Authors: Carly Syms
To my own Doan Riley.
Cinderella Steals Home
Copyright 2013 Carly Syms
All rights reserved.
Cover Art: Katie Murray, Mumbo Marketing
All events are a work of the author's imagination. Any resemblance to any people and events are purely coincidental.
I flick the blinker on my beat-up, two-door forest green Honda and pull into the left turn lane. I stare out the windshield at the landscape in front of me and can't stop a long sigh from escaping my lips.
"Toto," I mutter to the empty car. "We're definitely not in Pennsylvania anymore."
A tall, wide mountain range rises in the distance and the lowering sun casts a red glow across the rugged terrain. The sun darkens the outline of the cacti that litter the mountainside. Palm trees line the streets in front of me, and even at almost five in the afternoon, I can't find a cloud in the bright blue sky.
It's been almost a decade since I've seen the desert and I'm not all that happy to be back again, but here I am. It's not like I had any real choice in the matter -- it was either moving back to Arizona or crashing at my grandma's house in Toronto, and I'm not about to cross any international borders anytime soon.
So, the southwest won out in the end and that's why I currently sit in my dented old car in the middle of Scottsdale right alongside BMWs and Jaguars and Range Rovers, but I don't care if I look out of place. I'm not trying to fit in here.
The light changes from red to green and I turn left, my GPS alerting me that I'm only five miles from Dad's house in the Phoenix suburbs. I accelerate -- as well as my trusty old car will let me, anyway -- up the street when a red Mustang with its top down and a shiny black pick-up truck scream through the red light and careen wildly into traffic, the squeal of tires ringing in my ears.
I slam my foot on the brakes to avoid plowing into the back of the SUV in front of me, a choice string of curses pouring out of my mouth. The red Mustang almost crashes into a minivan a few cars ahead of me but it zooms around it at the last second, rides the tail of the truck and cuts back into the left lane before speeding up and taking off again.
My jaw drops and without even thinking about it, I immediately push down on my gas pedal to catch up to these idiots to let them know exactly what I think of them. It's what I would have done in Pennsylvania, anyway, and I see no reason not to do the same thing now. I can hardly believe what I'm watching.
The two cars continue to weave in and out of traffic until they come to a red light. The Mustang blows through it again, almost causing another accident, but the driver of the pick-up slams on the brakes so hard that the truck screeches to a halt in a cloud of smoke, burning rubber and shame.
Determined, I weave around several cars, pulling up along the truck and roll my window down.
"Hey!" I yell at the pick-up. The dark tinted windows make it impossible to tell who's driving, or if they even notice me shouting. I honk my horn twice and finally the passenger side window lowers.
"What the heck was that?" I scream without seeing who's behind the wheel.
The driver leans over into the passenger seat and my mouth runs dry, rage momentarily subsiding as my brain scrambles to make sense of what's happening.
A gorgeous -- and trust me, I don't use the term lightly -- guy with dark blonde hair and tan skin and beautiful warm golden eyes looks back at me.
He hits me with a perfect white smile and I can't take my eyes off the ripple of his biceps beneath the gray Coyotes T-shirt that clings to his arms.
But then I remember him blowing through the red light and it's easy to get mad all over again.
"Are you insane?" I demand.
"Something the matter, sweetcheeks?" he asks, flashing me the smile I know he's used on countless girls before. He looks like the type who knows he can charm anyone, anywhere.
And I'm sorry to admit it almost works again.
"Do you not know what you just did?" I point back toward the traffic light behind us.
He glances over his shoulder. "Oh, that?" He shrugs. "Eddie and I were just racing, that's all. No harm, no foul."
My eyes bug out of my head. "No harm, no what?" I cry. "You could have killed someone."
"I could have been killed, too," he replies so simply that it sends chills running down my arms. He pats his chest. "But, oh, look, no one's dead and here I am, still in the flesh. Aren't you lucky?"
"Yeah, well, just because you might have a death wish doesn't mean everyone else who shares the road with you does, too," I snap. "Don't be such an asshole."
Something flickers across his face then -- remorse, maybe, I'm not sure -- but it's quickly replaced with another cocky smile that I find repulsive.
Or at least I tell myself I find it repulsive.
"Aww, come on, princess, you don't even know me," he says with a wink. "You might be right about the asshole thing but at least grab a beer with me before you decide for sure."
I laugh. "Now
rather die," I say before jabbing my finger against the window button. I face forward and wait for the light to turn green without looking back at him even though I know he's still watching me through the window.
