“And I wouldn’t with Nate?” I asked, biting back a startled laugh. She didn’t respond. “Well, anyway, I’m with Reese now. I’m out at his place—he was actually with me when the house blew up. He took care of me last night and he said we can stay with him while we get things figured out. He’s got a room upstairs for you.”
“You don’t need to worry about that,” she said quickly. “I was planning to call you anyway. I changed my mind. Mom and I just had a little fight, nothing big. I was exaggerating things. You know how I get all worked up. It’s no big deal.”
I stilled. Reese started rubbing my back soothingly.
“It was a big deal,” I said slowly. “You were scared of those men. I heard it in your voice.”
“You must’ve imagined it,” she said brightly. “Really, it’s all good here. You should just hang out and take care of yourself, get the housing situation figured out. I have to go now.”
“Babe,” I started to say, but she cut me off.
“Seriously, London, you need to let it go. I had a bad night, okay? I got a little homesick, but that doesn’t change the fact that I’m happier here. Mom has lots of money and she doesn’t have to work all the time. You need to make your own life instead of trying to take over mine.”
With that she ended the call. I stared down at the phone, completely confused. Then I flopped back down and burrowed into the crook of Reese’s arm.
“I will never, ever understand teenage girls,” I said slowly. He snorted.
“No shit. They’re all fucked in the head. Doesn’t get better when they hit their twenties, either. What’s the story?”
“She says everything’s okay and she doesn’t want to come back to north Idaho. I don’t get it. She was scared, Reese. This doesn’t make sense.”
He reached up and ran his fingers into my hair. I snuggled deeper into him, wondering how and why my world had gotten so strange so fast.
“You’re really a nice guy,” I said. He groaned.
“Don’t say shit like that. I’m not a nice guy, sweetheart. Trust me, I’d know if I was.”
“Well, you’re being nice to me.”
“I have ulterior motives. I like fucking you.”
I laughed. “Whatever the reason, thanks for last night. I suppose I should get to the hospital and check on Melanie. Pick her up. I’ll get us out of here in a day or two. I know I’ll have to talk to the cops, and then get hold of the insurance agent. I can’t remember exactly what my coverage is.”
“Don’t worry about that for now,” he told me. “Worry about Melanie. Later I’ll take you out and we’ll find you some clothes and shit. Until we know what happened with your house, you’re with me. Nice and safe here. Nonnegotiable.”
That caught my attention and I rolled onto my elbow, looking down at him with a frown.
“You think I wouldn’t be safe somewhere else?” I asked quickly. “That sounds like you think my house wasn’t an accident?”
“I got no idea what happened to your house,” he said. “Probably just a gas leak. Just like the idea of keeping you around for a bit, letting shit settle. Probably hasn’t totally sunk in what happened just yet—you need to figure things out. This is a good place to do it. That’s all I meant.”
“Sorry, guess I’m a little edgy.”
“I take it that means you aren’t up for wake-up sex?”
I closed my eyes, then shook my head.
“I don’t think I’m up for anything at all,” I muttered. “I have whiplash. Too much happening too fast.”
“Fair enough. Let’s get to the hospital, go check on girl number two. See if they’ll let us spring her.”
An hour later we stood outside the hospital, Mellie gripping my arm as she took in the sight of Painter’s motorcycle.
“I sort of thought you meant a car when you said you’d give me a ride home,” she whispered, eyes wide. I nodded, more than a little startled myself by the transportation situation. Reese had insisted on us riding his bike that morning, saying Painter would meet us at the hospital to give Mellie a ride if she needed one.
I’d assumed that mean a ride in a car. Not so much.
“She did have a head injury,” I pointed out. Painter stood tall next to his bike, his blond hair in short spikes. He frowned at Mel.
“Then call a cab,” he said, his voice challenging. “Don’t have my car with me.”
Reese rolled his eyes.
“Sort of thought the car was implied,” he muttered.
“You didn’t say and it’s not like she’s really hurt or anything. You got a headache?”
Mel frowned, looking nervous and a little excited all at once.
“No, I don’t actually,” she said. “Although they said no sudden movements.”
“So you’ll have to hold on tight,” Painter replied, smirking at her. “I don’t mind.”
“Oh, for fuck’s sake,” Reese said. He reached into his pocket and pulled out his cell. “I’ll call someone else.”
“No, it’s okay,” Mel said suddenly. “I’ll try riding the bike.”
She smiled hesitantly at Painter, and my mom radar exploded to life. This was the same kid who’d been screwing Jessica. He was tall, with lots of tattoos and muscles and cute in that way only bad boys can be … My Mellie was a good girl, not the kind of girl to get involved with someone like this Painter. Shit. Was she blushing?
I turned on Painter, whipping out my Parental Voice of Authority like a sword.
“You watch yourself with her,” I snapped. “I don’t want anything bad happening to that girl. I see right through you, little man.”
Reese, Melanie, and Painter all froze, their faces full of shocked surprise. Then Painter started laughing.
“Fuckin’ priceless, prez,” he said, smirking at me. Then he glanced at Mel. “You comin’ or not?”
She nodded quickly, hopping up on his bike while I glared at them both. Painter kicked his Harley to life and then roared out of the parking lot, leaving me alone with Reese.
“Kid’s survived prison, you know that?” he asked me slowly, shaking his head. “Bigger than you, too. Really think talkin’ to him like that is a good idea? You’re kind of small.”