Breaking the Rules (Page 56)

Breaking the Rules (Pushing the Limits #1.5)(56)
Author: Katie McGarry

A couple walks past on the sidewalk, and I pretend to fiddle with the radio to convince them I’m doing anything other than stalking.

Two taps on the window, and my stomach drops. I glance out and a fucking priest in the whole black outfit and white collar waves at me to roll down my window. For a brief moment, I consider talking in Spanish, but my luck, the asshole could also speak it.

I turn the ignition one notch to power the windows and roll them down. “Yeah?”

“Can I help you?” He’s middle-aged nosy, brown hair with a few gray strands in the sideburns, with a master’s degree in condescending looks.

“No.”

“You’ve been here awhile.”

“I have.” One of the first rules I learned in foster care is I don’t owe anyone an explanation at any time. I save that shit for the people-pleasers.

“Are you broke down?”

“No.”

He assesses the car, searching for the mobile meth lab a punk like me with Kentucky plates should have. “Are you lost?”

Hell, yeah, I am. “I’m good.”

“I stepped outside and saw you here earlier and just noticed you’re still here now.” He cranes his head toward the massive church. It’s old-school basilica-style. We took a family vacation once, road-tripping those big bastards. “I work there.”

“No shit.”

The priest actually smiles then rubs his nose with his thumb. “Why are you interested in the Perrys?”

Hearing him say my mother’s maiden name so casually is like having my nuts ripped open. “Don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“The Perrys aren’t here.”

I power the engine to fight asking where they are or when they’ll be back. “Let me guess, you’re the neighborhood block watch. Even pick up the mail while everyone’s gone and take out the trash.”

“No. I happen to notice when my parents are gone. They’re visiting friends on the other side of the state.”

My head snaps in his direction, and he taps the roof of the car again. “It’s time you move along.”

I rev the engine and throw the car into reverse, but this deep need keeps me from hitting the gas. He steps back to allow me room to leave.

“When you’re done with the attitude,” he says, “and ready to talk, you know where my office is.”

“What makes you think we have anything to say to each other?”

He smiles, and my heart stops. Jesus Christ, that’s my mom’s smile. “Kentucky plates, an email sent against my advice and my sister’s eyes. We have plenty to discuss.”

My mouth drops open, and he’s not done. “And Noah, don’t try to approach my parents on your own. There’s a reason why Sarah ran and why I followed in her footsteps. Talk to me before you cross that bridge.”

The priest…my uncle…walks away. I rake my hands through my hair and glance down, wondering where the fuck the blood is because I just got shot.

Echo

My canvas reminds me of my brain back when I repressed the memories of the night of the incident with my mom: color around the edges and a blank hole in the middle. I’ve got mere days to impress Hunter, and a blank canvas will not help my plight.

When I try to imagine painting the stars that comprise Aires, I freeze up, but the sky surrounding it, I can do.

“So you are human.” Hunter walks up beside me, and I can’t help but smile at his words. “I was worried I had an art-superwoman on my hands, and that the government would come and perform tests on you.”

“I’m very human.” Using my wrist, I wipe my hair from my forehead, but sigh when I lower it and spot dark blue streaking against my skin. I wave my hand. “Very, very human.”

Hunter doesn’t laugh at me; instead, he dips his head to the side as he looks at what I’ve done so far. “It’s more of a blue-black than a black sky. Why?”

I busy myself by cleaning my brushes. “Just feels blue to me.” Like a bruise. A big, fat, swelling bruise that’s so raw and painful that it’s close to black, but it’s still smack-a-baseball-bat-on-the-baby-toe blue.

“I like it. It has a soulful aura.” His eyes dart around the canvas. “You continue to surprise me.”

At his feet, like if he moved a fraction of an inch he’d kick it, is the sample of my paintings and drawings he asked to see. My foot taps the floor. I don’t want to be all…please, please, please look at my paintings and love them. I’d rather he remember and me be all…oh, I totally forgot that you agreed to see a sample of my work. Silly me. I’m so happy to be in this moment that I forgot.

His attention strays from me when someone says his name, which means my fantasy isn’t going to happen so it’s time to step outside of my shell again and be forceful. “I brought the samples of my work.”

That drew back Hunter’s focus. “Let’s see it.”

I grab my bag and that would be when Noah’s ringtone sings from my cell. Part of me relaxes with relief. Another part arches my back like a cat about to attack a dog twice its size. He left this morning without a word, and has been AWOL for hours. Hours. And the moment Hunter shows interest in my work, Noah finally calls.

Hunter glances at the phone, and of course, Noah’s face and name blare from the screen. “Should you answer so that he doesn’t assume I’ve forced you drink the Kool-Aid?”

Ah, talk about seriously awkward and uncomfortable to the point I wish I would disappear. The ringtone enters supersonic. I did promise Noah I’d answer, and he did promise to go ape insane if I didn’t while I was with Hunter, but in theory that was for the first day. Besides, Noah doesn’t know that I’m here since he left.

“No, Noah’s cool with everything.” I’m willing Noah to be cool. “So what do you want to see first, the paintings or the drawings?”

The phone thankfully stops ringing.

“Paintings.”

“Echo,” says Meredith. “Do you want to grab some coffee?”

I blink, repeatedly, like I lied, but I’m not having the reaction over me. She has to be lying. Besides Lila, a failed few dates with an ex and then Noah, I can’t think of the last person who asked to go anywhere or do anything with me in public in years, and now she’s done it twice.

Asking me out twice…I’ve made a friend. I open my mouth to scream yes, but Hunter shifts beside me.

I point at Hunter, who’s moved past patient and has opened my portfolio. Don’t freak—just because he’s currently appraising my work, and my entire art career is on the line, is no reason to panic. Oh, the emotion spectrum. Pure joy to utter fear. “Can I have a rain check?”