Country Love - Page 45

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She presses her lips together in a tight line and looks down at her hands. I reach out and cover them with mine, and she grips me tightly before her face crumples and she is bawling again.

"I am so sorry, here are your drinks right now...." The receptionist freezes in the doorway at the spectacle before her.

"Put them on the table there," I snap as Camilla hides her face in my shoulder. "Thank you."

When the door closes again, Camilla barks out a strange little laugh. "My mother would have had her head for not knocking," she says, her chest hitching slightly. "She was big on manners and politeness."

My mind flashes to Carter and the polite facade he wore just before he started kissing me and I shiver slightly. "She sounds like a great lady."

Camlla's eyes go far away, fixed at a point over my shoulder. "She was. I'm shy, always have been, and she was my protector. I had a terrible stutter growing up, and people would just gloss over me rather than listen to me struggling to talk. My mother went to bat for me a million times, speaking up for me when I couldn't find my own voice." Her eyelashes flutter slowly. "Carter tries to do the same now. I know he wants to have the wedding at his place to make up to me somehow that my dad and mom can't be there. He blames himself so badly."

Her words are hitting me in a sore, hurting place. It's all I can do to nod and keep my own tears from falling.

"Carter wants to be mom, and dad, and my brother all at the same time, because he thinks it's his fault that mom and dad were killed." She says this idly, like it's information that I should already know, but I am thunderstruck.

"How could it be his fault?" I blurt, then redden for prying into her personal grief.

Camilla's eyes move to mine. "Because the paparazzi thought they were chasing him."

I blink. It's like her words are bouncing off of me, hitting me again and again until I can't do anything but clutch my belly in submission. Suddenly things seem to slide into place.

"Which is why he lives alone on that island now," I realize. "He feels safe there."

Camilla nods her head.

Just then the door swings wide open. Seven women burst through, shouting loudly in Italian at one another. They all fall comically silent when they see Camilla and me sitting there, tear-streaked and clutching each other.

I rise with as much dignity as I can muster. "Sanniyah Jones, wedding planner," I smile, brandishing my card. "I'd love to help you plan your special day. Miss Easton and I are all done here, I hope you find the one!"

Camilla ducks behind me and I shield her with my body before we both break out in a run for the door.

Chapter Twenty-Six


Out in the bright sunlight, we stand blinking for a moment. "So...that went well," Camilla deadpans.

"We can try another time," I tell her. I am ready to crash. I also find my fingers itching to reach for my cell phone to call Carter.

"I'm never going to be completely cool with it," Camilla says. "I'd rather go now, while I'm mentally prepared."

I sigh inwardly, then nod. "My morning is yours." I think for a moment. "Do you mind walking or should we grab a cab?"

"Let's walk, I could use the air."

"This way then."

We walk in companionable silence, but I am burning up inside. I want her to keep talking about Carter. "Do Greg and your brother get along?" I ask, innocently enough, I think.

Camilla smiles. "Greg can be...intense. He's on, 24/7. It's good for me, since I have a tendency to be passive. He balances me out, helps me go for my goals and all of that. But he doesn't always recognize when he should turn that off and just...chill."

I nod. "Does that cause any problems?"

Camilla laughs a little. "Yesterday I was fairly certain that Carter was going to punch Greg out. But I couldn't really blame him. If my brother hadn't hit him, I would have had to. Luckily Greg is pretty self-aware and realized he was out of line."

I swallow back my curiosity. "What did he say? What did he do? What did Carter do? How did he look while he was doing it?" I don't ask any of these questions. Instead, I nod sagely. "It must be hard being caught between the two most important men in your life."

"Not that hard," Camilla shakes her head. "In the end, I know that Carter only wants me to be happy. He's like that. His temper flares up, but then it immediately settles back down again."

I remember the coldness in his eyes as he watched me from the bed. "Hmm," I say.

"We didn't come from money," Camilla says suddenly, striding forward like she wants to escape the memory. "Mom was a home ec teacher at our high school and Dad was a writer. When he sold a book, which was rare, happened only a few times that I can remember, we would go on fancy vacations with the advance money and I would pretend that I was one of the rich people. It seemed like such a simple thing, having a lot of money. Like it solved all the problems you could have."

We're nearing our destination and I have to put a gentle hand on her arm to keep her from starting to sprint. She is anxious and coiled up like a spring. "But it doesn't solve anything, you know. You're still the same person you were back before the money came into your life, with the same hurts and the same memories. The money doesn't change who you were and it doesn't fix the parts of you that you don't like very much. And sometimes you acquire a whole new set of hurts and memories to go with the new money."

Her words ignite a struggle inside of me. Rich people don't have problems, the perpetual outsider protests, but the truth of Cammy's words cannot be denied. I nod slowly, remembering something I read and scoffed at long ago. The words come back to me slowly, and I speak them with a voice that I don't recognize as my own. "Everyone carries their own set of hurts. You can't know what's in someone's heart unless you let them show it to you."

Her eyes flit back to mine like she is just remembering that I am there. Her lips quirk up in a mysterious little smile. "I think Carter would agree with you, even if he doesn't realize it yet."

Chapter Twenty-Seven


Her words hang in the air for several moments, settling around my shoulders so that I feel them wrap around me like a warm blanket.

Then she abruptly turns her head and looks at the door. "Is this it?"

The spell broken, I turn and look at the tiny storefront. We're on a nondescript block, the crash-bang of a loading dock three doors down is making it so we need to shout. "I think you'll like it here," I promise her.

She nods and I push my way into Melanie's Bridal, a homey little shop that is my hidden resource.

"Ms. Jones!" Melanie Rankoff is a Russian immigrant with a regal bearing and a warm smile made even warmer by the motherly crinkles around her eyes. She's been in the States long enough to soften her accent to a soft burr around her words. I could listen to her talk for hours.

"Mrs. Rankoff, so good to see you again." We exchange cheek kisses and I pull Camilla towards her. "Beach wedding in October," I say.

Melanie nods. "Light and unfussy." Her long fingers dart out to caress Camilla's cheek. Camilla shies away for a moment, then smiles under the motherly touch. "You should definitely wear your hair down, my dear. You will look like a mermaid with those waves."

Camilla catches her fine hair back. "Not an updo?"

Melanie shakes her head firmly. "A single braid to frame the face, that is it. And you will wear this."

Melanie disappears around the corner. We stand in the vestibule of the cramped little shop. "Should we follow?" Camilla whispers.

"Just wait, she'll bring it out. Melanie has a system," I assure her.

Camilla laughs, clearly as enchanted by Melanie's eccentricities as I am. Just then, the salon owner pokes her head around the corner. "You may come now, you must see this. I have outdone myself."

Camilla looks at me. "Well, you heard the woman, go ahead," I urge her.

Tags: Mia Caldwell Erotic