Rival Page 6

I heard a knock.

“I’m coming in,” she announced.

I opened my eyes, blinking away the fog of sleep from my brain. I couldn’t move. My head felt separated from my body, and my arms and legs were molded to the bed, as if a ten-ton weight sat on my back. My brain was active, but my body was still sound asleep.

“Fallon,” a voice sang out to me. “I made you poached eggs. Your favorite.”

I smiled, curling my toes and clenching my fists to wake them up. “With toast to dip?” I called from underneath my pillow.

“White toast, because multigrain is for pussies,” Addie deadpanned, and I remembered I’d told her those very same words about four years ago when my mom married Jason Caruthers and we came to live here.

I kicked the covers off my legs and sat up, laughing. “I missed you, girlfriend. You’re one of the only people in the world I don’t want to cut.”

Addie, the housekeeper and someone who’d acted more like a mother to me than my own, was also one of the only people that I didn’t have hang-ups about.

She walked into the room, carefully maneuvering a tray full of all the things I hadn’t eaten in years: poached eggs, croissants, freshly squeezed orange juice, a fruit salad with strawberries, blueberries and yogurt. And real butter!

Okay—so I hadn’t tasted it yet. But if I knew Addie, it was real.

As she set the tray over my legs, I tucked my hair behind my ears and grabbed my glasses off the bedside table.

“I thought you said you were too cool for hipster glasses,” she reminded me.

I dipped a wedge of toast in egg yolk. “Turns out I had a lot of opinions back then. Shit changes, Addie.” I smirked at her happily as I took a bite, salivating more as the warm saltiness of the yolk and butter hit my tongue. “But apparently not your cooking! Damn, girl. I missed this.”

Addie is far from a girl in looks but more so than anyone I know in personality. She’s not only a valuable housekeeper, but she proved to be the lady of the manor that Mr. Caruthers needed. She took care of things the way my mother didn’t. Of course, Addie and Mr. Caruthers weren’t sleeping together. She was a good twenty years older than him. But . . . she took care of everything. The house, the grounds, his social calendar outside of work. She anticipated his needs, and she was the only person he’d never fire. Seriously. She could call him a f**k-up, and he’d just roll his eyes. She made herself invaluable, and because of it, she called the shots in this house.

She also took care of Madoc. That’s why I needed her.

“And I missed you,” she replied, picking up my clothes from the floor.

I cut a piece of egg and put it on my toast. “Come on. Don’t do that. I’m a woman now. I can clean up after myself.”

I hadn’t been paying my own bills, but for all intents and purposes, I’d been taking care of myself completely for two years. My mother had deposited me at boarding school, and my dad didn’t micromanage. When I got sick, I dragged my ass to the doctor. When I needed clothes, I shopped. When it was laundry day, I studied next to the washing machines. No one told me which movies to see, how often to eat vegetables, or when to get my hair trimmed. I took care of it.

“You are a woman. A very beautiful one at that.” She smiled, and I felt a warm hum in my chest. “A few more tattoos, but you took the piercings out, I see. I liked the ones through your septum and lip.”

“Yeah, the school I went to didn’t. You gotta know when to fold ’em and know when to hold ’em.”

I wouldn’t exactly say I was going through a phase the last time Addie had seen me, but I’d definitely loaded up on multiple forms of self-expression. I had had a piercing through my septum—a small ring—and another through the side of my lip and a stud in my tongue. I hadn’t kept any of them, though. St. Joseph’s, my boarding school, didn’t allow “unorthodox” piercings, and they limited you to two in each ear. I also had five in my left ear—my industrial was one piercing, but it took two holes—and I had six in my right ear, counting my tragus, two in my lobe, and three going up the inside ridge of my ear. The school had ordered me to take those out, too.

But when Mom didn’t answer her phone to deal with their complaints, I finally told them to “fuck off.” When they called my dad, he gave them a hefty donation . . . and then told them to f**k off.

“You and Madoc have both grown up so . . .” She trailed off, and I stopped chewing. “I’m sorry,” she finished, looking away from me.

If someone had tried to take my heart right then, they would have needed both hands to hold it. I swallowed the heavy lump of food in my mouth, and took a deep breath.

“Why are you sorry?” I shrugged.

I knew why.

She knew why.

Madoc and I hadn’t been alone in this house after all. Everyone knew what had happened.

“You don’t have to worry,” she assured me, sitting on the edge of the bed. “Like I told you last night. He’s not here, and he won’t be back until your visit is over.”


“You think I have a problem with Madoc, Addie?” I snickered. “Madoc and I are fine. I’m fine. We took our idiotic rivalry too far, but we were kids. I want to move on.” I kept my tone light, and my shoulders relaxed. Nothing in my body language was going to give me away.

“Well, Jason thinks it’s unsafe. He says you’re welcome to stay for as long as you like, though. Madoc won’t be here.”

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