Home > Storm (Ashes & Embers #1)(14)

Storm (Ashes & Embers #1)(14)
Author: Carian Cole

Storm seems huge in my tiny hallway. I take my bag from him and go into the living room and place it on the couch. The room is a mess just as I figured it would be. Soda cans and potato chip bags lying on the coffee table, the TV still on.

My cheeks flush. “I’m sorry... Michael’s a bit of a slob. I usually clean everything.” I pick up the random cans and take them to the kitchen where the garbage is overflowing so bad the lid won’t shut and the sink is filled with dirty dishes. Ugh.

Storm has followed me and I look at him apologetically. “It’s not usually this messy.”

“Evelyn, I don’t care. Go check your cat. I’ll wait here.”

Unfortunately, since Halo is deaf, I can’t call him or shake a bag of cat food so I have to hunt for him. Sometimes, I can stomp my feet on the floor and he will feel the vibration and come running, but I’m not about to jump up and down like a lunatic in front of Storm.

I finally find Halo under my bed all curled up sleeping. I gently blow on him to wake him, and he immediately does his screech-meow at me. I pick him up and cradle him like a baby (which he loves), and carry him downstairs.

“I found him under the bed.”

Storm’s face lights up as soon as he sees him. I think it’s awesome he’s such an animal lover. I can see it in his eyes, the genuine care. “Holy shit, he’s gorgeous. And big.” He reaches out and softly pets Halo’s head. “Wow, I can’t believe he’s eighteen. That’s wild.” I place Halo on the couch and feel his back to see if his spine feels more prominent, which would be a sign of weight loss.

“He seems okay,” Storm says. “Does he seem thinner to you?”

“No, I think he’s good. Thank God. I couldn’t bear it if something happened to him.”

Storm’s gaze goes from Halo to me. “Evie, are you going to be all right here alone?”

“Of course. I’m alone here almost all the time. Michael has to travel for work a lot, so I’m used to it. I just wasn’t expecting it this time, ya know? Thank you for driving me home, Storm.” I look up into his eyes. “Thank you for everything.”

He takes a step closer to me and grabs each of my hands in his, sending the tingles through my body again. How does he do that? “Seth will call you about your car. I put my number in your phone. You can call me if you want to.”

“You took my phone? Storm, that’s like an invasion of privacy.”

“Blah, blah, blah. What’s the big deal? Just call me if you need to, all right?”

“Fine.” I agree, but I know I will never call him. There’s no reason to. We’re not friends, not really. We’re just two people who was stuck together for a few days and made the best of a bad situation. Unfortunately, his cockiness and player-tude got the best of me while I was vulnerable, but I will never let that happen again.

He hangs on to my hands longer than he should and looks at me like he either wants to say something or is waiting for me to say something.

I clear my throat and pull my hands out of his. “Are you going back to enjoy your time alone now? Or was that only supposed to be for the weekend?”

“I’m not sure. I’ll stay there tonight and figure out what I want to do tomorrow.”

I nod. “So where is home then, if that’s just like a vacation sort of place for you?”

He chews on the inside of his cheek before answering me. “Just around. Not far.”

It’s clear he doesn’t want me to know where he lives. As if I would stalk him or something? Please.

“Well... thanks again. It was nice getting to know you. Give Niko a pet for me.”

“I will. You should think about getting a dog since you’re alone here so much. A deaf cat can’t offer you much protection, no matter how cute he is.”

“Yeah, Michael doesn’t like dogs. I’m fine, really.” Just leave. Don’t linger. I want you to hold my hands again and make me tingle.

“Michael sounds like a smashing fellow.”

“Okay, you can go now. I have a ton of cleaning to do as you can see.”

He takes a few steps toward the door and turns around once more. “I’ll see ya around, Evie.

I walk past him and open the door for him so he’ll actually go through it. “Bye, Storm.” Go. Go. Go.

He stops in the doorway and leans down close to my face. For a second, I think he is going to kiss me. I hold my breath. “Promise me you’ll remember who I was with you,” he says, his raspy voice low.

“Yes. Of course, I will.” He winks at me, touches the tip of my nose, and leaves. I close the door slowly behind him. I refuse to watch him leave. I don’t know why, but I can’t.

What the hell was that all about? Cryptic. I have a feeling that meant something, but I have no idea what. Shit, I hope he doesn’t have some terminal illness. My stomach sinks. Could that be it?

