Breaking the Rules (Page 57)

Breaking the Rules (Pushing the Limits #1.5)(57)
Author: Katie McGarry

Meredith’s cheeks pale as her gaze falls to Hunter then jumps back to me. She mouths, “Sorry,” realizing what she wandered into.

Portfolio viewing. It’s like waiting to hear the verdict in a death sentence trial.

“Rain check,” she whispers, and her friend Brigit snatches Meredith’s arm and pulls her across the attic. Both of them give me a thumbs-up before they disappear down the stairs.

Wow. Freaking wow.

In slow motion, I pivot toward Hunter and flinch when I notice him assessing me and not my work. Crap. I missed his expression. The important one. Not the words—the obligatory “It’s good.” The facial one. The one Hunter spotted in me when I first saw his painting. Eyes never lie.

“You fit in here, Echo.”

The smile that I didn’t even know was on my face fades. A weird heaviness rolls into me like a fog. It’s not a bad sensation, but the type I experience when Noah rests an arm around my shoulder when we’re walking down the street, or when he places a hand on the small of my back when he guides me through a crowded room. It’s like a large cape drawn around me, making me feel safe and wanted. Making me feel included.

I stagger back. My legs hit the stool, and I lower myself down onto it. Scanning the room, I see people from every walk of life. All of them different, all of them their own unique palette of paint.

What’s amazing is that I belong.

Me.

Echo Emerson.

The girl who didn’t belong anywhere. The girl nobody wanted.

A wetness burns my eyes, and I have to quickly rub them to hide my emotional meltdown, but my hands tremble.

I belong—scars and all.

“Does that mean you like my work?”

“You have a lot to learn.”

My eyes flash to his as my stomach tightens into a ball. This has to be the cruelest joke. To tell me I belong then rip the hope out from underneath me.

“But you have raw talent that I could never teach. So yes, I like your work.”

Flutters in my chest, flying high in the sky. I have talent. I’m going to succeed on my own. I’m off the stool and hugging Hunter. The moment his hands touch my back and press me closer, I jerk. But even with that, Hunter runs his hand along my spine.

No one should ever hold me this close. No one should touch me like this. Not someone who isn’t Noah.

“I’m sorry.” I push away, wondering if I’ve given a wrong sign. “I shouldn’t have—”

“Echo?” The question in Noah’s voice slashes like a knife to my heart.

My hair hits my face as I turn to him. “Hunter likes my work.”

Noah’s brown eyes flicker between me and Hunter. “That’s good.” But he doesn’t say it like he’s happy. He says it like I hurt him.

I suck in air and hope Noah will understand. “Hunter just saw my paintings, my drawings, and he likes them and I got excited.”

Please hear what I’m saying. He sees my potential. He sees my talent. All of it without my mother’s influence. For the first time in my life, I’m standing on my own.

The room’s gone quiet, and Noah notices how everyone watches us. He shakes his hair over his eyes, and he hauntingly reminds me of the boy I first met months ago. Not the boy who shares his soul with me, but the one that made fun of my name. The one who, when I refused to give him back his leather jacket in public, said horrible things and made me cry.

Two nights ago, Noah held me in his arms and loved me like no one has ever loved me. Right now the man to my right has the possibility of making my dreams come true. Why does it seem that any way I choose, I’m going to break someone’s heart?

Mine or Noah’s or both.

Noah

From behind Echo, the bastard smiles and, fuck me, Echo’s pleading with me to let this go. But she doesn’t see what I see. She didn’t notice that asshole’s face when she wrapped her arms around him. Like she handed him a gift, and he was hell-bent on opening it as fast as he could. My fingers curl as he mockingly raises his eyebrows. The bastard acts like he’s calling my bluff.

It’s no bluff, you damned snake. It’s no bluff at all.

Echo shuffles her feet as if she can’t decide who she should be more concerned over. “Noah?”

I release a stream of air through my mouth, attempting to rein in my temper. Losing it here, it’s what he wants. It’s Echo’s nightmare. “I was stopping by to see if you needed anything.”

And to fill you in on my mom’s family. Then the conversation will detour to how I walked in to see her tackling another guy—a guy I already have issues with.

“I…” She glances behind her, and the bastard’s smile vanishes before she can spot it. “Well, Hunter was looking at my work, and we were talking about how he liked it and—”

“It’s all right, Echo,” says Hunter in a sugar-sweet way that causes me to want to punch his face. “Since you aren’t officially a part of The Attic, we haven’t discussed how there are boundaries between your professional life and your personal life. And even if we did have the conversation, you didn’t ask your boyfriend to rush in and cause a scene.”

My spine straightens, and I cross my arms over my chest. A scene? I’ll throw him through the fucking window, then we can discuss a scene.

“Maybe you and your boyfriend should take this outside?” Hunter says to her. “And after you clean up what’s going on here, we can discuss whether you can focus on a career in art.”

Echo’s cheeks flare red, and she drops her gaze. I briefly close my eyes. She’s embarrassed—over me.

Hunter leaves and heads down the stairs. Motion around us, a shifting of feet on the loft flooring, and Echo hugs herself as if the action could make her small enough to disappear. “Let’s go.”

She avoids eye contact as she passes me and doesn’t permit her arm to graze mine. Nor does she look back to see if I follow.

Pain pricks my chest. The worst type of letting go isn’t the kicking or the screaming, because at least then there’s enough emotion left to fight. No, the worst type is the silent acceptance. The quietness of the release. That’s when the person realizes they no longer give a damn.

Echo

Unable to walk past Hunter’s office, I exit at the bottom of the stairs. The large metal door clicks shut behind me, and the warm Colorado sun kisses the bare skin of my arms. The loading dock reflects me, inside and out: not much to look at and empty.

Two girls accepted me, one of the best artists in North America likes my work and whether he meant to or not, my boyfriend embarrassed me.