Home > All Rhodes Lead Here(3)

All Rhodes Lead Here(3)
Author: Mariana Zapata

“Hello?” I called out, finger on the pepper spray trigger.

The only response I got was the sound of feet on the stairs, these loud clunks that sounded heavy.

“Hello?” I called out a little louder that time, straining to hear the steps continuing up the stairs and making me clench the pepper spray in my hand just a little tighter.

In the time it took me to hold my breath—because that was going to help me hear better—I caught sight of hair and then a face a split second before the person must have taken the last two or three steps in a leap because they were there.

Not a they. A he. A man.

The owner?

God, I hoped so.

He had on a khaki-colored, button-down shirt tucked into dark pants that could have been blue, black, or something else, but I couldn’t tell because of the lighting.

I squinted and laced my hands behind my back to hide the pepper spray just in case.

There was a gun at his hip!

I threw my hands up and squealed, “Holy shit, take whatever you want, just don’t hurt me!”

The stranger’s head jerked before a raspy-rough voice spit out, “What?”

I held them up even higher, shoulders around my ears, and gestured to my purse on the table with my chin. “My purse is right there. Take it. The keys are in there.” I had insurance. I had copies of my ID on my phone, which was in my back pocket. I could order another debit card, report my credit card as stolen. I couldn’t care less about the cash in there. None of it was worth my life. None. Of. It.

The man’s head jerked again though. “What in the hell are you talking about? I’m not trying to rob you. What are you doing in my house?” The man shot out each word like they were missiles.

Hold on a second.

I blinked and still kept my hands where they were. What was going on? “Are you Tobias Rhodes?” I knew for a fact that was the name of the person I’d made my reservation with. There had been a picture, but I hadn’t bothered zooming in on it.

“Why?” the stranger asked.

“Uh, because I rented this garage apartment? My check-in was today.”

“Check-in?” the man repeated, his voice low. I was pretty positive he was scowling, but he was under a gap in lighting and shadows covered his features. “Does this look like a hotel to you?”

Ooh, attitude.

Just as I opened my mouth to tell him that, no, this didn’t look like a hotel but I’d still made a legal reservation and paid upfront for the stay, a loud creak came from downstairs a split second before another voice, a lighter, younger one, shouted, “Dad! Wait!”

I focused on the man as he turned his attention down the stairs, his upper body seeming to expand in a protective—or maybe defensive—gesture.

Taking advantage of his change in focus, I realized he was a big man. Tall and broad. And there were patches on his shirt. Law enforcement patches?

My heart started beating loud in my ears as my gaze focused back on the gun holstered at his hip, and my voice sounded oddly loud as I stuttered, “I… I can show you my booking confirmation….”

What was going on? Had I gotten scammed?

My words had his attention swinging back toward me right at the same moment that another figure appeared with a wild jump to the landing. This one was a lot shorter and thinner, but that was about all I could tell. The man’s son? Daughter?

The big man didn’t even glance at the new arrival as he said, anger definitely seeping from his pronunciation, from his entire body language really, “Breaking and entering is a felony.”

“Breaking and entering?” I croaked, confused, my poor heart still beating wildly. What was going on? What the fuck was happening? “I used the key someone gave me a code to get.” How did he not know this? Who was this? Had I really gotten scammed?

Out of the corner of my eye, because I was so focused on the bigger man, the smaller figure I’d barely paid attention to muttered something under their breath before basically hissing, “Dad,” again quietly.

And that had the man turning his head down toward the figure that was his son or daughter. “Amos,” the man grumbled in what sounded an awful lot like a warning. Fury there, active and waiting.

I had a terrible feeling.

“I gotta talk to you,” the figure said in almost a whisper-hiss before turning to me. The smaller person froze for a second and then blinked before seeming to snap out of it and saying in a voice that was so quiet I had to strain to hear it, “Hi, Ms. De La Torre, umm, sorry about the mix-up. One sec, uh, please.”

Who the hell was this now?

How did they know my name? And this was a mix-up?

That was good… wasn’t it?

My optimism only lasted about a second, because in the dim lights of the studio apartment, the man started to shake his head slowly. Then his words made my stomach drop even further as he muttered, sounding deadly, “I swear, Amos, this better not be what I think it is.”

That didn’t sound promising.

“Did you post the apartment for rent after I literally told you not to the fifty times you brought it up?” the man asked in this crazy still voice that hadn’t gone up at all in volume, but it didn’t matter because somehow it sounded even worse than if he had yelled. Even I wanted to flinch, and he wasn’t even talking to me.

What the hell did he just say though?

“Dad.” The younger person moved under the ceiling fan, light striking him, confirming he was a boy—a teenage boy somewhere more than likely between twelve and sixteen based on the sound of his voice. Unlike the broad man who was apparently his father, his face was lean and angular, and long, thin arms were hidden mostly by a T-shirt two sizes too big.

I got a bad, bad feeling.

The reminder that there hadn’t been anywhere else to stay within two hundred miles popped up front and center in my brain.

I didn’t want to stay in a hotel. I was over those for the rest of my life. The idea of staying in one made me feel sick.

And renting a room in someone’s house was a hard no after that last time.

“I paid already. The payment went through,” I pretty much shouted, panicking suddenly. This was where I wanted to be. I was here and tired of driving, and suddenly the urge to settle down somewhere filled just about every cell in my body insistently.

I wanted to start over. I wanted to build something new. And I wanted to do it here in Pagosa.

The man looked at me. I was pretty sure his head reared back as well before he focused again on the teenage boy, hand flying through the air once more. This sense of anger exploded across the room like a grenade.

Apparently, I was invisible and my payment meant nothing.

“Is this a joke, Am? I told you no. Not once or twice but every time you brought it up,” the man spat, straight-up furious. “We’re not going to have some stranger living in our house. Are you shitting me, man?” He was still talking in that inside-voice way, but every word seemed like a quiet bark somehow, tough and serious.

“It’s not technically the house,” the kid, Amos, whispered before glancing at me over his shoulder. He waved, his hand shaking as he did.

At me.

I didn’t know what to do, so I waved back. Confused, so confused, and worried now.

That didn’t help the pissed-off man. Like at all. “The garage is still part of the house! Don’t play that technicality game with me,” he growled, making a dismissive gesture with his hand.

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