I can’t dwell on it. I have so much to do starting with the mess Michael left me. Laundry, vacuuming, and I need to call my boss, Jack. Ugh. I should just get that over with.

I dial the office and punch in his extension.

“Jack Sands,” he says in his gruff tone.

“Hi, Jack, it’s me. It’s Evelyn.”

“Evelyn. What the hell happened? Where are you? It’s Tuesday afternoon and you’re not here, no calls, nothing. The event coordinator emailed over the weekend and said you never even showed up. I expect an explanation. The seminar and your room cost me twenty-five hundred dollars that I’ve now lost.”

I take a deep breath. “Jack, I am so sorry. I got lost on the way to the hotel, and I somehow ended up on this road up in the mountains. The snow was getting really bad and I lost control of my car. I was stuck on the side of the road. Another driver saw me there and stopped to give me a ride, but then while we were in his car, a deer ran out in the middle of the road, and he slammed on his breaks. That caused his truck to spin around and slide all over the road and next thing I know, we’ve gone completely off the road and out into the woods until we crash into a tree and we are totally stuck. The snow was so bad by then we couldn’t even try to walk to find help, so we were stuck in his truck for two entire days. It was terrible. I thought we were going to freeze to death. We finally got out yesterday. My car is stuck at a garage up there though, getting fixed.”

Hearing myself tell this story, I realize I sound like a complete idiot. It sounds utterly ridiculous.

“Evelyn, are you serious?”

“Jack, I swear to you, every word is true. I am so sorry about the seminar and everything. My phone had no reception up in the mountains. That’s why I couldn’t call for help or let anyone know where I was.”

He makes an aggravated noise. I can picture him at his desk looking all pissed off. “Well, what’s done is done. At least you’re okay. I am very disappointed, however.”

“I’m very sorry, Jack.” Sorry, I almost died, dude.

“So will you be in later today? We’re short staffed now with you not here.”

“Um, I don’t have a car right now.” I swallow and take a deep breath before continuing, bracing myself. “Also, Jack, I was hoping maybe I could take two personal days while I get the car taken care of and kind of recuperate from this? I am exhausted from not sleeping and dehydrated. I would really appreciate it if I could take two days to recover from this. I could speak to human resources instead if you’d like.” Ha. I know that will get him. He doesn’t ever want any of his direct reports to contact HR.

“No, no, that won’t be necessary, Evelyn. It’s inconvenient, but if you need the time to recuperate, then we’ll do our best to manage. I’ll expect you here on Friday.” I hear a loud click before I can say thank you. Asshole.

I am thankful I have the rest of today and the next two days to rest and get my head together. Until then, I can put work out of my mind and just deal with the mess on Friday when I go back in.

I grab the laundry basket and walk through the condo, picking up the stray socks, towels, and other clothing Michael has left all over the place. I empty my travel bag onto the couch so I can wash all those wrinkly clothes, too. I pull out a big black sweatshirt—the one Storm gave me. I forgot to give it back to him. I hope he doesn’t want it back because it’s really big and comfy, and I love me a big cozy sweatshirt. I throw it in the basket and hope he forgets I still have it.

After I start the laundry, I vacuum, fill the dishwasher, throw out old food sitting in the fridge, clean and refill Halo’s dishes, and change the sheets on the bed. I feel like I’ve been gone for a month. I have no idea how Michael can manage to make such a mess in a small amount of time. Oh, and that reminds me I’m supposed to text him to let him know I’m home. I type a quick message on my phone and hit send.

Me: “I’m home.”

A few seconds later, my phone beeps.

Michael: “Great. I’ll be home tonight. The meeting wrapped up faster than I thought. See you then.”

I should probably call Amy, but I’m too tired to deal with her right now. She’s super hyper and will get me all riled up. So I send her a quick text telling her I’m home and safe and will call her tomorrow.

When the house finally feels back in order, I put on some yoga pants and get comfortable on the couch with Halo to watch a good movie and wait for Michael to come home.

The sound of the door slamming jolts me awake. I must have dozed off watching television.

Michael is in the room, his laptop bag and overnight bag slung over his shoulder. “Glad to be home?” he says, lowering his bags onto the chair.

I nod and cover my mouth to yawn. “I am. I feel so tired though.”

He sits on the couch next to me and lays his hand on my leg. “I’m sure you’re exhausted, Ev.” He plants a kiss on my lips. “I’m glad you’re home. Did you make any dinner? I’m starving.”

Eek. “No... There really isn’t any food to cook, and I don’t have my car, remember?”

   
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