Home > When in Rome(6)

When in Rome(6)
Author: Sarah Adams

   His face doesn’t change a bit, but something in his fierce eyes sparkles. I think he wants to smile but won’t let himself. Sometimes people decide not to like me for the most arbitrary reasons. Sometimes it’s just because I’m famous, and successful people make them uncomfortable. Sometimes it’s because I voted differently than them. And sometimes it’s because I frowned outside their favorite yogurt shop and now they want to cancel me forever because they think I’m against yogurt. I can’t help but wonder if I’ve found one of those very people. Usually my very elaborate security detail is around to protect me, but there’s no one standing between me and Noah right now, and I can’t say I hate it. A thrill zaps its way through my veins.

   Noah shakes his head lightly and looks down to pick up my bag again. He’s done with this conversation.

   “Follow me,” he says.

   Two words. A command. No one commands me anymore—oh, they still tell me what to do, but they phrase it so that it sounds like it’s my idea. Rae, you must be exhausted. The guest room is right down that hallway, perhaps it would be nice to go on to bed now and get some rest?

   Noah Walker is too confident for manipulation. Follow me.

   He takes my bag with him down a hallway off the foyer and disappears into a bedroom. I want to wander around a little, but most of the house is dark, and it seems like invading someone’s home and flipping on lights, opening some cupboards and digging around might be a weird thing to do. So I settle for walking down the hallway after Noah just as he instructed. Follow me.

   I stop when I get to two rooms opposite each other in the hallway. One door is shut, and one is not. In the open room, I find my bag sitting on the floor, and Noah parachuting a fresh white sheet onto a queen-size bed.

   I watch him in the doorway for a minute feeling very dreamlike. I ran away from my life of fame today, and now I’m standing in a strange man’s house watching him make up a bed for me even though he dislikes me. His actions are as much a paradox as that butter soft sheet is to his scruffy jawline. Susan would undoubtedly at this moment tell me to get out of this house immediately and go somewhere safer.

   “Noah,” I say, leaning my shoulder against the doorframe. “How do you feel about yogurt?”

   He pauses and sends a look over his shoulder at me. “Yogurt?”

   “Mm-hmm. Do you like it?”

   He turns his attention back to the sheets. “Why? Are you going to offer to throw in a tub of yogurt with the tickets and poster and money if I say yes?”

   Aha! There is humor under that annoyance. I thought so.

   “Maybe.” I smile even though he’s not looking at me.

   “Well, don’t. I don’t want yogurt or the other stuff.”

   I take a big fat Sharpie and mark off Angry because of yogurt shop picture.

   Noah spreads a well-loved patchwork quilt onto the bed. It looks like it’s been passed down through several generations of loving family members. My heart tugs and twists to get away from the feelings the sight of that quilt evokes in me. I wonder if my mom even read my text message earlier.

   “Can I help?” I ask, taking a daring step into the same cage as the bear.

   He glances over his shoulder again and when his eyes land on me, his frown deepens. He turns back toward the bed and begins tucking the top sheet under the mattress. I don’t tell him I’ll immediately untuck it before I get in. “Nope.”

   I was reaching for a corner of the quilt, but when his single-syllable answer barks at me, I raise my hands and take a step away. “Okay.”

   Noah’s eyes bounce to my lifted hands and for a fraction of a second, I see him soften. “Thank you. But no.” And then we fall into silence again.

   I’ve done hundreds of press events over the past ten years, interacted with thousands and thousands of fans during meet and greets. Was live on Jimmy Fallon just last month where I sang an ad-libbed song in front of a studio audience without a moment’s hesitation. And yet, standing in front of Noah Walker, I’m not at all sure what to say. But I don’t feel like being polite. Or gracious. That thrill pulses harder.

   I hover somewhere between the door and the bed so I don’t get in his way, watching as he silently retrieves a pillow and slides a pillowcase onto it. This is all so normal, and domestic, and it feels wildly out of place to be sharing it with a stranger who doesn’t like me.

   I glance around the room and then over my shoulder and register the closed door across the hall. Suddenly, a thought strikes me. Is Noah married? Maybe that’s why he’s being so prickly and standoffish? He doesn’t want me to get any funny ideas. He’s seen a movie, or the covers of tabloids, and assumes all of us famous types are amorous home-wreckers.

   I clear my throat, trying to find the right segue to let him know I won’t be trying to jump his bones tonight. “So, uh—Noah. Do you have a…special someone?”

   His eyes dart in my direction and now he looks considerably agitated. “Is that your way of asking me out?”

   I do a hypothetical spit take. “What? No! I just…” I have zero amounts of Normal left inside me to give tonight. I was trying to put him at ease, and somehow, I’ve managed to make it worse as well as apparent that I don’t know what to do with my hands. I wave them back and forth like a T. rex trying to land a plane. “No. I just wanted to make sure before I spend the night here that I’m not…stepping on anyone’s toes.” I grimace. It’s getting worse. “Gahhh, I don’t mean stepping on their toes because I’m spending the night with you. I know I’m going to be sleeping in here alone. I’m not really into one-night stands anyways because they’re always so awkward…”

   Oh nooooo. I’m saying too much. I officially entered sex into a conversation for the second time tonight with a stranger who doesn’t like me. I’m absolutely floundering, and I never flounder.

   Noah sets the freshly cased pillow onto the bed and finally turns to face me. Wordlessly, he walks closer. I have to tip my chin up, up, up to see him. He’s not smiling, but he’s not frowning, either. He’s the Unreadable Man. “I am single, but I’m also not on the market.”

   He continues to stand there as my face turns hot as lava and melts right off my cheekbones. That was the softest, most polite letdown I’ve ever received in my entire life, and I wasn’t even asking him out.

   Thank goodness none of this matters. I’ll leave tomorrow morning, find the B and B, and Wilderness Ken will never have to be annoyed with me again.

   But then why is he still standing in front of me like this? Why do I feel an instant connection to him? There’s something inside me, tugging me closer to him, begging me to raise my hand to his chest and run my hand over his soft cotton tee. He’s not moving. I’m not moving.

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