“I didn’t see lights on when we came in.” But Mia trailed her to the door and over to Camila’s restaurant. No one was inside, so they decided to head home for an early lunch with Ned and Luke before coming back for the remainder of the afternoon.
When they pulled into the long lane leading into the Double-Bar-K, Mia was the first to spot the car in front of Fila and Ned’s cabin. “Isn’t that…Camila’s?” she said as they pulled in beside it.
Fila nodded, her chest tightening with suspicion. Why would Camila come here? To see her?
Or to see Ned?
She slipped out of Mia’s truck and quickly dashed up the stairs to the cabin’s front porch. Twisting the handle of the front door, she barged right in—
In time to see Camila spring apart from Ned and Ned scramble to throw a blanket over his legs.
He still sat propped up on the bed they’d installed in the living room. Camila was obviously flustered. So was the man who was supposed to announce their engagement tomorrow. Fury filled her in a split second.
“Fila—” Ned pushed himself up straighter. “I didn’t expect you for another fifteen minutes.”
“What are you doing?” Fila didn’t even recognize her own voice, it was so strident.
“Ned—” Camila ran her hand through her hair, smoothing it into place.
“Nothing.” He shot a look at Camila. His growl reminded Fila of Holt’s when he was laying down the law.
She wasn’t fooled. They’d been kissing. It was plain as day. Fila backed up a step, fumbling behind her for the door. She had to get out of here—had to—
“You have to tell her.” Camila turned on him. “What she’s thinking is worse!”
A strange look passed between them. A knowing look.
Fila had seen enough.
She spun around, reached blindly for the handle through eyes already filling with tears. She should have known she wasn’t destined for happiness. Should have known pain would follow her wherever she went.
“He’s reading!” Camila shouted after her, her tone exasperated. Fila hesitated and the front door banged into her as Mia rushed in, her mouth dropping open in surprise when she saw Fila’s tears.
“What’s wrong?” Mia looked past Fila, her eyes widening as Camila rushed toward them, a textbook held aloft in her hand. “Duck!” Mia knocked Fila aside, sprang for Camila, and tore the book from her fingers. Camila tripped and went down hard.
“What the hell—ow!” Ned lurched from the bed and staggered toward them, his cast thumping on the hardwood floor. “Mia—what are you doing?”
Fila caught her balance and swung around to see Mia brandishing the book over Camila’s head. “You saw her! She was going to hit Fila!”
The door swung open again and Luke spilled in. “Is it lunch time—hey, what’s going on?”
“Your girlfriend is beating up my tutor! Get her off!” Ned bellowed.
Luke reached down and plucked Mia away from the wild-eyed Camila, who surged up after her, swearing up a blue streak in Spanish. Ned caught her arm before she could pounce on Mia.
But Fila wasn’t watching Camila anymore. She was watching Ned. Replaying his words.
What kind of tutor?
She grabbed the book from Mia who was squirming in Luke’s arms.
Elements of Literacy.
“Damn it!” Ned reached her and snatched it from her hands. Held it behind his back.
Literacy? That meant reading, right?
The truth hit her and she clapped a hand to her mouth, nearly laughing out loud at the misunderstanding. Of course Ned wouldn’t want her to know he was learning to read. He wouldn’t be able to admit that to anyone.
But he had to Camila.
Fila scowled. “She’s teaching you to read?”
Ned frowned fiercely, but finally nodded once. “I went to the volunteer bureau. They assigned me to her.” His face had turned an interesting color and she knew him well enough to understand he was pushed to the edge of his capability to keep control.
Well, so was she. “That’s all she did?”
“Assigned her to do what?” Luke broke in, looking bewildered. Ned’s shoulders slumped. After a moment he held up the book so Luke could read the title. Luke’s eyebrows shot up.
Ned met her gaze. “That’s all she did. I can’t believe you have to ask.”
She bit her lip, then relaxed and let go of the anger that had filled her. Of course Ned wasn’t fooling around with Camila. She knew he was in love with her. Every touch and glance told her so. Poor Ned. He was trying to learn to read, and now four people knew—four too many, if she judged him correctly.
Filled with a sudden compassion for him, she turned on Mia and Luke.
“Neither of you will ever mention this again. Not you, either,” she said to Camila. “You will teach him when I’m home, so people think you’re visiting me. Understand?”
For a moment she thought Camila would argue, but in the end she only nodded. Fila turned to the other couple. “Understand?”
Mia’s gaze shifted from her to Ned to Camila before dropping. She had stopped struggling. “I understand. Sorry, Camila.”
“You don’t need to be sorry,” Camila said, taking the book back from Ned. “Neither do you, Fila. Your instincts were right; I wanted more from Ned. I’ve been pretty clear about that.” She met Fila’s gaze directly. “You said he wasn’t your boyfriend.”
“He wasn’t.” Fila stood her ground. “But I wanted him to be. Now he is.”
“Now I’m your fiancé, you mean.” Ned took her hand, his grip telling her the distinction was important to him.
“You should have said something,” Camila told her.
“You’re right, I should have.”
Camila pursed her lips, her normal animation gone. “I just want to fit in here. I want friends—a boyfriend. I want to feel like I can make a home here. I guess that’s too much to ask.”
“You still have your restaurant.” Mia disengaged from Luke’s arms. “I’m sure that’s going to be a success.”
“No—it isn’t.” She wrapped her arms across her chest. “My father found out that my uncle was loaning me money. He demanded that my uncle stop. My uncle doesn’t want to split the family, so he’s not sending any more. I don’t have enough—I can’t buy any ingredients. I can’t pay next month’s rent. I’m a complete failure.” As her tears spilled over, Mia rushed to comfort her. Fila saw Ned and Luke exchange a look and she knew what they were thinking—only moments ago the two women had nearly come to blows.