Autumn hung up and turned to Ethan. “You’re not going to believe it!”
“Tell me.” Ethan set his cards face down on the table and rose to go to her.
“A huge family get-together. They want to rent the entire house for four weeks!” Her face alight with happiness, Autumn crossed the room and hugged her husband.
“When are they coming?” He kissed her, but Jake could see he wanted to know the details.
“Next Saturday. We’re going to have to work like crazy. They’ll stay through New Year’s. Apparently they had another lodge booked but a pipe broke there and flooded the place. They won’t be back in business for months. I feel awful being so happy when someone else is in such trouble, but I can’t help it. Twenty people here for a month! We’ll be able to pay our bills for the rest of the winter, easy!”
As people congratulated Ethan and Autumn on their good luck, Jake glanced at Hannah and took in her still, worried expression. Mia was frowning too, and Fila was just as tense.
“What’s wrong?” he asked Hannah, bending closer to her. The fresh floral scent of her shampoo teased his senses. He had to hold back from touching her arm.
“Twenty people staying here? Hannah, Fila and I will have to move. I guess we could stay in the bunkhouse, but…”
“You could come stay with me. I have a spare room.” He had surprised himself as much as he surprised her. The words just popped out, but the moment they did he wanted her to say yes. He braced himself for the stinging answer he was sure she’d fling his way. The offer was obviously self-serving.
Hannah swallowed, her gaze never leaving his face. “That would be great. Can I move in tonight?”
“You sure you don’t want me to stick around and carry your things to the car?” Jake asked. They were alone by the front door, the other guests having already left, but with the open-floor plan of the Big House, Hannah was all too aware of Autumn, Ethan, Mia and Fila all working to clean up the dishes from the get-together.
“No. I want to help clean up first and then I’ll need some time to pack. You go on home. I’ll be there as soon as I can.”
“I’m looking forward to it.” For a moment she thought Jake would lean down and kiss her, but then he glanced over her head toward the kitchen area and pulled back. “Don’t be too long.”
“I won’t,” she promised him and hurried back to help the others, her body alight with the knowledge that she’d sleep with him tonight.
Sleep with him, not make love to him. Just like Holt said.
Of course, she could be flexible on that point.
As Mia loaded the dishwasher and Fila fetched a broom, Hannah knew each of them was worried about their living situations, but she wasn’t sure how to speak up and tell them she was moving out.
“You know we’ll make room in the bunkhouse for all of you,” Autumn said to them, returning to the kitchen with a tray of glasses. “It’ll be a little tight, but it’s just for one month.”
More than a little tight. The bunkhouse only had two bedrooms. Ethan and Autumn stayed in one. She suspected neither Fila nor Mia relished sharing the other one, certainly not with two other women.
“Maybe I should find my own place,” Fila began in her soft voice. Her shoulders looked tight and Hannah could tell the entire evening had placed a strain on the young woman. From what she gathered, it had never been a good thing for Fila to be noticed during her years in Afghanistan. She still seemed to want to escape attention as much as possible. Trouble was, everyone here wanted to make her feel at home and went out of their way to notice and talk to her. On most occasions, Fila slipped off to her room before the poker nights were half over.
Autumn and Claire had helped Fila find a lawyer who could track down information about her parents’ estate. Since more than a decade had passed since they died, it was unclear whether there would be anything for Fila to inherit. Sooner or later she’d have to find a job, but everyone agreed she wasn’t ready for that yet. Her offer to move wasn’t practical.
“No.” Autumn moved to her side. “Your place is here with us. Trust me, Fila. We’ll work this out and it will be no bother to anyone.”
“That’s right,” Hannah said. Fila needed Autumn’s caring presence right now. As much as she’d adapted to life here, she had a long way to go. While Fila had told them much of her story, Hannah knew there was more she hadn’t told. She could only imagine the abuse she’d witnessed and maybe experienced herself during her years in captivity. Then, when she’d stepped forward to tell the American authorities her story, she’d been grilled by law enforcement and FBI agents to find out everything she knew and to verify that she herself wasn’t a terrorist. Sometimes Hannah thought those interrogations did more to hurt Fila than her time in Afghanistan. She’d expected to find safety in Chance Creek. Instead she’d been treated like a potential criminal. She didn’t know who to trust anymore. Didn’t know if anyone trusted her. Fila had folded in on herself. She needed gentle company, warmth and safety. The last thing she needed was to rent an apartment somewhere in town and live alone. Not to mention she couldn’t afford it. “I’m moving out anyway, so there will be plenty of room in the bunkhouse for you, Fila.”
“You’re moving? Where?” Autumn turned to her, disappointment in her eyes.
Hannah loved her for it. Autumn was the consummate hostess. She seemed to thrive on feeding and housing people. Still, she’d have plenty of people to house and feed a week or so from now. “Jake has a spare room.” She hoped her offhand tone would fool Autumn, but she felt her cheeks warm and Autumn’s mouth quirked.
“That sounds… cozy.”
Fila said nothing, but when Hannah met her gaze she saw right away the relief in the young woman’s eyes.
Mia stared at the floor. “Maybe I should look for another place, too.”
“No, you shouldn’t,” Autumn said firmly. “You two can share the spare room in the bunkhouse for now. Then you’ll both move back into your separate rooms in the Big House until spring. Once Cab and Rose get their house built, their cabin will be available, too. I had already planned on the two of you taking it over this spring. You can stay there as long as you want. I know it might be a little awkward at times until then, but we’ll make it work. I promise.”