Home > Show Me the Way (Fight for Me #1)(4)

Show Me the Way (Fight for Me #1)(4)
Author: A.L. Jackson

“The apartment is haunted? And this happened sometime in the last three days?” Skepticism rolled from my tongue.

“You know how these things work. Ghost girl has been stalking me, and the second she felt your absence, she slid right in to take your place.”

“You know you’re absolutely ridiculous, right?”

“Which is precisely why you love me.”

Affection pulsed. How was I ever going to live without seeing her every day?

“Honestly, though, Ryn. How are you doing there by yourself? It must be weird to be alone in that old house. God knows it’s weird around here without you.”

I paused to look around at my dated surroundings—the floors linoleum, the cupboards hailing from the early eighties, the beige Formica countertops dingy and faded to a dreary yellow. The décor was mainly all the trinkets my grandmother had collected over the years, and the same two floral placemats I remembered from my childhood were still on the small round table.

It was as if she’d been waiting for me to return all this time. Next to nothing had changed since I left eleven years ago.

The house needed a full renovation. That was when, or if, I ever had the money to do it. Honestly, I still didn’t know how I was going to manage to hold on to all these frayed threads, if I could come back here and take over where my grandmother had left off. If I had what it would take to breathe life back into everything she had built.

But when I inhaled? I could almost smell the lingering memory of sugar browning in the oven. When I focused hard enough, I could almost taste the tart cherries and sweet crust melting on my tongue. When I listened intently enough, I could almost hear the steadfast belief in her voice echoing from the walls.

“Honestly?”

“Yeah,” she said.

An old warmth surrounded me, all mixed up with the reservations and fear that had kept me away for so many years. “It feels like home. Like I never left. Like I could walk through the door and my grandmother would be standing right in this kitchen, pulling a pot pie from the oven for dinner.” I swallowed over the lump that grew heavy at the base of my throat, the loss that echoed back her presence. “I just wish I would have come back earlier. Before it was too late.”

My heart clutched at the memory of the phone call I’d received two months before. A social worker had been on the other end of the line telling me my grandmother had suffered a massive heart attack while behind the wheel of her car, that though the responders had tried, there had been nothing they could do. She was pronounced dead upon arrival at the hospital.

Macy’s voice dipped in sincerity. “You can’t blame yourself, Ryn. Even if she didn’t know the reason you left, I think she at least understood why.”

“Then why does it feel like such a pathetic excuse now?”

“Maybe I was never lucky enough to meet your grandma in person, but in all the time we lived together, I don’t remember a day that passed without you talking to her. So maybe the circumstances sucked. But I promise you that she knew how much you loved her. And you want to know why it feels pathetic now? Because you’ve moved beyond it. Above it. You’re not even close to being that timid, insecure girl who answered my ad for a roommate eleven years ago. You’ve grown, changed. Your grandma got it. That was one smart woman.”

I exhaled slowly. “I know. I just . . . I wish I would have come back before it was too late.”

Wished she had let me know she was in trouble. I wished we had more time.

But I guessed us Dayne women were stubborn that way.

“I’m betting your grandma didn’t see it that way, which is the very reason you’re back there now.”

I gulped around the emotion, voice hushed. “Thanks, Mace. I needed to hear that.”

She tsked softly. “Of course you did. This is why you have me.”

From the other end of the line, I heard rustling, could feel her mood changing course as she settled back in the plush couch in the den. I could almost see the glass of red wine in her hand. “So, how is it being back in Gingham Lakes so far? Have you run into anyone you know?”

Her voice turned wry. “Tell me you found out bitch-face took a deep dive into the lake and never came back up for air. Or maybe she took a sharp curve driving a little too fast? Which would you prefer?”

A low chuckle rumbled free. “You’re horrible, Mace.”

“Psh. Don’t tell me you haven’t imagined it a thousand times.”

“Okay, okay, maybe I imagined her demise a time or two.”

Like every time I’d closed my eyes for two years after it happened. Wondering what it might have been like if I could have turned the tables on her and wishing all the same she could just take it back.

What had I ever done to warrant that level of cruelty? Could she possibly have known just how badly what she’d done had hurt?

Old memories twisted my stomach into knots. Traces of that evil, depraved laughter touched my ears, visions of her standing there like it’d meant nothing at all while she’d destroyed my entire world. It was as if crushing me had been nothing but entertainment.

“And no. I looked her up. She moved to Missouri.”

“You looked her up?” Surprise coated Macy’s tone.

“I just . . . had to.”

Silence filled the space between us. “I get it,” she finally said.

Bending down, I pulled my coffee pot from the box, puffing out a breath as I did. “To answer your question, no, I haven’t seen anyone I know. My Gramma was right, the city has really grown since I left. It’s not filled with the familiar faces like it used to be. I stopped by the grocery store this afternoon and didn’t recognize a soul.”

“Is that a good thing or a bad thing?”

I sighed. “I don’t know . . . both, I guess. I used to love that I knew everyone. That I’d go into the restaurant and knew at least half the people there. It made it feel safe. But after everything? The rumors?” My lips pursed. “It’s nice to be somewhere I love and have a clean slate. It feels like a second chance.”

I just prayed it remained that way.

“Well, if there aren’t any familiar faces, tell me there are at least some panty-melting ones you’ve run across. You know, some yummy to my tummy hotties hanging around, waiting to steal your heart? Knowing you’re getting some will at least ease some of my worry for you.”

A scoff scraped my throat. Leave it to Macy. “Oh, there’s a hottie, all right, but he definitely isn’t hanging around waiting to steal my heart.”

It was that moment when I heard the low rumble of a powerful engine approaching in the distance.

Of course.

Gramma had always told me all you needed was to speak of the devil and he’d appear.

There’d been something about our encounter this morning that had left me unsettled. Something about that gorgeous stranger that had left me restless and curious.

Interest piqued.

The man was a paradox.

Hard and brittle and cold.

Yet so incredibly gentle with the little girl, who’d clung to his hand as if he were the center of her world.

There seemed to be nothing I could do but edge toward the window, stealing to the side to remain out of sight.

I pulled back the edge of the curtain and peeked out.

Headlights cut into the night, and my stupid heart kicked an erratic beat. That intrigue increased my pulse to a thunder. I was riddled with that same fierce attraction I’d felt when I’d looked up earlier today to find him towering over me, the way my stomach had twisted and the nervousness that had followed me back to Gingham Lakes took a new form.

The headlights grew brighter, illuminating the space between our houses before the monstrous truck slowed and turned into the driveway across the street.

“Oh, oh, oh, tell me all about it. Someone sounds pouty . . . and turned on.”

“You know how my luck goes when it comes to men.” The scales were always tipped to bad. “You shouldn’t be surprised that my neighbor is like . . . gorgeous.”

Macy squealed. “How gorgeous?”

I watched as Rex hopped out of his truck and went straight for the backseat.

All six feet three inches of mouthwatering deliciousness lit up by the moonlight.

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