“No.” Hannah shook her head. “I can’t do that. It’s wrong. It’s weird!”
“Um… we passed weird a long time ago, sweetie. Billionaire.” She pointed to herself. “How weird is that? Please don’t make this weirder than it needs to be.”
Hannah thought a moment. Bella was right, not that she’d signed her up for the show in order to profit off it; she’d only wanted her friend to be able to hold onto the clinic so they’d both have a job. But Bella did win and she did marry Evan, and there was a bit of strain between them now that Bella had so much money and Hannah… didn’t. “Okay,” she nodded. “You pay for my school and we’ll be quits, okay?”
“Sure thing.” Bella grinned.
Hannah narrowed her eyes, but let the subject slide.
“It’s not fair; you’re stealing all of my friends,” Autumn said when Jake and Luke came to pick up Fila and her things. The shy young woman showed Luke her bags and he began to haul them outside.
“They won’t be far off,” Jake assured her. “You and Ethan are welcome to come by any time.”
“It won’t be the same.” Autumn waited until Fila passed by them, carrying a few of her lighter bags. “I’m worried about Fila. Living with Luke? That’s crazy for her. She barely talks to men.”
“Luke’s a pretty steady guy. They’ll do fine.”
“I’m not so sure. She hardly leaves the house, you know, and she trusts us. Over at the Double-Bar-K…” She met his gaze. “No offense, Jake, but you and your brothers and Holt can get pretty rough.”
Jake’s jaw tightened. She was telling the truth. None of them pulled any punches when their ire was up. Sometimes things got loud and out of hand.
“She’ll have my Mom, Morgan, Hannah and Mia to take care of her. She’ll be fine. I promise.”
“Well, tell Hannah to stop by soon. I miss her already.”
“Will do,” Jake said. He went to help load Fila’s things and realized she and Luke had already finished the job. Fila hadn’t been in Chance Creek long enough to accumulate many possessions. The ride back home was quiet, so he was glad it only took a couple of minutes. He left Luke and Fila to carry her things into Luke’s cabin while he went to find Ned.
He met Mia on the front porch of Ned’s house, wielding a broom and singing along to a song on her iPod. Again he marveled at how young she looked, although she and Fila were about the same age.
“How’s it going?” he asked when he caught her attention. She pulled the earbuds out of her ears and grinned.
“Great! Come and look! Tell me if you think Ned will like what I’ve done.”
Jake followed her inside and stopped dead, blinking at the sight in front of him. All of Ned’s things were still here. They were just… different.
“Let me guess. Your favorite color is… pink,” Jake said.
“Scrape that look off your face, cowboy. I know people think pink is too girly, but I love pink. You know why?” Mia grabbed his hand and tugged him farther into the house. “It’s bright. It’s bold. It doesn’t hold back. The color pink stands for unconditional love and that’s my thing, you know? I don’t hold back my feelings or emotions. I’m not cold like so many people are. I don’t judge people. Do you judge people?”
“Um… I don’t know.”
She stopped and he nearly bumped into her before he noticed her scrutinizing him. “You do. I can tell. That’s a shortcoming, Jake. You have to let people be people. You have to let them express their true selves and follow their passions—otherwise you’ll just make them miserable.”
“Okay.” Inside the house he got a full view of the changes she’d made. A hot pink tablecloth covered the table and matched the curtains on the main living room windows. Evidently Mia didn’t have enough curtains to go around, because the rest of the windows on the first floor were still dressed with the ones his mother had provided. There were candles everywhere. All kinds and sizes, short and tall, fat and thin, some in glass holders, some sitting right on the furniture, which Jake doubted was a good idea in a cabin constructed primarily of wood.
The old comfortable couch had a new pink covering with raised white polka dots. Pink and white striped pillows were plumped in its corners. A bouquet of red and white roses sat in pride of place on the dining room table. Something was cooking, but Jake couldn’t place the smell.
“What’s in the oven?” he asked. He was afraid to comment on the décor.
“A quinoa casserole. It’s got spinach and kale and shallots. It’s so good for you! Do you want to stay for supper?”
“Uh… no! I mean… I have plans with Hannah.”
“That’s so sweet!” Mia tied a frilly apron around her middle and pulled hot pink oven mitts on her hands. She opened the oven and peered in. “Just another half hour. I hope Ned’s hungry.”
“I hope he is, too,” Jake said and made a quick escape.
Luke made an appearance at nine o’clock that evening, tapping on the front door before he let himself in.
“Is Jake here?” he asked Hannah, hovering just inside the doorway. He looked uneasy.
“I’m here,” Jake said before Hannah could respond. He’d been up in his bedroom doing some paperwork while Hannah put her feet up on the couch. Now he clattered down the stairs. “What’s wrong?”
“It’s Fila. She’s crying.”
Hannah sat up. “Crying? What did you do to her?”
“I didn’t do anything,” Luke said. “I just put on a movie for us to watch. It’s really awkward sitting there with nothing to say.”
“What movie?” Jake asked as Hannah went to get her coat.
“A war movie?” Hannah twirled around. “Seriously? You asked her to watch a war movie?”
Luke looked stricken. “I didn’t think…”
“No, you didn’t.” Jake put his hands on his hips.
“We’ve got nothing in common,” Luke was saying as Hannah slammed out the door. Did the Matheson men ever think, she wondered as she stalked toward Luke’s cabin. On the way, she passed Ned’s place and was startled when he called out, “Anything wrong?”
“Ned?” She peered through the darkness. “What are you doing out there without the lights on?”