“Like you,” Morgan said to her. She turned to Rose. “If you want to learn from an expert, watch how she does it.”
Claire made a face. “I don’t think sticking up for yourself is easy for anyone, Rose. You just have to keep doing it anyway.”
Cab was beginning to regret he’d ever crossed the room. Felt like a lot of anti-male sentiment in this corner. The way he figured it, if you saw someone making a mistake you ought to tell them. You didn’t need to be mean about it, but a head’s up sure didn’t hurt. And if there was something you could do to prevent them from coming to harm, wasn’t it your duty to do it?
Autumn handed him a beer with a smile, but he thought he saw pity in her eyes. He didn’t like that one bit.
He retraced his steps to the opposite side of the room and took refuge among the men.
In the end, she stayed in Chicago overnight in a small hotel near the downtown area. Although she locked and bolted her door, and checked her windows several times, she found it hard to sleep more than a few minutes at a stretch. When she drifted off she saw Wahid, Abdul and Mehran again, walking down the aisle of the train, searching for her. In her dreams, she couldn’t hide. Instead, she felt compelled to draw attention to herself. She tried to whisper and raised her voice instead. Tried to shrink among the other chattering women and ended up standing on her seat.
Each time she lurched awake her heart pounded as she clutched the covers to her chin, scanned the room for intruders, listened for footsteps out in the corridor. Sometimes she heard them, and she waited, breath held, until they approached, passed and drifted into the distance. When her alarm rang in the morning, her eyes ached and her head throbbed. She wasn’t sure she could go on.
A hot shower helped. She unbraided her hair, washed it thoroughly, enjoying the spring scent of the hotel shampoo. She shaved her legs with the disposable razor she purchased the day before and used the blow dryer to dry her hair before neatly braiding it again.
She dressed in slim-legged trousers a shop attendant assured her were just the thing, pulled on an underwire bra a different attendant had held out for her inspection, and topped it with an eggplant-toned blouse and gray blazer.
“Something modest but classic,” she said to each shop clerk in turn, in memory of the woman from the train station.
She pursed her lips as she pulled out a new wig—soft brunette hair in waves that fell to her shoulders. Its tones were still far lighter than her own dark tresses, but it wouldn’t call as much attention to her as the blond wig had. She left the old one in the trash wrapped in a plastic bag and hoped no one would ever make the connection between the brassy blonde who checked in and the sober brunette who checked out.
“Hi Emory, it’s Rose. I think we need to talk.” She paced across the bedroom Autumn had assigned to her and stared out the window at the gray November sky. It would be cold again today, but at least it wasn’t raining. Or snowing.
Emory sighed on the other end. “Let me guess. You’re not coming in today, either.”
“No, like I said yesterday, I won’t work for you anymore.”
“Some notice would have been nice.”
“I’d have liked some notice before you burned all my paintings.” She bit her lip and fought for composure. “I’ll pick up the rest of my things later today. I don’t feel I owe you any more rent since you destroyed my property. I won’t come after you for damages, though, for my parents’ sake.”
She cut him off before he could finish his sentence. His condescending tone made her want to scream; no way would she listen to him blame her for the way things had turned out. “I don’t think there’s anything more to be said, Emory. We’re done now.”
“What about Jason?”
Rose tried to answer him but couldn’t find the words.
“He needs to be here. I need him here,” Emory said. “Since you’re abandoning me, I need my son. You’re the one who drove him away; you need to bring him back.”
“I didn’t drive him away.” That was rich, even for Emory.
“Why do you think he’s been gone so long? Because you haven’t acted like a fiancée should. Have you shown any interest in him? No. Have you made a home for him? No. All you’ve done is slouch around and play with your finger paints. No wonder he never wants to visit. You’re a lousy housekeeper, a lousy cook and not fit to be in the same room as him.”
“I saw the way you mooned over the sheriff. You’re probably two-timing my son along with everything else. You’re humiliating him, that’s what!”
Rose couldn’t believe her ears. Emory was truly losing it. “None of that’s true! You know…”
“All I know is that it’s time to grow up, Rosie. Get rid of your little girl hobbies and go get my son. If you don’t, I’ll get right on that phone and tell him exactly what I saw happen between you and the sheriff.”
Nothing happened, she wanted to say, but a memory intruded—Cab’s arm tight around her shoulders. Her desire for him to kiss her. Her desire for more than that.
“I knew it,” Emory said, seizing the chance her hesitation gave him. “I knew you were cheating on Jason. I’m going to call him right now.”
“No!” Rose said. “No, wait. Emory, don’t call him. You’re right, I need to go and see him. I’ll do it right away—tomorrow. We’ll get everything sorted out, you’ll see.” She’d break up with Jason but she’d do it on her own terms. No way was she going to let Emory screw this up, too.
“Go today,” Emory said to her.
Rose opened her mouth to contradict him, then changed her mind. Once she cleared out of the carriage house he wouldn’t know what she was doing. She’d pack everything she could fit in the truck and haul it back here to the Big House, then spend the rest of the day finishing her tree house. She could drive overnight to North Dakota and confront Jason first thing in the morning.
“I’ll come get my things right now,” she said.
Four hours later, she handed the keys to the carriage house to Emory and prepared to leave. As soon as she’d told Autumn about Emory’s ultimatum and that she wanted to retrieve her possessions as soon as possible, Autumn sprang into action, located a number of boxes and rounded up Ethan, Jamie and Rob to help her. Morgan volunteered, as well, and with four pickup trucks and a car between them, they made short work of the job.