Home > Wallflower (Redemption #5)(2)

Wallflower (Redemption #5)(2)
Author: Jessica Prince

“No. I mean yes!” I gave my head a shake in the hopes of clearing my jumbled thoughts. “Yes to the car, that is. I was just saying that I don’t expect you to give me a ride, is all.”

Oh God. I couldn’t have possibly screwed this up any worse if I were actively trying to. Why the hell couldn’t I just be normal?

It was times like this that I wished I could be more like my older sisters. Crissy and Elaina had always been so . . . normal. They never struggled with the things I did. My sisters were outgoing and social. They had tons of friends all through school. They’d actually thrived on being the center of attention.

They always knew what to say or how to act. Meanwhile, I tended to turn into a bumbling idiot in any type of social setting. It had been easier for me if people didn’t even realize I was in the room. I’d gotten really good at blending into the wallpaper, only now, standing here with Stone, I would have given anything for just a smidge of their confidence.

He arched a single eyebrow, managing to look bored and curious all at the same time. It was a look I’d never have been able to pull off, even if I wasn’t a shy, awkward wallflower. “You got another ride into work already?”

“Uh . . .” My gaze darted around, like an alternative would suddenly appear out of thin air. “Well, no.”

“Didn’t think so. Hop in the truck, Willow. And don’t worry, I’m not gonna bite.”

I wasn’t worried about him biting. I actually got a little tingly at the thought of him doing just that. What I was really worried about was making an even bigger fool of myself in front of him, something I seemed to excel at.

Instead of attempting seduction and teasing that there was nothing wrong with a little harmless biting, I silently made my way to the tow truck and climbed inside while he went about hooking my car to the back.

The inside of the cab smelled like a forest. Inhaling deeply, I pulled the scent of cedar and musk with a small underlying note of motor oil into my lungs. It might not have seemed like the most appealing combination, but to me, it was euphoric. It was distinctly Stone, and I couldn’t get enough.

My anxiety spiked when Stone’s door opened a few minutes later and he climbed behind the wheel. Just like that, the cab felt like it had shrunk. He was so damn big, it felt like he took up all available space. Even the air felt like it was thinner, but that was probably due more to me not remembering how to breathe than anything else.

His long, tattooed fingers wrapped around the gearshift, but instead of shifting out of park, he looked at me, his brow furrowed. “You okay over there?”

“Yeah, of course,” I chirped with way too much enthusiasm. “Why do you ask?”

“’Cause it kind of sounds like you’re hyperventilating.”

Oh God. I was starting to sweat behind my knees. Who knew a person could sweat behind their knees? So gross! “Nope. All good here.” My giggle was awkward and uncomfortable and ended on an unfortunate snort. “I’m just a little hot.” I lifted a hand and began fanning my face. “Is it hot in here to you?”

He gave me a look like he wasn’t sure what to think of me before reaching over and cranking up the air conditioner.

Thankfully, my phone chose that moment to ring, giving me an excuse to divert my attention from the man currently taking up all the oxygen.

I gave Stone an apologetic smiley grimace and reached into my purse for my cell, seeing my sister Crissy’s name on the screen.

I answered quickly. “Hey. Thanks for calling me back.”

“Sure thing. So what’s up?”

“My car kind of broke down this morning,” I started to explain, but before I could get much further, she cut me off.

“I’ve been telling you forever now that you need to get a new car, sis. That thing’s a piece of crap.”

I stomped down my frustration at her words. She might have been on me for a while now to get a new car, but she seemed to forget that I didn’t have the funds for something like that, considering what money I had left after paying my bills usually went toward taking care of our father.

“That’s beside the point. Is there any way you could pick me up from work on your way to Dad’s this evening?”

“No can do, babe. That’s actually why I called you back.” My stomach sank like a rock. “I totally forgot there’s a parent/teacher conference at school this evening, so I need you to handle Dad tonight. Sorry.”

Twisting toward the passenger side window, I leaned down and lowered my voice, like that would give me any kind of privacy in the small cab. “Crissy, come on. That’s three weeks in a row you’ve bailed and I’ve had to step in for you.” And that wasn’t even counting the times I’d had to take over for my oldest sister, Elaina, because she was always too busy.

Crissy huffed through the line. “It’s not even that big a deal. All you’re doing is making him dinner and keeping him company for a bit. It’s not like you have a life or anything. Elaina and I have husbands and kids. We can’t just drop everything at a moment’s notice.”

“It’s not a moment’s notice,” I continued to argue quietly. “We worked this schedule out weeks ago. And maybe I’d actually have time for a life if you guys weren’t bailing all the damn time.”

Crissy let out a snort that made my blood boil. “Come on, Will. You know as well as I do that all you plan to do tonight is sit at home in front of the TV.” I pushed down the pain my sister’s words tried forcing to the surface. It was bad enough I knew I was lame but hearing it from Crissy’s mouth felt like a million papercuts across my heart. “Why are you giving me such a hard time?”

“Because he needs all of us,” I hissed angrily. Our father’s illness had been a big blow to us all, but while I’d faced the reality of it, my sisters continued to bury their heads in the sand and act like nothing had changed. At least that was what I hoped, because the alternative meant they just didn’t care. Sure, they could be cruel assholes, but they weren’t completely heartless.

Silence carried through the line for several seconds before Crissy finally breathed out heavily. “You’re right; I’m sorry. I’ve dropped the ball. I know that, and I’ll do better. Can you please just help me out this one last time?”

I was a sucker for sisterly guilt. I knew that. I told myself over and over I was going to stop falling for it, only to succumb the next time they pulled it from their arsenal.

“Fine,” I relented with a defeated sigh. “But you have to promise to do better.”

“I promise,” she said quickly. “Cross my heart. You’re the best, babe. Thanks!” With that, she hung up.

Of course.

She’d gotten what she wanted, so there was no point in dealing with tedious things such as saying goodbye or love you.

“Love you too,” I grumbled, staring down at the screen that had already gone black.

 

 

Chapter Two

 

 

Willow

 

 

“Everything square?”

I’d gotten so wrapped up in my conversation with Crissy that I’d temporarily forgotten where I was and who I was with until Stone’s gruff voice gave me a jolt and yanked me back into the present.

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