Fifth Wednesday. Can you believe this is the LAST day of August? I’m struggling with how quick the year is flying by.
Chapter 4 of the yet-to-be-named story is below. If you’ve missed any of the previous chapters you can find them here: Chapter 1, Chapter 2, Chapter 3. I’m still taking suggestions for a title. 🙂 If I fall in love with your suggestion, you will receive a free e-copy once it’s published.
Todd drove into the worst apartment complex in their town, dreading the necessity of leaving Ellie on one of the doorsteps. Even if she had lived in this dump for several years, he couldn’t imagine her living here for one more night. He’d have to get the workshop cleaned out as fast as possible. As soon as he got home, he’d start. Kaitlyn could help some. She was excited to have Miss Ellie living so close. “Where to?”
Ellie hesitated. “You can just let me off here. I’ll walk.”
“Not a chance. Where to?”
She sighed and lowered her head. “All the way to the back.”
“In the oldest ones?”
She nodded. “They’re cheaper. It’s all I could afford.”
Even in the cool weather and with darkness surrounding them, children played in the only open space available — the parking lot — which forced him to go slow through the area. He withheld the snort of displeasure as he pulled into a space in front of the building Ellie indicated. The structure leaned precariously to one side. At least the lighting was good. “When is your lease up?”
Another sigh let him know she really didn’t want him to ask questions about her living conditions. “I don’t have a lease. These apartments are rented month to month.” She chuckled, but it didn’t sound joyful. “I think they’re afraid the whole thing will collapse at some point. If none of us have lease agreements, then they’re not required to provide us alternate housing.”
“That’s wrong, but works in our favor. I’m going to work hard on the workshop tonight, and I’ll take off tomorrow to make sure it’s clean enough for you to live in. You’re not coming back here. You’re accommodations at my house may be primitive for a few days, but it’s at least safe. I hate the thought of leaving you here even for one night.”
“I’ll be fine. I know it looks bad, but it’s better than living on the street, especially when it’s cold.”
Todd swallowed. “You lived on the street?”
She nodded. “That’s a story for another time.” She twisted to face Kaitlyn in the back seat. “Thank you for the ride. Have fun with your daddy tonight, and don’t let him work too hard. Okay?”
“Yes, ma’am.” Kaitlyn bit her lip. “Miss Ellie, do you live here?”
“It’s scary. That building’s bleeding.” She pointed out the windshield.
Todd glanced at the building and tried to see it through the eyes of a five year old. The original color must have once been red, but only small streaks remained, making it look as though blood ran down the sides. The eerie lighting enhanced the effect.
Ellie had also turned to gaze at the structure. She chuckled. “It certainly looks that way, doesn’t it? But you know it’s not blood. Buildings don’t bleed. It’s just the leftover paint that the wind and rain haven’t washed away.”
Todd glanced in the rear view mirror in time to see his daughter nod.
“I don’t like it.”
“Me, either, sweetness,” Todd said. “That’s why when we get home, we’re going to work hard on cleaning out the workshop so Miss Ellie can move in tomorrow. Will you help me?”
She nodded, tugging Harold closer.
Todd got out and went around to assist Ellie, but she’d already stepped from the car by the time he’d walked to her side. She glanced warily around the parking lot. Dread filled her face as her gaze connected with something behind him. He turned to look.
A young man, dressed in baggy jeans and a tight, white sleeveless t-shirt strutted from the open foyer of the building Ellie said she lived in. “Hey, girlfriend. Are you steppin’ out on me?”
Ellie stiffened next to him. “Can’t step out on someone who’s not a part of my life, Demarco.”
“Aww, don’t be like that, girl. You know we have chemistry.”
“Yep, like oil and water. We don’t mix.”
“Ouch. Well, now. I guess I’ll have to work a little harder to change that, won’t I?”
“I don’t think the lady wants your attention.”
Demarco turned a heated look toward Todd. “Stay out of it, man. She ain’t your concern.”
Todd straightened, making a hasty decision. “Forgive me,” he whispered in Ellie’s direction as he put his arm around her. “I believe my fiancée is most definitely my concern.”
Ellie managed to cover her gasp with a fake sneeze.
Demarco’s eyes narrowed. “Since when?”
“She agreed just this afternoon to move to my place,” Todd said, using just enough truth to hide the whole truth.
“Naw, man. Girlfriend don’t go for that.”
