I shrink a little bit inside myself. “No reason, I just—”
Damn, why is it so easy to fall into old habits?
“Just what?” he asks when I don’t finish my sentence.
“I don’t have the best luck with folders.” To put it very mildly. “Especially not when they’re handed to me by a good-looking man in a suit.”
That was pretty much how Karl had told me every ounce of bad news in our marriage.
For a second, Nick looks flummoxed. But then his face and his rigid posture relax, and he grins—really grins—for the first time since I met him. And holy cow, it is blinding in the best, most amazing way.
“So you think I’m good-looking?” he asks, and I roll my eyes. Hard. Why do gorgeous people always act surprised when someone notices their stellar gene pool?
“How’d you get the forms so fast? Were they already in the HOA Binder from Hell?” I groan. Leave it to me to ask for something that is right in front of my face.
“No, they weren’t, but—” A sheepish look steals onto his face as he continues. “I’m on the board.”
I’m not even remotely surprised. It definitely is one of those only-assholes-need-apply boards.
Not that I care. I’m just a homeowner who suddenly has the brilliant idea to bribe the HOA-whisperer-slash-board-member standing in front of me with a couple of glasses of one of Aunt Maggie’s fancy French wines. It’s shady as hell, sure, but it doesn’t mean anything else. It isn’t like I’m hitting on him, for God’s sake. I’m just loosening him up a little and greasing the wheels to get my dumpster request approved so I can avoid any more citations.
My invitation has nothing to do with his knee-weakening smile and suddenly warm brown eyes and everything to do with avoiding more fees I can’t afford.
Or at least that’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.
“I’m opening a bottle of wine.” I start back to the house. “You coming?” I toss over my shoulder.
“Yeah,” he says with what sounds suspiciously like a deep, sexy chuckle. “I’m coming.”
“So what has you all dressed up today?” I ask as he walks with me through the garage and into my kitchen. “I like your tie, by the way.”
He glances down at his abstract, color-blocked tie in all different shades of blue and green like he’s never seen it before. “Thanks. And I was in court.”
“In court?” Earth’s core? Meet my stomach. Stomach? Welcome to your new home. “You’re an attorney?”
It comes out sounding like an accusation, but I can’t help it. After being married to Karl for ten years, it feels like it should be an accusation. More, it feels like the mother of all red flags against Nick.
“I am,” he answers warily. “A tax attorney, which means I spend most of my days in meetings and conference calls instead of actually in court, but today was one of the rare days. Why? Do you have something against my profession, too?”
“No, it’s just—” I break off, because what am I going to say? My ex is an attorney, and he soured me on lawyers for good? I mean, I’d sound absurd, especially since this guy isn’t exactly sending out the I-think-you’re-sexy-too vibes. “Never mind.” I tell myself I’m overreacting and force a smile I’m far from feeling. “What kind of wine do you like? White or red?”
Mercifully, he drops it. “Whatever you’ve got going.”
I gesture for him to sit down at my aunt’s surprisingly elegant patio table outside the sliding glass doors. “The house is still a disaster, so I thought we could sit out there, if you don’t mind? It’s a nice evening.”
“Outside is great,” he says, almost sounding like he means it.
“Awesome. I’ll get the wine and meet you there.” I pause. “Thanks, by the way. I appreciated the help earlier.”
He nods, pulls open the sliding glass door, and steps outside. I flip on the patio light—it’s nearly dusk, and I don’t know how long the forms in that folder, and the wine drinking, will take. Then I rush to my room, splash water on my heated face, and wash off the remnants of my melting makeup in about one minute flat.
I don’t bother changing, as the tank top and shorts I’m already wearing are light and cool, if not fancy; then I race back down to the kitchen. Once there, I put together a very quick cheese-and-fruit plate and grab a bottle of Argentinian Malbec from the stash I found in the hall closet. I pause just long enough to rinse two glasses from the still-inundated-with-clutter bar area, then swoop back outside in less than six minutes flat.
Now that should be an Olympic sport.
“Want to do the honors?” I extend the bottle opener to him.
“Of course.” He stands up to take it, then reaches for the cheese tray. “You didn’t have to do all this.”
I throw him a sassy grin in an effort to disguise the discomfort I still feel over his chosen profession. “Sure I did. How else can I bribe you into accepting my dumpster request?”
“You don’t have to bribe me,” he says, all stiff and uptight again. “You just have to fill out the paperwork correctly—” His gaze lands on my face, and he breaks off mid-word. “You were joking.”
“Only a little bit.” I hand him the bottle of wine before setting the two glasses on the table between us and taking the seat opposite him.
He glances down at the label and smiles. “This was one of Maggie’s favorites.”
“We discovered it together in a little restaurant in the Village, but how did you know that?”
He gives an uncomfortable shrug. “She must have mentioned it sometime.”
“And you remembered? From a passing conversation?” I narrow my gaze and look at him a little closer. “I don’t think so.”
Nick studies me for a few seconds, like he’s trying to figure out what he wants to say. Just like an attorney, a little voice in the back of my head warns.
Or a guy who knows he said too much.
Neither is a particularly comforting thought, and I’m getting more and more upset, even though a part of me knows it’s ridiculous. Who cares how he knows about Aunt Maggie’s wine tastes? It isn’t like it matters.
But it does matter. It matters to me that he can’t answer a simple question. If that’s the case, then I don’t want him here drinking my wine, eating my cheese, or helping me with my goddamn dumpster request.
Something of what I’m feeling must be showing on my face, because Nick runs a resigned hand through his perfectly coiffed hair before he admits, “Maggie and I were friends.”