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I nodded uncomfortably. “Yeah . . . you book talent.”

“Wrong.” She jabbed a finger at me, her voice rising into an enthusiastic crescendo. “I empower. I find people who are out there singing their songs, and I put a microphone in front of them and make sure the world is listening. And you know what? I want to do that for you, Addie.”

What was she talking about?

Before I could figure it out, she leapt to her feet and wrapped her arm around mine, dragging me up to the stage.

“Hey, Miriam, I don’t sing. Or play anything.” Or do stages. Unless it was on a field, I hated being in the spotlight. I desperately tried to wrench away, but she just yanked me up onto the platform, positioning me in front of a standing microphone. Ian and Rowan watched with wide eyes, but neither of them attempted to rescue me. Traitors.

“Pat! The microphone!” Miriam yelled.

One of the bartenders ducked under the bar, and suddenly the mic stand crackled to life. Miriam shoved it into my face. “Go on, Addie. Tell the nice people what you did.”

I looked at her in horror. True, the pub wasn’t nearly as crowded as it had been earlier during the live performance, but there were still plenty of people, and every one of them looked up from their tables, amused smiles etched on their faces. They were clearly used to Miriam’s antics.

“Go on,” she insisted, giving me a nudge. “Tell the nice people your name and how badass you are. Making a declaration can be very powerful.”

Do I really have to do this? Right as the thought entered my mind, her arm constricted around me like a boa. There was no way she was letting me off this stage. I cleared my throat. “Um, hello, everyone. My name is Addie Bennett.”

“Queen Maeve!” Ian shouted from the audience, his hands cupped around his mouth.

I blushed straight down to my toes. Once this was over, I was going to murder him. “So . . . Miriam wants me to tell you that for the last couple of days I’ve been on a road trip. Our car keeps breaking down, so I’ve been fixing it. And . . . that’s it.” I hastily shoved the microphone back toward Miriam’s hands and attempted to dive off the stage, but she grabbed hold of the back of my shirt.

“Wait just a minute, Addie. You know what I like to see? A woman who knows her strength. A woman who owns the fact that she is smart and creative, a woman who can get things done. Addie, you are a powerful woman.” She grabbed my hand and raised it over our heads, victor-style. “Go on, Addie. Say it.”

I cringed. “Say what exactly?”

Rowan and Ian grinned at each other. They were loving every minute of this.

“Say, ‘I am the hero of my own story.’ ”

“I’m the hero of my own story,” I said quickly.

“No, no, no. Louder. Open up the diaphragm. Really belt it out.”

Was she not seeing the irony in forcing someone to declare how powerful they were? Just get this over with, I told myself.

I took a deep breath and yelled right into the microphone, “I am the hero of my own story!”

“Yes! Again!” Miriam shouted.

This time I really let loose. “I AM THE HERO OF MY OWN STORY.”

“Good girl.” Miriam dropped my arm, her face glowing with perspiration.

It actually did feel good to yell. It would probably feel even better if I believed it.

“So that was weird,” I managed, dragging my and Ian’s suitcases over to the staircase. As soon as Miriam had dismissed me from the stage, Ian had jetted off, intent on seeing our rooms.

Rowan grinned. “You stood on a stage and yelled to a bunch of strangers about what a hero you are. What’s weird about that?”

I attempted to slug him, but the suitcases made it impossible.

Rowan grabbed one from me, shuffling it over to the stairs. “I’m going to run over to the mechanic shop, make sure Connor can have our car ready by morning. Can you believe Electric Picnic is tomorrow?”

“No.” I couldn’t believe it. Had the past few days dragged or flown? “I’ll stay here. It’s probably better if Connor and I don’t see each other again.”

He flashed me a smile. “Too bad. I was hoping to see Hero Maeve in action.”

“Ha ha.” I followed Ian up the stairs, the weight of the suitcases sending me bumping back and forth between the walls. Finally, I made it to the top, dropping everything into a heap.

“I can’t believe this.” I followed Ian’s voice through the doorway. The room’s ceiling was slanted, and two twin beds crowded the far wall, the fading light streaming in from a single octagon-shaped window.

Ian was writhing around on the nearest bed. “Which bed do you think Jared slept in? This one?”

“I have no idea,” I said, averting my eyes. Ian’s dedication to Titletrack bordered on embarrassing. I fled for the next room, taking way longer than was necessary to set up my suitcase next to the bed. Olive’s text was burning a hole in my pocket. I had to talk Ian. Now.

When I walked back in, Ian had switched to the other bed, his arms tucked under his head, a peaceful smile on his face. Was I really going to do this? I am the hero, I thought ruefully.

“Thanks for getting us here,” Ian said before I could open my mouth. “It really means a lot.

“Oh. Sure,” I said, lowering myself onto the other bed. “So, Ian, there’s something I need to talk to you about.”

“Me too!” He rolled onto his stomach, reaching for his notebook. “I wanted to tell you that you should tell Mom about Cubby as soon as you possibly can. Maybe even before we get home. If you want, I could distract Archie and Walter at the airport while you tell her.”

“What?” I felt the bridge between us collapse in one fell swoop. Now he wasn’t just insisting that I tell her, but he was dictating the time and place, too?

He sat up. “I think you should tell Mom about Cubby before—”

“Ian, I heard you,” I said, falling against the closet door behind me. “But I’m not ready to tell Mom yet. Not that soon.”

He slammed his notebook shut. “But you said I was right about telling Mom. When we were at Torc Manor.”

“I said maybe you were right. I never said I was going to do it for sure.”

Ian jumped to his feet and began pacing furiously. “You have got to be kidding me. Addie! Why not?”

“Because I’m not ready. If I want to tell Mom, I’ll tell Mom.” And even though I knew it would cause an explosion, I couldn’t help but add the last part. “And besides, what happened with Cubby is none of your business.”

“None of my business?” He stopped in place, his eyes shining angrily. “Addie, I would be thrilled if that were actually the case, but we both know it isn’t true. It became my business the second I walked into the locker room.”

My throat tightened. The locker room. Any time I tried to conjure up the scene of Ian walking in, of my brother being the one to stop Cubby, my brain grabbed a thick set of curtains and slid them shut.

“How was I supposed to know Cubby would do that?” My mouth was dry.

He pointed at me. “Because I warned you about him. I told you he was bad news.” It was the same fight we’d been having all summer. It made me feel tired, right down to my bones. “Addie, for once, just listen to me. You can’t keep this a secret anymore. You have to tell Mom the first chance you get.”

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