Ellie snorted and played along. “Do you blame me for trying to get away from this dump?”
The other man sobered, looking between the two of them. “How come I haven’t seen you here before?”
Todd shrugged, unwilling to take the lie much further. He kissed Ellie on the top of her head. “I’ll see you tomorrow.” Leaning farther down, he whispered, “Do you want me to walk you to your apartment?”
She pretended to kiss his cheek, but whispered close to his ear. “No. Demarco is harmless. He’s been flirting with me since his on-again-off-again girlfriend kicked him out the first time.” She stepped back. “See you tomorrow.” She even dared to wink at him.
A grin covered his face as he watched her saunter past Demarco without giving the other man a second glance. Once her door closed, evidenced by the sound echoing down the rickety staircase,
Todd got back in his car and drove away, wishing he had the right to walk up the stairs and make her pack her things immediately.
His possessive attitude unsettled him. He’d never felt so protective of a woman, even Marissa.
He’d return in the morning and encourage her to leave with him. Permanently. He didn’t like the leer on Demarco’s face when she’d walked past him. She may think him harmless, but Todd knew better. The man had plans, whether she liked them or not. He prayed the man didn’t try to execute them right away.
Kaitlyn was unusually quiet as they drove.
He glanced into the rear view mirror. She held Harold tight and stared out the window.
“You okay, sweetness?”
“I didn’t want to leave Miss Ellie there. When can she come live with us?”
“Soon. We have to get the workshop cleaned first. Remember, I asked you to help me?”
She nodded and went back to snuggling Harold.
Ellie leaned against her locked apartment door.
Todd had called her his fiancée. And kissed her, even if it was only on her head. Why?
Demarco had come across a bit pushy tonight. More so than usual. But still. Fiancée?
They’d known each other less than twelve hours.
She rubbed her forehead and strode into the kitchen for a cup of chamomile tea. Sleep would be slow in coming after all that had happened, and she’d need help to get enough rest for the next day.
How would she learn to cook, clean, and care for a five year old? And hadn’t Todd said something about taking off work to get the workshop cleaned?
And what about the tingle she experienced when he touched her? Maybe she didn’t feel any chemistry with Demarco—thank God—but the jump in her heart rate when Todd had wrapped his arm around her and whispered in her ear definitely counted. She’d never been so drawn to a member of the male species in her life—as long as you didn’t count the cute animals at the zoo or the puppy one of her friends had been given when they were children.
Shew! Even thinking about Todd made her warm. Could she do this job with him mere feet from her every day?
She snorted. As if she had a choice. The zoo had cut her hours to almost non-existent. Her car was dead, probably for good. And her rent was past due by two months, going on three. Working for Todd and living in his workshop were her only viable options without depending on the government again. She’d applied for other jobs since the zoo first cut her hours, but nothing came up. Everywhere she looked, someone else had been hired first, or she needed more experience or schooling.
And living in Todd’s workshop could have other benefits. Maybe she wouldn’t spend Thanksgiving and Christmas alone this year. Oh, no. What if Todd wanted her to prepare a Thanksgiving meal. Two weeks wouldn’t give her enough time to learn to fix a normal meal, much less something elaborate.
She rubbed her forehead again. Time for some pain reliever and a hot shower. A bath would be nice but wasn’t an option in the rust-stained contraption in her bathroom. As it stood, she wore flip-flops so her feet didn’t touch the bottom of the tub. Moving out of here would not be a hardship, even if her future accommodations were simple. Simple was better than disgusting.
After her shower, she made herself a cup of tea and settled into her bed to read a book. Carol Moncado’s latest royal romance would keep her up far longer than she wanted, but she couldn’t resist. She’d started it the day before and read some before church this morning while eating her cereal. Her afternoon plans had been to come home and curl up with the story and a glass of tea and enjoy the afternoon reading about someone else’s life, even if they weren’t real people.
Come to think of it, her life read like a story, too—a tragic comedy. At least that’s the way it looked from her point of view. Of course, her perception was probably skewed, and she admitted that she had it better than other people.
She lost herself in the world of princes and princesses whose problems never revolved around having enough to eat or a proper place to sleep. An hour later, she glanced up and blinked. The tea finally did its job. Time to get some sleep.
Because Carol Moncado is a REAL LIFE author (and my friend), I’m going to take a moment to plug her books. They are great, and a lot of them are royal romances. So, if you’re interested, check them out her author page (which lists all her books) at Amazon.