Authors: Kim Carmichael
“Fine!” With the light green and no other choice, he drove forward.
“It’s going to be all right.” Her voice took on a soft, soothing tone, and she put her hand on his arm.
“You don’t know what this is like.” Though he wanted to grab her hand and never let go, he flinched away at her touch.
She returned her attention to her phone. “Then tell me.”
“Why don’t you tell me what you and your boss needed to talk about in private?” His teeth scraped together, and a horrid screech reverberated through his skull. He shuddered.
“I needed to prove I could stand on my own two feet.”
“You don’t have to. You have me.” He kept his eyes on the road and spotted the bar up ahead. From his vantage point everything seemed normal, but Wilson said the damage was in the back.
“I’m sorry.” Once more she went to reach for him but stopped herself.
“Don’t be sorry for what you did. If you don’t need me, that’s fine.” He turned the corner. “Your instinct is probably right. I hope whatever you were doing on the phone involved getting ‘old faithful’ back.”
The moment he turned into the back parking lot, she gasped.
Every muscle in his body tightened.
Across the back wall of the business he had bought his brother were the words “Hollywood Stardust” in black, with the “Star” crossed out in red. Next to that literary masterpiece someone had scrawled in blue “go back to rehab.” At the sight, his head began to throb. His brother and Giselle were already outside waiting for him. “Maybe I shouldn’t have moved in with you. This is what you have to look forward to.”
Without as much as a word, she opened the car door and stepped out.
He got out of the car and stared at the damage.
Rather than going to him, his brother and Ivy’s friend ran to her.
Wilson gave her a hug. “We got what you told us to. I didn’t call anyone for help like you asked.”
“There’s already too much media attention on us. We’ll fix it.” She shook her head and headed for the door. “Let me change and we’ll get started.”
“Ivy,” he called to her. When did she take charge? He would fix the situation once he assessed everything. How did she tell them what to get?
She tilted her head. “Elle, do you want to snoop in Logan’s closet?”
“You don’t have to ask twice.” Giselle ran after Ivy, and the two women disappeared inside.
Wilson approached the car. “Your girl is incredible.”
“We need to get someone down here right away.” He took his phone out of his pocket.
“Ivy said no outsiders.” Wilson held his hand up. “She said we couldn’t take the chance with the tabloid.”
“Then how do you suppose we get that off your wall, or are you planning on leaving it there as some sort of reminder of who your brother is? Do you think it will bring in more business?”
“Ivy gave us a list of things to get while you were driving here. The area is not that big, and we have some cans of the original paint.”
“Since when did she become the boss?” He returned his phone to his pocket.
“Since you needed her to.”
As if her entrance was timed, the back door to the bar opened, and Ivy reappeared in a pair of his shorts and one of his plain white T-shirts that she tied at the bottom. The sun hit her in exactly the right way for him to tell she ditched her bra along with her clothing.
“Well, well. At least we get a little eye candy.” Wilson patted his shoulder.
“Stop looking at her.” Apparently they needed to have a little discussion about her wardrobe.
“I’ll look at my girlfriend if I want to.” Wilson went and joined the girls. “You have it bad, if you didn’t even notice Giselle’s short shorts.”
Logan shrugged at most of Giselle’s bottom hanging out of her almost pants and went to Ivy. “What’re you doing?”
“I’m going to fix the wall.” She kept her back to him and bent down to read the instructions on one of the bottles she had Wilson get.
“How did you become an expert on graffiti?” He peered down at her and managed to get a small look inside her shirt. Well, his shirt.
“Well, rather than contacting geysers in Yellowstone, I searched how to fix the issue.” She stood and motioned for Wilson, pointing to the back label on the jug of some chemical designed to make everything better. “Never was much one for Old Faithful.”
Wilson took the container, and Giselle laid out some tarps.
Ivy picked up a bucket and turned.
He caught her arm. “You don’t have to do this.”
“I have work to do. I’m not going to do that to your brother.” She jerked her arm back and walked away with her bucket.
For a few minutes, he simply watched her as they used her magic solution to scrub the spray paint off the wall. The three of them worked together with Ivy leading the pack.
