Rival Page 11

The same flare to his nostrils as last night was there, but his gaze was flat. I clenched my teeth to force myself to breathe more slowly. I couldn’t get upset with the way he looked down on me. I’d trained myself to not get upset.

Madoc was always calm, after all. So calm all the damn time growing up. He didn’t shout or show his anger until he’d had enough. And you never knew exactly when that was going to be. That was the scary part about him.

“Fallon, Madoc surprised me this morning,” Addie jumped in to explain. “But he’s heading back out after breakfast, right?” she asked Madoc, prompting him with raised eyebrows.

He looked to her and back at me, mischief and pleasure evident in his expression.

He shook his head. “Nah,” he said, brushing off Addie’s concern as if he’d just told her he didn’t want any dessert. “Fallon and I talked last night. We’re cool.” He looked over at me, his eyes squinting up in a smile. “I have a hell of a summer planned, and this is a big house. Right, Fallon? We’ll play nice or stay out of each other’s way.”

He nodded as he spoke and looked to Addie with the same carefree, innocent, wide-eyed bullshit I’ve seen him use a million times.

This is why Madoc was going to be a great lawyer like his dad. Working people wasn’t just about the words you spoke. It was about body language, tone, and timing. Keep your voice natural, your body relaxed, and distract them with a change of subject as soon as possible.

Here it comes in three, two, one . . .

“Come on,” he nudged Addie. “It’s fine.”

He came up to stand behind her at the counter and reached around and placed his arm across her chest, hugging her close but with his eyes dead set on me. “Just finish my chocolate pancakes. I’m f**king starving.”

“Madoc!” she whisper-yelled, scolding him but failing to hide her smile.

And that was it. He’d won.

Or so he thought.

I cleared my throat. “Yeah, Madoc’s right, Addie. I have no problem with it. I told you that yesterday.” I saw Madoc raise his eyebrows. I bet he thought I was going to fight him on this. “And anyway, I’m gone in a week. I only came to eat the food and use the pool.”

I let the sarcasm drip slowly from my tone and kept my eyes locked to his. I’d missed playing with him more than I wanted to admit.

“Where are you going?” he asked, leaning on his elbows over the wide granite island.

“Chicago. I’m starting Northwestern in the fall. You?”

“Notre Dame,” he sighed, thinning his lips with a hint of resignation to his voice.

No, not resignation exactly. Acceptance. As if he’d lost a battle.

Notre Dame was the family school. Madoc’s father, aunts and uncles, and grandfather had all gone there. Madoc didn’t dislike the school, but I couldn’t tell if he actually liked it, either. It was hard to tell if he had any dreams of his own aside from what his father had planned for him.

“Oh, that’s right!” Addie dumped the spoon into the bowl and brushed her hands on her apron. “I completely forgot to give you your graduation presents.” She walked across the kitchen and grabbed two “somethings” out of a cabinet.

“Fallon, I didn’t know that you’d be here, but I’d gotten you one anyway to ship to you. Here.” She handed both Madoc and me what looked like lanterns. They were black plastic on the bottom with a glass capsule on the top half. The bottom featured five rows of the alphabet.

“A cryptex!” I smiled at her while Madoc looked at his like it was an alien baby.

“But . . .” He pinched his eyebrows together. “You know I just wanted to see you in a bikini,” he told Addie.

“Oh, put a cork in it.” She waved her hand.

“What is this?” His eyebrows were still pinched together while he studied the puzzle case.

“It’s a Puzzle Pod Cryptex,” Addie explained. “You have to solve the riddle that I have taped to the bottom, and dial the five-letter answer to open the pod. Then you can retrieve the present inside.

Madoc read his out loud. “‘At night they come without being fetched, and by day they are lost without being stolen. What are they?’” His eyes shot up to pin Addie. “Seriously?”

He threw back his arm, raising the cryptex high above his head, when Addie reached out and grabbed him.

“No, don’t you dare!” she yelled, while he mock-scowled at her. “You’re not breaking it open! Use your brain.”

“You know I suck at stuff like this.” But then he started dialing letters, guessing at the answer.

I read mine to myself. “What gets wetter the more it dries?”

Please. I snickered and dialed in “towel.” The cryptex opened, and I pulled out a gift card to a skate shop I used to frequent in town.

“Thanks, Addie,” I chirped, not wanting to tell her that I no longer skated.

I looked over at Madoc, who was still working his puzzle with an eyebrow arched. He was struggling, and the more he struggled the dumber he was going to feel. Walking over, I took the cryptex out of his hands, my breath catching for only a moment when my fingers brushed his.

I looked at the puzzle and spoke quietly as I dialed. “‘At night they come without being fetched, and by day they are lost without being stolen.’” It clicked, and I met his soft eyes staring down at me, not the cryptex. “Stars,” I said, almost in a whisper.

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