Authors: Amy Leigh Simpson
“So you’ve been walking around this whole time?”
“Pretty much.” She yawned.
He shook his head, an easy laugh tumbled out, and he felt like a prisoner of war tasting the first fresh breath of freedom. “Well, it worked. Wanna come meet my dad?”
They visited for another half hour until Roy looked like he needed some rest. Archer couldn’t help but be drawn by the easy way Sadie related to his father like they were old friends.
She had a captivating quality he could tell his father hadn’t missed either. And even though Archer barely knew the man in front of him, he could tell by the knowing gleam in Roy’s eye, what his dad was thinking as he watched them leave.
When they exited the room his mom approached, her penciled brows pinched tight. “Is everything all right?”
“Yeah, he just needs some rest.” Archer was about to introduce Sadie when he realized he didn’t know what to call her. She’d taken the initiative with his dad but, for some reason, seemed less inclined to do so now.
What was she?
Technically, she was his witness. Unlikely suspect of a murder. But neither of those would fly for this introduction. Would she be insulted if he said she was a friend? She definitely wasn’t his girlfriend, but what else was there that was somewhere in between? He opened his mouth to give it his best shot when his mom intervened.
“Hi, I’m Archer’s mama, Caroline.” She masked as much of her stress and fatigue as she could and put forth that charming Miss Texas smile, her perfect southern belle twang still as rich and proper as it’d always been.
Sadie stole a glance at Archer, flashing a wise little grin before extending her hand. “Sadie Carson. It’s wonderful to meet you.”
His mom smiled, all scheming and smug, and Archer did his best to put on the brakes before she started planning their wedding. “Sadie gave me a ride.” He blurted, then fumbled to correct it. “I mean, she knew how important it was for me to be here, and convinced me to make the right decision.” Good enough to appease his mom for now. He just hoped it didn’t make Sadie feel like a glorified taxi driver or self-help guru.
Before he could read her reaction his mom yanked Sadie into a bear hug.
“Oh, thank you. Thank you so much.” Mom pulled back and dabbed at her puffy eyes. “Look at me, such a hot mess.” She turned to Archer. “How’d it go in there, I’ve been praying.”
“Well, the two of you had it covered then.” He volleyed a glance between his mom and Sadie, witnessing an instant kinship form between them. “It went really well. You were right, Mom. He has changed. I wish we could have more time, but we did get to know each other a little bit, and for that I’m really grateful.”
Archer cleared his throat. “Where’s Allie?” A diversion, though not one that was easy on his conscience.
“She’s been here every day for the past week. I thought it was getting to be too much for her, so I sent her to spend the night with one of her girlfriends. She’ll be back in the mornin’.”
“You’re not gonna recognize her, Arch. She’s practically all grown up. Just started her senior year. Oh! And she was runner-up for Junior Miss Kansas last year.” Caroline dabbed at the waterworks some more, then fanned her eyes like a true priss.
Archer reached his hand behind his neck and tugged at the stiff muscles, feeling a sudden strain of guilt for barely knowing his baby sister. Was he any better than Roy? Fifteen years separated them, so they hadn’t really grown up together. He kept telling himself he needed to make more of an effort than the occasional phone call or email. But the truth was he was comfortable with his solitary life. It was unencumbered, uncomplicated. Better for everyone.
When Sadie yawned, Caroline urged them to go get some rest. “There’s a motel just down the street. Unfortunately, that’s the closest thing we have for at least thirty miles.”
“Ma, I can stay if you need me here.”
“Nonsense. No use having you sit up in a waiting room all night gettin’ a backache and not a wink a sleep. I’ll keep vigil by your father’s side.” She shooed them with her hands. “I’ll call you first thing in the mornin’ or if I need you before then. But you have to promise to answer your phone this time, Arch, ya hear?”
“I hear ya.”
She doled out hugs and affectionately rubbed Archer’s cheek before retiring to Roy’s room.
He turned to Sadie, thankful he’d survived a “meet the parents” without too much embarrassment. “So what’s your vote: car, motel, or waiting room?”
Shrugging, another yawn wrinkled her adorable nose. God, she was cute. “It’s up to you. At this point I could probably sleep anywhere.”
“Let’s go get a couple rooms at the motel. I don’t know about you, but I sleep better when I’m lying down.”
“A man with a plan.” She smiled and he knew he was in big, big trouble. “I’m in.”
The motel looked like something out of a horror film. Even the “L” from the marquee flickered eerily against the neon yellow sign.
The night was beautiful though. Warm and breezy. Millions of silver stars over the small town displayed like spilled glitter against the black velvet sky. Only in remote places, hours from city lights, could you see the clarity of the stars like this. He about mentioned it to Sadie, but saved himself the embarrassment of uttering such a whimsical and cheesy thought out loud.
Tossing their bags over his shoulder, he followed behind Sadie to the front desk of the lobby area—if one could call the glass box, slightly larger than a telephone booth, that.
Archer cleared his throat. The kid behind the desk—indulging in a little shut-eye of his own—startled and then looked up at them with droopy eyes.
“’Morning. We’d like two rooms for the night, adjacent if you have ’em.”