“What are you doing?” Wilson yelled. “You’re making a lousy director in case you wanted to know.”
He blinked, snapping himself out of his stare, then stomped by them. “You’re a terrible actor.”
Once inside, he went straight up to his room. Not too long ago everything had been new. With no one to impress, he had bought furniture he’d settled for, nothing special. Then Ivy appeared. While she had been up here with him a few times, he tended to prefer her more lived-in space. Still, they hadn’t broken the bed in yet, but now the whole place seemed tainted by the vandalism.
They had started here free of his past, and then it had barreled toward him, picking up speed, and threatening to destroy everything.
He sat at the edge of the bed and glanced into his closet. While his past might linger around him, a little sparkle of his future hung on a hanger on the right side in the form of Ivy’s outfit with her shoes neatly placed alongside his. He supposed turnabout was fair play, and the way she changed into his clothes like she owned the place warmed him. She belonged here, and she cared, and he tried to push her out because he didn’t want her to see him in this state. He didn’t want her to view him as the villain.
Rather than sit in self-loathing, he needed to help. Finally, he jumped up, changed into sweats and a T-shirt, and rushed downstairs. Going with his own strengths, he darted around the kitchen and threw together some simple sandwiches then collected some bottles of water for his brother and Giselle and iced tea for him and Ivy. Fine, he put her drink on a saucer and added a slice of lemon before joining them.
Three things struck him once he walked outside. First, a quick assessment of the wall told him whatever product Ivy researched seemed to work. Second, Ivy was up on a ladder with a metal brush scrubbing away the paint, and the ladder was rather high. Third, the fumes in the air instantly made his eyes water.
“Why don’t you all take a break?” He doled out his waters and went to the ladder. “Baby, why don’t you get down from there?”
“I’m fine.” She cleared her throat and coughed.
“I brought you something to drink.”
“I’m fine, thank you.” Without even peeking at him or the drinks, she continued her work.
He glanced over at Wilson, who only shook his head. “Ivy.”
No answer unless he wanted to count another round of coughs with the addition of an eye rub and a sniff.
“Ivy.” He set the drinks down and got up on the ladder with her.
“I’m not sure this ladder supports two people.” She punctuated her statement with another cough. “Why don’t you go see how much paint we have?”
The blow off. Maybe one he deserved. He climbed up a couple more rungs. Her backside was now right in front of his face.
What should be a sexy moment or perhaps even the opportune makeup time quickly became marred when another round of coughs overtook her, bad enough to cause her to drop her brush and to gasp for air.
“Ivy!” He went up another rung and wrapped his arm around her waist. “That’s it. You’re done.”
“I said I was fine.” She lowered her head.
“I say you’re not, and I say you’re done.” Not wanting to take the chance of them falling, he tightened his hold on her, hoping she would acquiesce and come down. “The fumes are making you sick.”
In a defiant move, she gripped the ladder. “I say you need to decide if you want to be with me or not. Until then I can take care of myself.”
Before simply answering, he scanned the area, the graffiti, the mess, and him and her on the ladder arguing among the fumes. They had been together much longer than he had ever been with anyone else. It had been almost a month, most of his flings barely lasted a week. “Maybe I don’t need to make the decision. Maybe it’s you.”
“Get down.” Her voice came out cracked as she held back the coughs.
“Let me help you.” He moved down a step.
She put her hand on her forehead. “Logan, get off this ladder right now.”
The edge in her voice made him do as she asked. He jumped to the ground and refrained from helping her. Their position was ripe for her to get hurt.
Even with her coughing fit, and the sweat breaking out on her pale face, she rushed off the ladder and toward the restaurant. “Stay away from me.”
Close at her heels, he followed. “So, now you just walk away?”
“I wasn’t walking away. I wasn’t driving away. That role has been filled.” She threw the door open and disappeared inside.
With heat consuming his body and his muscles tense, he kicked the door before going after her. “There’s a reason I need to drive away.” He glanced around the empty kitchen and almost charged for the upstairs when he heard a whimper coming from the front of the house.
