Cinderella Steals Home (7 page)

BOOK: Cinderella Steals Home
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Dad looks at me for a few seconds, waiting for me to say something -- anything -- but I don't. I can't. His face flushes, then he nods.

"Don't worry about it, kiddo," he says. "I'll let Justin know you said yes. Enjoy the rest of your...ah, spaghetti and meatballs."
 

I grimace as Dad springs out of his chair and into the house. I hadn't been trying to take another dig at him with my favorite dinner this time, and I feel kind of bad that he thinks I am.
 

I let out a breath and stare out over the lit-up pool and at the lights dotting the crisp, clear Arizona night sky.
 

Dad had been right about one thing.
 

It really is pretty here.
 

I bring my fork up to my mouth, but I realize I'm no longer hungry. Agreeing to play baseball isn't settling well with me, and I have no idea what came over me and possessed me to agree to do it.
 

But I have a sneaking -- and sinking -- suspicion that Doan's little comment about families earlier may have subconsciously guilted me into saying yes, and for that, I make a mental note that I owe him a swift kick to the shins.

I sigh and pick up my bowl and head into the kitchen. If there's anyone out here that I don't want sticking his nose into my business, it's Doan Riley.
 

CHAPTER EIGHT

I'd gotten a text from Natasha late last night as I'd laid in bed, trying to fall asleep but having no luck. Visions of baseball and Doan and Dad haunted me each time I tried to close my eyes. Natasha had asked me to meet her at a bar in Old Town Scottsdale, but I'd told her there was no chance of me getting out of bed for that.
 

But somehow she'd managed to convince me to agree to go out tonight even though I don't get off my shift at Gemma's until ten because we've got a local band coming in to play at eight.

But by the time I get to work, I've already texted her and let her know that I think I'm going to be too tired to go out again.
 

"Natasha Peterson?" Natalie wrinkles her nose as she wipes crumbs off the counter. "I don't know why you'd say yes to doing
anything
with that girl."
 

I shrug. "She asked and I don't have any other plans."
 

"So all I have to do is ask you to jump off the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, and you will?"
 

"Point taken."
 

"Natasha is bad news."
 

"I need to meet people."
 

"You met me!"
 

"Okay, fine. Let's go out and do something after close then."

She presses her lips together. "Can't. My boyfriend's in town tonight."
 

"Long distance?"
 

"Yeah. He's a pro hockey player out in LA usually but he's training in Europe for the month of June. He's got a week off and this is his last night here."
 

"A pro hockey player? Well, look at you."
 

She blushes and smiles. "I know. I'm lucky but not because of his job."

I feel a surprising -- and unfamiliar -- twinge of jealousy.
 

"How long have you guys been together?"
 

"Almost a year now. I met him when I lived in Wisconsin."
 

"Good for you guys," I tell her. "But I still need to meet people."

She sighs. "Yeah, I know. I just wish Natasha wasn't involved, that's all."
 

"What's so bad about her anyway?"
 

"Better for you to see for yourself," Natalie says, tossing the dirty rag into a bucket beneath the counter.
 

"Maybe another time," I reply.
 

The band has just come back inside from their smoke break, ready to play the last hour until the cafe closes.
 

"You know, we're still free all of next week," she says. "You should do it."
 

I shake my head and smile. "I don't know what you're talking about."
 

"Holly, it's a Friday night. Look around. There are ten people in here. What do you think it'll be like if you try it out on a Wednesday?"
 

"Terrifying."
 

Natalie sighs as the strum of the acoustic guitar fills the small cafe. "You're making a mistake."
 

"Maybe," I say with a shrug. "But it's my mistake to make."
 

"If you say so. Look, all I'm trying to tell you is that I know plenty about taking a chance and doing something you don't think that you can," she says. "My entire hockey career is pretty much defined by exactly that. Sometimes it's better to do something even if you don't think you're ready for it. Most of the time, you just don't realize that you are."
 

She walks into the back before I can respond, leaving me alone out front. I lean up against the counter while we don't have any customers and watch the band.
 

They aren't very good. The guitar needs a solid tuning and the lead singer isn't quite in the same key as everybody else, but they look like there's nowhere else they want to be, and there's potential there.
 

If they can get up there and do it....
 

Well, maybe Natalie's right.
 

Maybe I ought to give it a shot after all.
 

And if I stink, who's going to know, anyway? The handful of customers at Gemma's? So what?
 

I lock eyes with the lead singer and he looks so happy up there on stage, belting out his music, his lyrics, his chords, that I suddenly know what I have to do.
 

I walk into the back to find Natalie, who's sitting in front of the computer at the small desk opposite the walk-in freezer.
 

"I'll do it."
 

She glances up at me and smiles. "Good," she says. "Because you're working Tuesday and it's open mic night and I already put you down for it."
 

"How'd you know I'd decide to do it?"
 

She shrugs. "Music seems like something that you love," she says simply. "And when you love something, it's pretty hard to stay away."
 

CHAPTER NINE

   I'm bleary-eyed and rubbing sleep out of the corner of my eyes when I stumble into the hallway the next morning. I'm still tired from my late night up thinking about music and baseball and Dad and Doan, though I have no idea what to make of any of it.
 

  
I push all the thoughts out of my head as my body screams for a hot shower. I'm just about to walk into the bathroom when the door opens and I collide with the bare chest of none other than the one person I'm trying to force out of my mind.

    But suddenly, I'm not nearly so out of it.

    I take a step back -- though it's not nearly as fast as it should be -- and glance up at him. He's looking back down at me with a smile and raised eyebrows.

    "Well good morning to you, Holly," he says, the cocky arrogance back in his voice. "I didn't know we'd made so much progress in our relationship that we were at this stage already, but don't think I'm complaining."