I have no time for idiots like this. I know too many of them from back in Pennsylvania.
Leaving them behind might be the only good thing about this whole move. Too bad it looks like they followed me out here.
The light changes and his black pick-up truck speeds past my car. I crawl along at a safe pace until I lose him and the GPS directs me into a neighborhood off the main road.
I drive through the development of sprawling, expansive houses and realize my car is chugging just a little too hard as it tries to get up this mountain.
Finally, the GPS dings and I ease to a rest along the curb in front of, well, in front of a mansion.
My dad's house is undeniably beautiful with its Spanish-style architecture and light red stucco walls.
I let out another sigh. I really don't want to do this.
But it isn't like I have a choice anymore.
I made my decision.
This is it.
My new home sweet home.
I pull the key out of the engine and take a deep, steadying breath. The longer I can draw this out, the better. I'm just about to take the GPS off the dashboard and put it away when I see him.
He's taller in real life than he is in my memories.
His blonde hair looks darker now, his clothes definitely more upscale. The man I once knew didn't wear pressed khakis and polo shirts and golf visors, but I guess that's who he is now.
But he's still my father.
"Holly!" Dad walks over to my car and has the driver's side door open before I even know what's happening.
In a daze, I unbuckle my seatbelt and turn to get out of the car. He takes a step back to let me out and give me my space, which I appreciate.
But the second my feet hit the ground, he's wrapping me up in a big bear hug -- the kind I used to love when I was six.
So much for personal space and easing back into things.
He lets go and looks at me. "How the heck are you? It's so good to see you, kiddo."
"Let's go inside." He puts his arm around my shoulders and takes a step forward. I don't move.
"I should get my bags first."
"Don't worry about that," he says. "I'll have your brother do it. Come on, I want to show you the house."
I follow him up the driveway, past the gates that lead to an outdoor front courtyard like the one we used to have years ago and through the entryway.
"Oh," I say once I step inside. "This is really nice."
And it is. A far cry from the place Mom and I had moved to in Pennsylvania. That house isn't bad but we've been living a life of poverty compared to what Dad's got going on here in the desert.
We walk into a marble foyer with a winding iron staircase that leads to a loft overlooking the entry and the backyard. Curved archways lead to a maze of hallways and I can already see an infinity pool overlooking the edge of the mountain that the house is built into through the floor-to-ceiling windows in the living room.
"It's your home now, Holly."
"Maybe just my house," I say quickly.
He looks over at me. "Whatever you want, of course," he says, but it's hard to miss the change in his voice.
Dad's new wife appears in the loft and walks over to the landing.
"Holly!" The blonde woman immaculately coifed and dressed in head-to-toe white linen smiles brightly at me before she walks down the steps, the heels of her stilettos pinging off the iron staircase. "It's wonderful to see you!"
"Hi Tanya," I say politely. I haven't seen her since she married my dad in Hawaii five years earlier.
"How are you
, darling?" she asks, placing her hands on my shoulders and air kissing my cheeks.
In my almost ten years of living in Pennsylvania, I'm pretty sure I've never seen an air kiss. I struggle not to roll my eyes -- I know it'll hurt Dad's feelings if he sees and while I don't really want to be here, I don't want to be a total brat to him, either. He's giving me a place to live and saving me from a move to Canada, after all.
"Good, Tanya. And I guess I should say congratulations."
"Wonderful," she says, clapping her hands together before moving them to her still-tiny belly. "And thank you, darling." She looks over at Dad and beams. "We couldn't be more thrilled about the baby. I'll go see about some lemonade in the kitchen. You must be thirsty after that long drive."
"Have you seen Justin?" Dad asks before she leaves the room.
"He's out back."
Dad turns and walks through one of the archways, motioning for me to follow him.
We head down a long, narrow hallway and suddenly we're out on the back patio. I'd been right about the infinity pool but I'm even more blown away by the view in front of me.
Dad's house is built into the side of a mountain and we're about halfway up, which gives us a pretty incredible way to see the Valley. I can even make out the Phoenix skyline from our deck.
I hear the splash before I see it coming but suddenly, my jeans and red T-shirt are completely soaked.
"Justin!" Dad barks, and I snap my head up.
And there he is, shaking his head to get the water droplets out of his eyes. My big brother Justin.
I haven't seen him since the wedding, either.
"Sorry, Dad," Justin says, then he looks over at me and his eyes grow wide.
Before he can say anything, a shrill female voice yells, "Look out below!" A few seconds later, another giant splash rises up from the pool water and soaks the deck.