck. “Okay, Mr. Hot Stuff, let’s do this.”
A frown lined AJ’s brows as he gazed in the mirror. He ran his hand up and down the washboard abs that drove women wild. “You know, I’m starting to think having kids has turned my six-pack into a keg.”
Across the room from us, Brayden howled with laughter. “Last time I checked, it was Mia birthing the kids, not you, so I’m not quite sure how your girlish figure was affected.”
After AJ scowled at Brayden, he turned to me. “What do you think, Allison?”
I couldn’t help the laughter that tumbled out of my lips at both his question and the seriousness with which he asked it. “I don’t think you have anything to worry about, AJ.”
With a waggle of his brows, he asked, “So you think I’m a DILF, eh?”
Jake groaned. “Seriously, AJ? Don’t ask Allison shit like that.”
Ignoring Mr. Overprotective, I nodded. “Totally a DILF. Mia is one lucky woman.”
A beaming smile lit up his handsome face. Drawing me into his arms for an appreciative hug, AJ said, “Thank you. I knew you were a woman with very good taste.”
That was the moment Rhys chose to appear in the doorway. His gaze momentarily narrowed on at me in AJ’s arms. Then as if he realized we weren’t alone, his expression softened. “What’s going on?”
Taking a step back, AJ peered around me at Rhys. “Where the hell have you been, man? You knew Allison needed to get our measurements before rehearsal.”
He shrugged. “Sorry. I didn’t know it was such a big deal.”
His words had the same effect as if he had driven a dagger deep into my chest. Although I should have looked away, I couldn’t help staring into his eyes, desperately trying to find the Rhys I had loved for so long. For the life of me, I couldn’t understand why he was being an ass**le to me. And while his dissing my internship hurt, the total lack of kindness he was showing me was much worse. Mainly because it was so against Rhys’s usual character.
Rising off the couch, Jake eyeballed Rhys, and I could tell the big brother in him was getting rankled. “Allie’s fashion internship is a big deal.”
Instead of looking at Jake, Rhys looked at me. Deep down, he knew how important it was. He’d been right there with me in Savannah when I’d told him all about it. In fact, he’d believed in me so implicitly then. But now, he was downplaying it like it was nothing at all to him.
“It’s fine, Jake. I was busy with you guys anyway,” I replied, as I brought the tape measure to AJ’s neck.
Undaunted, Jake said, “Why don’t you do Allison a favor and go get Eli and Gabe?”
“They’re still rehearsing with Abby,” Rhys replied, as he grabbed a bottle of water out of the cooler.
“Worthless,” Jake muttered under his breath.
Just as I was finishing up with Brayden’s measurements, Frank, the head roadie for Runaway Train, came in the door. “Hey, Jake, I need all of you guys to head on up to the stage. One of the set changes is giving us problems in this arena, and I want to make sure you guys think it’s working out okay.
“Rhys, once you’re done with your measurements, come meet us on the stage,” Jake said.
“Okay,” Rhys replied.
When the door shut behind them, leaving us all alone, I couldn’t help jumping. Loud silence reverberated around the room as if we were locked in a tomb. As I stood in front of Rhys, I slid my measuring tape off my neck. I knew I was going to have to break the silence between us. “You know, I thought we had agreed to be friends.”
Rhys’s brows shot up in surprise. “Who said we weren’t?”
I gave him a sad smile. “This—” I motioned between us, “Doesn’t feel much like friendship.”
With an apologetic expression, Rhys protested, “I’m trying my best, Allison.”
“By blowing off this fitting? You, of all people, know how important this internship is. You were there cheering me on from almost the beginning. Now you act as if you couldn’t give a shit.”
“Please believe me when I say that I am sorry for being late to the fitting. I wasn’t intentionally blowing it off to be an ass**le. I couldn’t say it in front of the others, but I’ve been trying to give you some space to work through your feelings for me. That’s what I was doing this afternoon when I lost track of time. Then I thought by acting like I didn’t care in front of Jake, he wouldn’t think there had been anything between us.”
I couldn’t help feeling wounded by the fact he was actually working to avoid me and treating me with kid gloves. But instead of showing my hurt, I plastered a smile onto my face. “I see,” I replied. I then brought the tape measure to his neck. The moment my fingers touched his bare skin, he jumped. “Sorry if my fingers are cold.”