Home > The Heartbreaker of Echo Pass(8)

The Heartbreaker of Echo Pass(8)
Author: Maisey Yates

   Great. Not only was the teenager the only other single one, he also seemed to be the only one on her side.

   That made Iris feel a little bit less confident in her plans.

   “I appreciate the concern,” she said. “But I’m a grown woman. I’m older than you,” she said to her sisters. “And about the same age as you.” She directed that to Ryder and Sammy. “I don’t need to be taken care of or coddled.”

   “It’s just... Where does he live again?” Ryder asked.

   “Off-grid. Up Echo Pass. Yes. I know. But... I don’t know what his deal is. But clearly he needs someone to do things for him.”

   “That seems stupid,” Ryder said.

   That earned him a baleful look from his wife. “Because you’re notorious for making your own dinner after a long day out on the range?” Sammy asked, sweetly.

   Iris looked across the table. At all the food that she had made. “I’ve been taking care of all of you, for a long time. And now I’m taking care of myself. So, some support and a little bit less questioning would go a long way.”

   “I support you,” Rose said.

   It did not surprise her that it was her youngest sister that immediately jumped on board. In part because as seemingly sketchy life choices went, Rose was leading the charge in their family. Her secret relationship with Logan had been a shock to everyone else, and it was easy for all of them to underestimate Rose, given her age. But she had proven that she was tough, and that she and Logan were definitely something other than logical. They were meant to be. And everyone would have told them not to do it. And they would’ve been wrong. Just like they were wrong about this situation. About her.

   “I’ll bring bear spray,” she said.

   That earned her an incredulous laugh from West.

   “Right, now you’re talking, Caldwell,” she said. “Which means it’s officially open season on you.”

   “I’m sorry,” he said. “The image of you taking down a man with bear spray is funny.”

   Because they didn’t think she was tough. That was why. She hadn’t anticipated this whole thing being quite so annoying. She knew that her family had good intentions, but she didn’t need to be saved from herself.

   “I have cake,” she said, getting up from the table and stalking into the kitchen.

   She heard a chair scrape across the floor, and she expected to see Sammy following after her. But it was Ryder.

   “I’m sorry,” he said. “Let me help you with the cake.”

   “I don’t need help with the cake that I already made.”

   “I just worry about you,” he said.

   “Stop,” she said. “Stop worrying about me.”

   “It’s not that simple, Iris, you know that. You’re my partner in crime. If it wasn’t for you, I don’t know what would’ve happened to this family. There were things I had to do to take care of all the kids. But I was mostly the legal fulfillment. You were the heart of us. You made sure that Pansy and Rose looked nice when they went to school. You learned how to mend things, and make clothes and make sure that we ate well.”

   “Your wife deserves credit for that too. When she came to live with us...”

   “Yes, Sammy helped. But you had already set the tone. You made sure that our house was still a home. Even after we lost our parents. I want you to be happy. I really do. And I’m supportive of you, I promise. But sometimes I worry that you missed out on a lot of the real world because you were here.”

   “I did,” she said. “And that’s what I’m trying to fix.”

   “I’m just worried that it’s made you a little bit naive.”

   “Naive? And then you think I don’t know that a random man living on the top of the mountain could be a pervert or a serial killer? I do. I have, like, three streaming services and I watch a lot of crime dramas. I have seen things.”

   “You know what, it’s not even that,” he said. “What if he’s after something else?”

   Iris blinked, then stared at her brother in disbelief. “Are you... Are you warning me that the man might be after my... My virtue?”

   “Oh hell,” Ryder said. “I didn’t say that.”

   “You did, though. That is basically what you’re saying.”

   She wanted to laugh except she was so angry. After everything...she couldn’t even fantasize that a man like...well, that one would be at all interested in her in that way.

   “I’m not. I’m really not. I just... He might expect something.”

   “Ryder,” she said. “I know that you’re my brother, but come on. The man is no more likely to want to take advantage of me than he would a small brown vole that came to his door. And you know it.”

   “You’re not a vole,” Ryder said. “You’re a woman and...”

   “And I’ll bring bear spray,” she said, feeling angry now. Honestly, it was like he was making fun of her. How could he possibly think that... He couldn’t. He was basically just giving her a talk to give it. Being outrageous and over the top because he could be. “But I guarantee you that the prospect of a home-cooked meal is about the only thing that makes me appealing to him.”

   “Just be safe,” Ryder said.

   “Do not lecture me about safe sex,” she said. “First of all, I’m way too old. Second of all, you don’t practice it yourself.”

   “Iris,” Ryder said, sounding like he wished he were dead.

   “Don’t lecture me,” she said. “Don’t scold me. Just support me.”

   “Make sure you have cell signal up there,” he said.

   “I don’t think I do.”

   “Fine, then put a CB radio in your vehicle and figure out a way to call Pansy if you need it.”

   “Ryder, I promise you that I will be safe. But you have to let me go. You’re right, I was the one who came alongside you and did this. Who helped you with the other kids. I was never one of them. Not in the same way. But we were a team. And we aren’t now. We can’t be. Not in the same way. I’m so... I’m so happy for you. For you and Sammy, and I love Astrid. Dearly. But I still don’t have a life, Ryder. And that’s not fair.”

   He looked at her, hard. “I’m sorry,” he said. “I mean, really sorry. I didn’t think of it. Not that way. I’m proud of you,” he said. “For making it happen.”

   “Thank you,” she said.

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