The Grand Cherokee parked at the back of the lodge looks like it received a paintjob from the person who’d done my unwilling host’s tattoos. Instead of a plain colour, it sports similar patterns and colours to the ones on his arms – making it bold and brash and just as eye-catching as the man who owned it.
He stops by the passenger door and pulls it open, then steps back and waits for me to climb in.
“There’s really no need,” I try again to convince him to let me just walk back.
“Don’t bother,” he grins, slams the door and heads round to the driver’s side. “Why don’t you want to go back?” he asks as he settles into his seat and turns on the engine. “You might as well tell me. I’ll find out eventually, anyway.”
“Who’s going to tell you?” I can’t help but snap. “You’re a stranger.”
He cocks an eyebrow and smirks. “Yeah, but it’s a small town and everyone knows they’re the worst for spreading gossip.” The grin falls away as he concentrates on turning the huge SUV around. “It’s always better if the rumours people hear are the ones you can control.”
There’s a tone in his voice, something odd, almost like he’s speaking from experience and I’m tempted to ask him. Manners kick in, though, and I stay quiet. He doesn’t press and we spend the next few minutes in silence as he manoeuvres the beast of a car down the narrow wanna-be road.
My eyes drop to where his hands rest on the steering wheel, fingers tapping to a tune only he can hear and I can feel my lips tip up into a smile. My dad used to do that when a song was stuck in his head.
“What song is it?”
“Huh?” His eyes cut to me before returning to the road.
“What song has your fingers dancing?”
He glances down, then grins. “Ahhh right. I doubt it’s one you’ll know.”
“Why? Because I’m a small-town girl?”
His grin widens and it transforms his face from handsome to downright gorgeous, his eyes crinkling at the corners and sparkling with laughter. “No, because you’re … “ a hand lifts from the steering wheel to wave vaguely in my direction. “Well, you look like a librarian, Goldilocks.”
“And librarians don’t like music, is that what you’re implying?” I demand, pretending outrage.
He barks a laugh “No, sweetheart, but librarians probably listen to Mozart, Beethoven and shit.”
“Wow, you’re stereotyping.”
“You so are! Also, I’m not a librarian.”
“No, you’re an home intruder.” He smirks in my direction. “You probably listen to mood music.”
“Mood music? I don’t even know what that is!” I laugh.
“You know … the music you put on to get you in the mood for whatever nefarious plan you are thinking about.” He drags a hand through his hair, pushing it away from his eyes.
“I didn’t have much of a plan, nefarious or otherwise,” I tell him.
“Ahhh, so you admit it, you do listen to mood music!”
“No? Don’t tell me you’re one of those girls who screams after boybands.” He presses a hand against his chest. “I don’t think my heart could take that.”
I laugh again, feeling my mood lighten at his teasing. “You got it,” I tell him.
“You dance around your kitchen, don’t you? Pretending the broom is a microphone.”
“Yep.” I belt out the chorus from one of the current pop songs, purposely hitting the wrong notes.
He doesn’t even try to hide his wince. “I should have gone with my gut and called the police. “
“Crimes against music.”
I sing louder, then splutter into laughter when he cringes at a screeched high note.
He watches me out of the corner of his eye for a moment or two, then as my giggles subside he speaks again. “The song is called My Drug of Choice.”
I consider the title, seeing if I can place it within my memory, but I can’t … and he knows it. I can tell by the smile he sends in my direction.
“Well?” he asks.
“Sure, it’s by that band…. You know…” I bluff.
He snorts. “You have no idea!”
“You don’t know that!”
“I kinda do.” He flicks the turn signal lever and I realise we’re within the town limits. “Where do you want dropping?”
“I’ll get out wherever you’re parking. I can walk from there.”
He nods and silence returns to the car. We head down Main Street and a minute later, he’s pulling up outside the local grocery store.
Of course, it’s just my luck that Sam is coming out of the bank opposite as the car comes to a stop, and I can’t stop a groan.
“He the guy who sent you running to my house?”
He’s quick on the uptake, I have to give him that and I decide it’s not even worth trying to make up a lie.
“Yeah. He’s my ex as of,” I look at the time on the dashboard, “four hours ago.”
“What did he do?”
“My roommate.” The words burn like acid as they fall from my mouth.
“You catch him?” He doesn’t miss a beat and I nod.
“I walked in on them. I left work early and was supposed to meet him for dinner, so went home to change. They were at it on the kitchen table when I walked through the door.”
He turns his head to watch Sam cross the road. “What are you going to do?”
I shrug. “I don’t know. I just had to get out, so I headed to the Lodge. I’d completely forgotten my mom had sold it.”
He unclips his belt and twists in the seat to face me. “Well Goldilocks, you have two choices. You either let him get away with it, or you burn that fucker to the ground.”
“You don’t think it’s my roommate’s fault?” I have to admit I was kind of expecting him to blame her.
He shrugs. “What did he do? Slip and land with his dick buried inside her? Takes two to screw up, sweetheart. If she came onto him and he didn’t want her, you wouldn’t have found him balls-deep, would you?”
I feel my cheeks burn at his crudeness, but he’s right. There’s no excuse Sam can give me that I’ll believe.
“What are you going to do about it?”
His question makes me pause as I unclip my own belt. “What do you mean?”
“Like I said earlier, you want to be in control of any rumour being whispered about you. Do you want him to have control of it or you?”
“Everyone loves Sam,” I tell him. “They’ll believe him.”
“So change the script.”
I’m almost afraid to ask the question that’s hovering on my lips. “How?”
Read Part Five