“Ivy?” Rather than storming over, he walked into the large room and found her slumped on a barstool with her hand over her eyes.
“What’s the reason?” she mumbled.
“It doesn’t get better.” He went behind the bar and took down one of the glasses.
“Please don’t play games with me, Logan.” With her hand still on her face, she peeked at him through her fingers. “Just be straight.”
“People talk, rumors start, one day . . .” He turned his back to her and scooped up some ice into the glass.
“One day what?” More coughs.
He filled the glass with club soda and turned to find her resting her head on the bar. “Drink this.”
“One day what?” Her voice came out muffled, yet stern.
“Do we have to do this now? Why don’t we get you fume free first?” He set the glass down next to her.
“No!” She raised her head and slammed her fist on the bar. The glass of soda water teetered. “We can’t do this later. We do it now. I’m not going to live every day wondering when you are going to drive away or force me in my car.”
They stared at each other.
“One day what?” She stifled a cough and spoke through her teeth.
“What if I don’t force you in your car?” He crossed his arms and turned away. When other women left after a couple of dates, it didn’t matter, but with Ivy, everything mattered. “You don’t even need me.” The words left his mouth before he could stop them.
“Oh, Logan.” Her voice hitched, and she went into a round of coughs, deeper than before.
“Ivy.” He rushed over to her, once again taking her into his arms, and shuddered. The fumes seemed to settle in her clothes. “We have to get you into different clothes.”
“Lo–” Her coughs rattled through him.
“Baby.” He gave her some of the water, set the glass aside, and lifted her up. “Come on.”
She held on and lowered her head on his shoulder. “I don’t feel so great.”
“Yeah, I figured that out.” He made his way up the stairs, into his room, and headed straight for the bathroom where he turned on the water. “That chemical leached everywhere.”
With no resistance, she allowed him to undress her. He took her in as he held a washcloth under warm water and wiped her face down. “You’re really beautiful.”
She shook her head.
“Don’t contradict what I know.” He guided her over to his bed. While she sat at the edge, he dug one of his old
T-shirts out of his dresser drawer and slipped it over her head. At least she cracked a little bit of a smile at the black oversize shirt emblazoned with a large gold star. “Lay back.”
“You’re not getting this shirt back.” She reclined on the bed.
“It looks much better on you.” After helping her slip under the sheets, he changed his clothes and gathered up all the laundry. “I’ll be right back.” He made a quick dash downstairs and dumped the contaminated clothes in the hamper before returning to her.
The glorious sight of her curled up in his bed on her side hugging a pillow, both comforted and aroused him. “Don’t ever tell me you aren’t beautiful.” He joined her and pointed down at the pillow. “Do you mind if I take its place?”
“Only if we decide we’re going to carpool instead of taking separate cars,” she whispered. “I don’t want to play this game where you shut me out every time someone or something hits a nerve with you.”
“Things happen. You can’t go from moving in with me to shoving me out the door in an instant.”
He paused and tried to absorb her words. There would always be bumps in the road, and yet she wasn’t running from him, she was here. “I moved in with you because I want to walk into our bedroom and always find you waiting for me. I want to be with you.”
She lifted the sheet, giving him an invitation. “Say it again.”
“I want to be with you, Ivy Raleigh Vermont.” He removed the pillow and slipped into the bed with her, moving down until they were nose to nose. “Thank you for trying to fix the mess. You did amazing.”
“Maybe every once in a while, you need someone to take care of you.” She traced his lips with her fingertip.
“Do you need someone to take care of you?” He kissed her finger and pulled her closer.
“No. I need
to take care of me.” Her finger traveled over his nose and outlined his eyebrows. “I would have suffocated if you didn’t save me.”
“That’s my job. I prefer you breathing. I will always nurse you back to health.” He combed his fingers through her hair. While he thought he would be breaking in his bed differently, having her here was perfect.
“See? You’re a hero.” She smiled. A slight smile, a small upturn of her mouth, but her eyes really expressed her emotion. “Not only am I breathing because of you, but I would’ve never been able to be in front of a camera without you.”