    "What are you
doing
here?" I pull the towel as tightly around my body as I can.

    He shakes his head. "Your brother and I went and grabbed some drinks at the bar down the street. I stay over from time to time when Justin and I have too many brews. Ron doesn't want me driving."

    "Can't imagine why," I mutter. "You're a menace."

   He grins, his teeth still impossibly white, his face still infuriatingly cute.

    "Oh, come on, I thought we got past all that already," he says as though I'm wounding him with my words.

    "Yeah, right."

    "Holls, you're killin' me."

    "Can I get in the bathroom please?" I ask. I'm not sure why I'm out here trying to pick a fight with him, but something in me isn't in the mood to deal with him this early in the morning.

    "Oh, by all means," he replies. "Don't let me hold you up." He slips past me and walks down the hall.

    I'm glaring at his retreating back as he pushes open the door to the guest bedroom.

    "By the way," he says, sticking his head out into the hall and smirking. "You wear that towel well, Holls. Real well. Could give a guy some ideas in that thing."

    My mouth drops open, heart beating faster, cheeks burning red almost instantly. He's looking me up and down, and my palms are prickling with sweat under his stare.

   What a complete and utter tool.

   Justin's bedroom door creaks open. "Holly, what are you doing standing out here? I thought I heard your voice."

   "Yeah, you did," I snap. "I ran into that asshole friend of yours."

    His forehead creases. "Doan? He's a good dude."

    "Yeah, right."

   "I thought you were going to give him a chance."

    "Fat chance. Too bad he can't keep the jerk hidden for longer than a couple of hours."

    Justin looks at me and shakes his head. "You're blind sometimes, you know that, Holly?"

    I open my mouth to respond but my brother's already back in his room with his door shut.

    "I am not," I say even though there's no one here to listen.

    And it's true.

    I can see Doan Riley -- and who he is -- with perfect vision.

    And I know that he isn't someone I want in my life.

CHAPTER TEN

I park my green Honda in front of Gemma's on Tuesday night, close my eyes and take a deep breath. My guitar and song notebook rest on the backseat, and when I catch sight of them in the rearview mirror, the knot in my stomach tightens. This is really happening.
 

My first gig.
 

My first performance in front of someone that isn't my mother. But no, this isn't nerve-wracking at all.

I've always loved music and singing and my guitar, but I've never loved sharing it with others, and I don't know why that is.
 

But I have a feeling I might be about to find out.
 

I hop out of the car and pull my things out of the backseat before I walk into Gemma's. Natalie already stands behind the counter and she grins when she sees me come in.
 

"Hey there, songbird," she says. "You ready for tonight?"
 

There are only two people in the cafe right now with just half an hour left until the open mic night starts, and I hope it doesn't get much more crowded than this. I can deal with it like it is now.

I let out a deep breath. "I'm closer to chickening out than I am to ready," I admit. "But don't worry, I'm not gonna bail on you. I even brought my guitar."
 

Natalie smiles. "Good. Stick it in the back and then you can stock all the paper goods. Might as well make yourself useful until you play, right?"
 

"I'm still on the clock," I say with a grin as I push through the employees only door and drop my guitar and notebook down next to the computer desk. I grab an apron and head back to the front of the cafe armed with napkins and straws and sugar packets.

"So," Natalie says when I come back out. "How's hanging out with Natasha going?"

I smirk. "I've made friends. I don't need Natasha."
 

She smiles and nods. "Good choice."
 

As I'm pulling the napkins out from under the cabinet, an acne-ridden guy with long black hair walks up to the counter. He's dressed in dark pants and a neon hot pink T-shirt. He's carrying a worn guitar case and has a spiral school notebook tucked under his left arm.

"I, um, I think I'm supposed to perform here tonight," he says to me in a deep baritone that sounds misplaced coming out of someone who looks the way he does.

I glance over at Natalie's list of people signed up to play. "Adam?"
 

He nods, wipes his right palm off on the thigh of his pants and extends his hand to me.
 

I shake it with a smile. "Holly," I tell him. "Looks like you're set to go first. You can go up on the stage and get everything ready if you want."
 

"Sweet. Thanks. You playing tonight?" he asks.
 

My eyes widen. "Me?"
 

Adam gives me a strange look. "Yeah, you."
 

I shrug. "Maybe. I'm thinking about it." I take in a deep breath. "Yeah, I'm gonna play."
 

He grins. "Your first time, huh?"
 

I nod. "That obvious?"
 

"Yep," he says. "But who cares? I think it's great you're finally gonna do it. Good luck."
 

He turns and walks away with a newfound bounce in his step that I hadn't noticed when he first came in. I watch him as he carefully sets his guitar case down on the stage. Two other guys join him a minute later, and their excitement is palpable as they talk animatedly with each other, hands waving, smiles widening, eyes brightening.

Exactly the way it should be when you're about to do something you love.
 

I feel a pang of something -- I'm not sure what -- flutter through me as I take in their preparations.
 

I can do all of this. I know I can. So I'm not sure why it's so hard for me to accept that maybe this is the right move. I'm not even really sure what's trying to hold me back at this point and I suddenly have the overwhelming urge to run up onto the stage, grab the acoustic guitar out of Adam's hands and belt out my favorite song to the handful of people in attendance.
 

I take a deep breath. It's better than I felt about this five minutes ago, at least. I just hope it doesn't fade by the time it's my turn to perform.
 

I just wish I knew why this is so hard. But it's a question I know I can't answer, and instead of trying to figure it out, I turn my attention back to filling the straw dispensers.
 

BOOK: Cinderella Steals Home
3.07Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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