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All Rhodes Lead Here(4)
Author: Mariana Zapata

That was a big arm attached to that hand now that I got a look at it. I was pretty sure I’d seen some veins popping along his forearm. What did those patches say though? I tried to squint.

“No means no,” the stranger went on when the boy opened his mouth to argue with him. “I can’t believe you did this. How could you go behind my back? You posted it online?” He was shaking his head like he really was stunned. “Were you planning on letting some creeps stay here while I was gone?”

Creeps?

Me?

Realistically, I knew that this was none of my business.

But.

I still couldn’t keep my mouth shut as I tossed in, “Umm, for the record, I’m not a creep. And I can show you my reservation. I paid for the whole month up front—“

Shit.

The boy winced, and that had the man taking a step forward under better lighting, giving me my first real good look at his face. At the whole of him.

And what a face it was.

Even when I’d been with Kaden, I would have done a double take at the man under the lights. What? I wasn’t dead. And he had that kind of face. I’d seen a lot of them, I would know.

I couldn’t think of a single makeup artist that wouldn’t call his features chiseled, not pretty by any means but masculine, sharp, highlighted by his mouth forming a tight scowl and his thick eyebrows flat across his remarkable, heavy brow bones. And there was that impressive, strong jaw. I was pretty sure he had a little cleft in his chin too. He had to be in his early forties.

“Rough handsome” would be the best way to describe him. Maybe even “ridiculously handsome” if he didn’t look about ready to kill someone like he did right then.

Nothing at all like my ex’s million-dollar, boy-next-door looks that had made thousands of women swoon.

And ruined our relationship.

Maybe I would send that shit pie eventually. I’d think about it some more.

Basically, this man arguing with a tween or teenage boy, with a gun on his belt and wearing what looked to me to be some kind of law-enforcement-type uniform, was unbelievably handsome.

And… he was a silver fox, I confirmed when the light hit his hair just perfectly to show off what could have been brown or black mixed in with the much lighter, striking color.

And he didn’t give a single shit about what I was saying as he snapped words out in the most level, talking-voice volume I’d ever heard. I might have been impressed if I wasn’t so worried I was about to get screwed.

“Dad…,” the boy started again. The kid had dark hair and a smooth, almost baby face, his skin a very light brown. His limbs were long under a black band T-shirt as he slid into place between his dad and me like a buffer.

“A whole month?”

Yeah, he’d heard that part.

The kid didn’t even flinch as he replied, very quietly, “You won’t let me get a job. How else am I supposed to make money?”

That vein on the man’s face popped again, color rose up along his cheekbones and ears. “I know what you want the money for, Am, but you know what I said too. Your mom, Billy, and I all agreed. You don’t need a three-thousand-dollar guitar when yours works just fine.”

“I know it works fine, but I still want—”

“But you don’t need it. It isn’t going to—”

“Dad, please,” the Amos kid pleaded. Then he gestured at me with a thumb over his shoulder. “Look at her. She’s not a creep. Her name’s Aurora. De La Torre. I looked her up on Picturegram. She only posts pictures of food and animals.” The teenager glanced at me over his shoulder, blinking once before shaking himself out of it, his expression turning almost frantic, like he too knew this conversation wasn’t going well. “Everybody knows sociopaths don’t like animals, you said, remember? And look at her.” His head tilted to the side.

I shrugged off his last comment and focused on the important part of what he’d mentioned. Someone had done his research… but what else did he know?

But he wasn’t wrong. Other than those and some selfies or shots with friends—and people I used to think were my friends but weren’t—I really did only post pictures of food and animals I met. That reality, and the bags and boxes sitting on the ground close by, were just another reminder that I wanted to be here, that I had things I needed to do in this area.

And that this kid either knew too much or really had fallen for the façade that I’d presented to the world. For all the lies and smoke and mirrors I’d had to employ to be around someone I’d loved. A reminder that I hadn’t deleted pictures off my Picturegram of a life I used to have. I had been careful on my account to never take any romantic-looking pictures—or fear the wrath of Mrs. Jones.

Maybe I should make my page private, now that I thought about it, so that the Antichrist didn’t snoop. I had only posted a handful of times over the last year and hadn’t tagged any place I’d been. Old habits died hard.

The man’s eyes flicked to me for maybe all of a second before they went back to the boy, and he said, “Does it look like I care? She could be Mother Teresa, and I still wouldn’t want anybody here. It isn’t safe to have some stranger hanging around our house.”

Technically, I wouldn’t be “hanging around.” I’d stay here in this garage apartment and never bother anybody.

Seeing my opportunity disappearing with every word that came out of the man’s mouth, I knew I had to act fast. Luckily for me, I liked fixing things and was good at it. “I cross my heart I’m not a psycho. I’ve only gotten one ticket in my whole life, and it was for going ten over, but in my defense, I had to pee really bad. You can call my aunt and uncle if you want a character reference, and they’ll tell you I’m a pretty good person. You can text my nephews if you want, because they won’t answer even if you blow up their phones.”

The boy looked over his shoulder again, eyes wide and still frantic, but the man… well, he wasn’t smiling at all. What he was doing was glaring at me over his son’s shoulder. Again. In fact, his expression went flat, but before he could say a word, the kid jumped on my train of defense.

His voice was still low but impassioned. He must really want that three-thousand-dollar guitar. “I know what I did was shady, but you were gonna be gone a whole month, and she’s a girl—” There were female serial killers out there, but now didn’t seem like the right time to bring that up. “—so I figured you wouldn’t, like, have to worry. I bought an alarm system I was gonna install on the windows anyway, and nobody was gonna get through the deadbolts on the door.”

The man shook his head, and I was pretty sure his eyes were wider than they normally would have been. “No, Amos. No. Your sneaky shit is not winning me over. If anything, it’s just pissing me off even more that you’d lie to me. What the hell were you thinking? What were you going to tell your uncle Johnny when he came over to check on you while I was gone? Huh? I can’t believe you’d go behind my back after I told you no so many times. I’m trying to protect you, man. What’s wrong with that?”

Then that intense face focused down as he shook his head, shoulders dropping so low I felt so obtrusive for witnessing it, for being here to notice the sheer disappointment that was so apparent on every line of this father’s body as he stood there, processing this act of betrayal. He seemed to exhale before glancing back up, zeroing in on me that time, and said, gruffly, and I was pretty sure genuinely hurt by the actions of the teenager, “He’ll get you a refund the second we get back in the house, but you aren’t staying. You shouldn’t have been able to ‘make a reservation’ in the first place.”

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