Excerpt: The Idea Of You
Ribbon Ridge, Book 4
Evan Archer rounded the larger of his parents’ two garages and was immediately hit by the smell of smoke and the peal of an alarm. He instinctively pressed his hands to his ears and looked up at the apartment on the second floor of the garage. Smoke billowed from an open window. Despite the excruciating sound, he ran toward the door, threw it open, and vaulted up the stairs. The door at the top, which led to the apartment, was open. The acrid scent of smoke assaulted his lungs as the scream of the alarm violated his ears.
A woman stood beneath the alarm madly waving a towel.
Evan strode to the dining table situated in front of the windows and pulled a chair beneath the smoke detector. He said nothing to the strange woman, but nevertheless she moved out of his way. He stepped onto the chair and promptly pulled the battery from the alarm. Blessed silence reigned. He closed his eyes with relief.
“Thank you,” she said, draping the towel over her shoulder. “I am so sorry about this. Who are you?”
He didn’t look directly at her but recognized her immediately. “You’re Alaina Pierce.”
“I know who I am. Who are you?” There was a guarded, tentative look in her eyes. He universally sucked at decoding emotional expression, but that was one he knew. Probably because he’d seen it in the mirror so much when he’d been younger.
He jumped down off the wooden chair and returned it to the table. “I’m Evan Archer. Are you staying here?”
“Yes. Sean didn’t tell you?”
“Nope.” Evan hadn’t seen his brother-in-law today, but that wasn’t unusual. He and Evan’s sister Tori lived in a condo in Ribbon Ridge proper, while Evan lived fifteen minutes outside the center of town with their parents in the house they’d all grown up in. “Should he have?”
“Maybe not. My being here is a secret.”
Then it made perfect sense that he hadn’t told Evan. He was terrible at keeping secrets. “I suck at secrets.” And knowing when to keep his mouth shut.
“I see. Well, do you think you could keep me a secret?”
Maybe. If he didn’t make the mistake of blurting it out without thinking. “I guess.”
“Hey,” she said with more volume than she’d used before. “Would you mind looking at me so I can see if you’re telling the truth?”
He forced himself to look straight at her. She was beautiful. But not in the glamorous movie star way he’d expected. She wore very little makeup, not that she needed any at all. The color of her skin reminded him of rich buttermilk, and her hazel eyes carried a beguiling sparkle. They were very expressive and probably her defining feature. Along with that marquee smile he had yet to see.
“Do you have a superpower that allows you to detect lies?”
Her mouth inched up into an almost-smile. “Yes, I do. It’s a side effect of being ridiculously famous.”
“Good to know. I was only moderately famous, so that’s a skill I don’t possess.” He was also fairly lousy at lying. How could he recognize it in someone else? He looked away from her, settling his gaze on the still-smoky kitchen. “I’ll do my best not to expose your secret.”
“How were you moderately famous? Wait, I remember. That reality show with the sextuplets.”
He flicked her a quick glance. “You watched it?” The show had ended almost fifteen years ago, but Evan remembered it the way one never forgot the most unpleasant moments of one’s life.
“No, sorry. Sean told me about it.”
Evan noted the cookie sheet on the stovetop. It bore slender blackened strips. “Is that bacon?”
She groaned. “Yes. I read somewhere that you could broil bacon in the oven, that it was less messy than cooking it in a pan on the stove.”
“But you burned it.” Hence the smoke. “Did you forget about it?”
“Yes, actually. My assistant called, and I went into the bedroom to talk to her. Next thing I knew, the alarm was going off and smoke was clogging the apartment. Please apologize to your mother for me. I’m surprised you’re the only one who came running.”
Evan didn’t know for sure, but he suspected his parents were out. They’d been going on a lot of date nights lately. It helped them keep their minds off the one-year anniversary of his brother Alex’s suicide a couple of weeks ago. “I was coming back from a walk.”
More or less. Actually, he was getting pretty good at the lying thing, now that he thought about it.
“In the dark?”
He heard the surprise in her question. That was one inflection he could usually discern. Plus, even he knew walking in the near-dark in February was perhaps . . . odd. He shrugged. “It’s not totally dark yet.”
“Oh, okay.” Was that sarcasm? He couldn’t be sure. He also couldn’t care less.
Intellectually, he registered that her being here was extraordinary—something he probably ought to have picked up on when he’d first come into the apartment. She was a world-famous actress, someone he’d seen in countless movies and whose talent he admired. “Why are you staying here?”
“I’m, uh, hiding out.”
“Just stupid famous-person stuff. The paparazzi were annoying me.”
He’d hated the fame that had come along with their reality show. Everyone in Ribbon Ridge knew who they were, which he supposed was to be expected even without a show, given the size of the town. However, it was one thing to be acquainted with people and another for them to think they knew you on an intimate level, as if you were friends. He imagined it might be like that times a hundred for Alaina. “That has to be hard. Your life really isn’t your own. When we did the show, people were always talking to me like they knew me, like I was their buddy.”
She cocked her head to the side. “You totally get it. That’s . . . weird. I mean, cool, but weird. Most people don’t remotely understand.”
“But you signed up for that, right?” He hadn’t. His parents had agreed to put them all on the show when an old family friend had pitched the idea. After the third season, they’d pulled the plug because of Evan’s discomfort—something no one knew. Hmm, apparently he could keep secrets, too.