Mikey was right—I need to put some beware/hazard signs up on the porch first thing tomorrow. Apparently, not actually expecting company isn’t a good enough excuse anymore.

“Mallory,” Nick says, his voice tight with concern. “What is it?”

“My ex is here,” I say, partly to Nick and partly to myself so it can sink in and I can get control of my suddenly rampaging emotions.

“Here?” Nick’s eyes narrow dangerously.

He looks annoyed—really annoyed—and I can’t imagine why. I’ve never told him anything about Karl at all. Apparently, that doesn’t stop him from being pissed off, which makes me wonder exactly what Aunt Maggie told him about my ex. God knows, she never liked Karl.

“Did he tell you he was coming?” Nick asks, already starting to get up from the table.

“No.” Why start with not being a self-absorbed asshole now? “Then again, it might have just been a sudden impulse. Karl’s never been very good at thinking about anything other than what he wants and when he wants it.”

I take a deep breath and blow it out slowly as I text my almost-ex back that I’ll be out in a minute—and not to walk on the damaged porch under any circumstances.

Karl’s only response is to tell me to hurry up. God, how could I have ever been in love with that asshole? And how the hell could I have ever put up with his shit?

Anger replaces my nerves, and this time when I take a deep breath, it’s not to center myself—it’s to cool myself down.

“Do you want me to go?” Nick asks, looking like he is mentally already halfway around the house.

It’s sweet in an I-don’t-know-how-to-process-this way, but I don’t want Nick to go. I don’t want to give Karl any more control over my life—and how I spend an evening—than he already has. “No, of course not. I have a full bribing plan I need to get through.” I force myself to smile, even though I’m afraid it turns out more like a grimace. “This shouldn’t take long. He’s just dropping off the divorce papers.”

More like planning on browbeating me into signing them, but I’m not about to let that happen. I caved to that man entirely too many times during our married life. I don’t have to do it anymore.

“In person?” Nick takes a step toward the yard and the paved walk that would take him to the front of the house, and I realize again that he is an attorney—of course he knows how unusual this is.

“It’s fine.” We both know it’s anything but. I gesture toward the family room just inside the patio door. “Feel free to look through Aunt Maggie’s vinyl and find some music to listen to while I’m gone. I’ll be right back.”

Nick doesn’t look happy, but he doesn’t contradict me. Instead, he sits back down and pours himself some more wine.

I can’t help feeling grateful. No one else needs to see the mess that is the end of my marriage, especially not my totally hot, totally together neighbor who befriends old ladies and eats lemon cake for breakfast.

I hurry around to the side gate, as anxious as Karl to get this over with, though for very different reasons. He’s standing in front of the garage, one of his ubiquitous folders in one hand and a pen in the other.

Because of course he is. The jerk really thinks he’s going to force me to sign those papers tonight.

Then again, why wouldn’t he? I gave him every single thing he ever asked for during our marriage. At first, I fought him over things I didn’t want to do, but he’d argue so much that eventually I gave in. Every. Single. Time.

Then one day it wasn’t even worth it to argue anymore. I just gave in without a fight, and I forgot what it was to expect—or even want—something for myself.

All that has changed now. Because I want this house, and I want this new life I’m starting to make. More, I deserve this new life—just like I deserve half of our marital assets. New York isn’t a fifty-fifty-split state, but the law does say the assets must be split fairly between the two parties. Him getting everything and me getting nothing is definitely not fair.

I just need to remember that when Karl starts twisting things around to best serve himself.

“What are you doing here, Karl?” I demand as I walk up to him.

“Well, hello to you, too, Mallory. Charming as always.” He looks me over, his expression disapproving.

That only makes me more annoyed. I am well aware that I’m not looking my best right now, but I was in the middle of cleaning out the house and hauling trash. Nobody dresses in designer clothes to do that. Nobody but Karl, anyway. Then again, he has never hauled a bag of trash in his life.

“I don’t have to be charming to you,” I shoot back. “We’re getting a divorce.”

“Yes, well, you never were that charming to begin with, were you?”

I grind my teeth together and remind myself that the courts will not look kindly on my petition for half the marital assets if I scratch his eyes out or knee him in the nuts as he so richly deserves.

“If you came all this way to make nasty comments to me, then you’ve wasted a trip.” I turn to go. “I have a lot better things to do than listen to this.”

“Wait!” he barks at me.

Even though a part of me has been conditioned to do exactly what he tells me to do, there is a bigger part that is entirely too pissed off to even consider it. So instead of waiting, I walk faster.

Karl hurries along behind me—something that I know really pisses him off. Well, too fucking bad, asshole.

Then he grabs my wrist and yanks me around to face him. “I told you to wait, Mallory.” He launches each word at me like a slap. “I have something I want to discuss with you.”

“Get your hands off me,” I snarl. “Or I’m going to call the police and have you arrested for trespassing and assault.”

His eyes widen like I surprised him—and maybe I did. God knows, the Mallory he used to know would never talk to him like that.

“Fine.” He makes a little snort of disgust as he drops my wrist. “Just sign the divorce papers and I’ll get out of here.”

“I already told you I’m not going to do that.”

“You don’t have a choice,” he growls, and suddenly his body language is a lot more threatening.

The thing is, I’m not about to let him threaten me. He’s done enough of that to last a lifetime, and I’ll scream the whole block down if he so much as touches me again.

“You can say that all you want,” I reply, my voice low and quiet even as adrenaline slams through me. “That doesn’t make it true.”