The kid’s face scrunched, and he rubbed his eyes. “Sorry dude. We’re super booked.” He started clacking on the keyboard of the 1980s computer. “Oh, you know what? I forgot about a cancellation. We’ve got one left.” He reached for the key and laid it on the counter.
“One room? How is that possible, the population of this town is like forty-five.”
“No way, bro. More like seven hundred, I think. Didn’t you see all the signs when you drove in? Plus the parking lot is like
full.” The kid flicked his head to one side to swing the long hair out of his eyes. Whether he was stoned or simply drowsy, it would seem an eyeful of Sadie was an instant cure. He perked up, gave her a thorough once-over and a head nod. “Sup?”
Archer snapped in front of Romeo’s face. “What signs?”
“The Apple Butter Festival is this weekend. Folks come from all over. Stuff is sooo good.”
“Great. Apple Butter Festival. What are the odds?”
“Listen, there’s like totally a little couch in the room. It’s not like it’s just a bed … if you two aren’t like shackin’ up?” With a suggestive bounce of his eyebrows, he smiled at Sadie. “I’m eighteen, you could stay up here with me. I don’t mind sharing.”
Sadie, unsuccessfully, bit back a hiccup of laughter. “Sorry, stud. But the one room will be
fine.” She snatched the key off the counter, exited the box and started swinging those hips down the long row to the room.
“We’ll settle up tomorrow.” Archer addressed the kid—who gave him a thumbs up and a “way to go” smirk of admiration—and then jogged out to catch up with Sadie.
Moments later, after they swung open the door to their room, they both stood—each in their own state of shock—at the sight of their accommodations for the night.
“Wow,” he whispered under his breath.
“You can say that again.”
“I believe it bears repeating.
Entering first, she warily absorbed the retro decor of the roughly ten-by-ten room. “It’s like a psychedelic time warp. But I guess I can never again claim that I didn’t get to experience the seventies.”
He followed behind her, noticing every wall—including the ceiling—was covered in a knotty pine wood paneling. The mustard-colored carpet was a thick shag that made it feel like he was walking on a sponge. His nostrils were assailed by what hinted at moth balls and feet. “Well, it looks clean, but the smell suggests otherwise.”
The place was ridiculous. At first it was laughable, but his mood sobered when he realized that—in a way—this whole thing was sort of their first date. “I bet this takes the cake for your weirdest and worst first date, huh?”
Sadie turned around, her face aglow like the stars themselves shone from beneath her skin. “Definitely unforgettable.” The two words were a mere quiver in the stillness, but the moment felt so significant they might have been a bolt of lightning striking the ground between them and crumbling the earth as he knew it. “I’m, um, gonna get ready for bed. I’ll be out in just a minute.”
While Sadie was in the bathroom, Archer took the opportunity to change into some gym shorts and a white undershirt, not his usual sleeping attire, but more appropriate for the current arrangement. He also did his best to calm himself. He didn’t want to make Sadie uncomfortable and unfortunately his desire for the woman was rather … evident.
Emerging a few minutes later, her hair was piled in an effortlessly intricate knot on top of her head, her face fresh and devoid of makeup. She pinched her shoulders forward and crossed her arms, most likely nervous about her sleepwear since she wouldn’t have expected to be sharing a room.
He didn’t mean to cause her more discomfort, but couldn’t avert his eyes as they helplessly traversed her from head to toe. The heat surge in his veins from the sight of her in her tiny white shorts and taut tank was nearly nuclear. He looked away, but the vision of her gentle curves was permanently etched into his memory. From her perfectly proportioned breasts to her softly rounded hips and toned legs. Man, even her toes with chipped pink polish were making his body salute.
“Huh?” Archer snapped his eyes up from her sexy little toes.
She’s not all yours, the bathroom’s all yours.
“Right.” Fumbling through his bag, he grabbed his toothbrush before closing himself in the bathroom. A cold shower would be better but instead he splashed cool water on his face and brushed his teeth, trying to think of anything but the way-too-tempting woman he would be sleeping in the same room with.
As he reached for the door handle, Sadie’s scream punctured the silence.
Instantly in agent mode, he flung open the door and rushed all of two steps to the bed when she leapt into his arms—wrapping her legs around his waist, and climbing him like a tree.
“Ehhh!” She shivered and tightened her hold, plastering all those mind-numbing curves against him in the process. “Please get that thing out of the bed!”
Archer could feel the frantic pace of her pounding heart. Lucky she’d jumped on the side of his uninjured arm otherwise they would have wound up in a heap on the floor.
He eased her down, trying hard not to notice the slow slide of her body against his until she settled on her feet and slipped behind him, peering around his side with palpable trepidation as he lifted the covers.
A massive black spider darted across the rustling sheets toward the foot of the bed. “Ahh … geez. That thing’s on steroids!”
He lunged to the other side of the bed to scoop up one of his shoes. Sadie moved behind him like a shadow clinging to his shirt. Jerking the covers down the rest of the way—exposing the little beast—he executed his mission: using his shoe to rake it onto the ground before smashing it twice for good measure.