There was no time to warn Rowan. My feet pounded the pavement, and I rounded the corner of the castle so quickly, I slipped on mud. I needed a solid hiding place, somewhere I could gather my thoughts. Someplace . . .
Like that. I spotted a small opening in the bottom of the castle and hurtled toward it, ducking under the low doorway and stumbling up two steps to a small room. It was barely the size of a walk-in closet, dark except for a thin shaft of light working its way through a chink in the wall. I sank to my knees, adrenaline rushing through my body. Now what? I had to warn Ian.
“Addie?” My heart seized, but luckily it was just Rowan in the doorway, a serious frown crowding his features. “I know we haven’t known each other long, but there’s such a thing as common decency. You don’t just tear away from your travel partner with no explanation.”
Common decency? Travel partner? Rowan reverted to the role of stuffy English professor when he was angry. Before I could assign this particular trait the label of “cute,” I grabbed his sleeve and pulled him in, our bodies colliding clumsily as he stumbled up the steps. The ceiling was much too low for him, and he ended up in a half stoop over me.
“My mom’s out there. The whole wedding party’s out there,” I stammered.
His jaw dropped—I’d never seen anyone’s jaw actually drop before—and he turned to gape at the doorway. “Which one was she? Did she see you?”
“No, but Walt did. We have to find Ian, and we have to get out of here.” I crouched down to the ground, trying to still my trembling legs.
“I’ll text him right now.” He started for his phone, but just as he pulled it out, a second voice boomed into the cave, sending me toppling and Rowan’s phone clattering.
I sprang to my feet. Walt’s eyes were as wide as I’d ever seen them, and he blinked unsteadily into the darkness. “I thought I was going crazy. I saw you, but you’re supposed to be in Italy and . . .” His gaze snapped down to Rowan, who was still hunting for his phone, and suddenly Walt’s face switched into Big Brother Mode. “Who the hell are you?”
“Walt!” I threw myself at him just as he charged Rowan, managing to pin him back against the wall. This was escalating way too fast.
“Whoawhoawhoa.” Rowan stumbled backward, holding his phone up like a shield. “I’m her friend.”
“Everyone, listen!” I yelled at the top of my lungs. It was a risk, but it worked.
I stepped back from a now-still Walter. “Walt, this is Rowan. He’s Ian’s friend. He’s safe.”
“But . . . but you’re not in Italy.” Walt’s voice shot up to dog whistle levels. If he could hear how he sounded, he’d be mortified. “Mom thinks you’re in Italy. Everyone thinks you’re in Italy.”
“And that’s how it has to stay. Mom can’t know we’re in Ireland. You have to keep this a secret.” I leaned in to emphasize my point and got hit by a solid wall of fragrance. Walt had a lot of things going for him—he was sweet and uncomplicated, and he could be extremely thoughtful. But he was not good at cologne regulation. Which was unfortunate, because he also really, really loved cologne.
“Addie, what are you thinking?” His piercing voice lifted another octave, raising my anxiety with it. If I didn’t derail him, he was going to run out and ruin everything. Time to deflect.
I waved my hands in front of my watering eyes. “Walt, your cologne! I thought Mom said you couldn’t pack any.”
“I only did two spritzes,” he protested. “Two spritzes and a walk-through. That’s what you’re supposed to do. Why can’t any of you get that?”
Rowan suddenly piped up, catching on to my plan. “That’s got to be a John Varvatos. What is it? Artisan Acqua?”
The shift was instantaneous. “Artisan Blu,” Walter said, his mouth twisting into a grudging smile. “You wear it?”
Varvatos to the rescue. Rowan nodded vigorously as the tension in the cave lowered. “I’ve noticed that sometimes I have to water mine down a little because its one of the stronger scents. Might be worth a try.” Rowan was a master at argument disruption. My mom would adore him. I just hoped she wasn’t about to meet him.
Walt dropped his hands to his sides, his voice now calm. “Addie, why aren’t you in Italy?”
Insert plausible/convincing/nonincriminating explanation here. Minor problem: I was not good on my feet. Maybe if I just started talking, something brilliant would come out. “We stayed because of Ian. He’s . . .” I hunted through my brain for some sort of lifesaver, but nothing emerged.
“They stayed because Ian’s doing research for a college admissions essay.” Rowan to the rescue again. “I’m a student mentor from Trinity College. Ian hired me to help him write the perfect paper. Right now we’re researching famous historical sites.”
Not bad. Too bad Walt was never going to buy it. People were always falling for Walt’s laid-back-surfer-guy act, but it was just that—an act. Despite his lack of cologne awareness, Walt was most definitely not clueless. He had straight As and was working toward an accelerated degree in chemical engineering.
“But Ian doesn’t need a college admissions essay,” Walt said, unconsciously flexing his left biceps. “He could fail his whole senior year and still get into any sports program in Washington. Why is he wasting time writing a paper?”
I automatically jumped to Ian’s defense, my voice coming out in a snarl. “Maybe he likes writing.” This is what Ian meant. Any time the subject of his future came up, it was automatically wrapped in a helmet and shoulder pads. Suddenly, a new idea popped into my head. One that might actually work. I quickly softened my voice. “Ian’s trying to get into Notre Dame or Penn State. They have stricter admissions rules, so the paper matters.”
“Penn State?” Walt whistled admiringly. “You’re right, he might need something a little extra to get admitted there.”
“Exactly!” My voice was way too amped-up.
“So . . . why is this a secret?” Walt asked, doubt edging its way back into his voice. He looked Rowan up and down, and Rowan straightened, lifting his chin slightly, maybe in an attempt to look more professional.
“He really wants to surprise Mom and Dad,” I added quickly. “Can you imagine how excited Dad would be if Ian played for Penn State? And it was so hard for Ian to get matched up with a good . . . student adviser. He was really lucky to get Rowan.”
Walt still looked a little unsure, but he nodded slowly. “All right, I’ve got you, sis. Your secret is safe with me.”
“Thanks, Walt, I really appreciate it. Now, I think you’d better get back to the group; we don’t want them to notice that you’re gone.”
He sighed wearily. “Remind me to never travel with Aunt Mel again. The last two days have been a nightmare.” He tilted his head at Rowan. “Nice to meet you, man. Take good care of my brother and little sis.”
“She’s pretty good at taking care of herself, but I will,” Rowan said.
Walt gave me a quick, strong-smelling hug, then ducked back out of the room.
“That wasn’t so bad, right, Maeve?” Rowan collapsed back against the cave.
I fell back next to him. “Thanks for jumping in with the college admissions story. I think it may have worked.”
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