Chapter Twenty-Eight

   I step outside Nick’s office flush with triumph and excitement. One, I have a divorce attorney. Two, I have a job. And three, Nick agreed to help me out around the house a few hours a week. With the extra body and strong arms, I might actually get everything organized and livable in half the time.

As I climb into Jimi, though, I’m not thinking about my new job or redecorating plans. Instead, I am laser-focused on the white-hot fury I’ve been holding at bay for the past hour. Any doubts I had about fighting Karl in the divorce crumbled like ashes as Gina continued to explain exactly how much money Karl has been robbing me of over the years.

I totally understood getting paid so little in the beginning, when we were trying to get the firm off the ground. But to have kept me there for years even when the firm was making money hand over fist and there was no reason for it? It made me want to tell Karl off all over again—and myself for never following up or taking the time to look at comparable salaries. Then again, who expects your husband, the man you love, to screw you over so incredibly?

I vow right then and there that I will never give another man power over me again. I might be a lone boat in the ocean, but at least it’s my choice if I sink again.

By the time I get home, I have to force myself to stop thinking about how pissed off I am. I pour myself a well-deserved glass of wine, then wander up to my bedroom to take off my makeup and change into yet another pair of leggings.

I consider taking a nap—the bed looks so inviting after a night of tossing and turning—but I am supposed to report to work bright and early Monday morning. That means I only have the rest of today, Friday, and the weekend to make serious inroads with my cleaning plans.

I still have the remainder of the dining room, living room, and Aunt Maggie’s office to do downstairs, but since I’m up here, I decide to take the day off from the main floor. Seriously, it will be really nice to wake up in the morning and not nearly die if I step an inch off the path I’ve managed to carve to the bathroom on my first day here. Which means it’s time to start cleaning out Aunt Maggie’s room.

Just the thought makes me a little sad, because clearing out in here means clearing out everything that made Aunt Maggie who she was. Her feathered boas, her sparkly shoes, her magnificent clothes, and the boxes upon boxes of costume jewelry she had forever.

When I was a kid, she’d bring me up here before our tea parties and let me pick out whatever jewelry I wanted to wear. Inevitably, I would drape myself in faux diamond bracelets and colorful necklaces and earrings—anything that made me feel beautiful. It seems sacrilegious to just throw it all away now.

Still, I can’t keep living out of suitcases. I’m starting a new job in three days. I have to get my own stuff unpacked and my own space under some kind of control if I have any chance of getting—and keeping—my life together.

I decide to start in Aunt Maggie’s closet. Besides all her clothes that are hanging in there—and there are a ton—there are also hats, scarves, purses, and dozens upon dozens of pairs of shoes. And that doesn’t include the boxes full of items she has lining the top shelf that go all the way around the closet.

I start with the shoes, partly because there are so many of them and partly because they’re fun to look through. And we’re pretty close to the same size…

I’m in the middle of trying on a pair of thigh-high boots that I’m pretty sure date back to the 1970s—because why not—when my phone buzzes with a series of texts.

Yanking it out of my hoodie pocket, I glance down at the caller ID and can’t help grinning.

Nick is texting me. He asked for my number before I left the office, and I assumed it was so he could reach me about work.

Nick: Are you busy?

Nick: I’m downstairs. Can you come let me in?

My smile slides off my face. Downstairs? What is he doing here?

After unzipping the boots and pulling them off as fast as I can, I hurry down the stairs to the family room—and the back door that he has been showing up at more and more lately.

The fact that I’ve started looking forward to his impromptu visits has not eluded me. But just because I recognize the feeling doesn’t mean I actually have to deal with it. Denial isn’t only a river in Egypt, after all.

“Hi!” I slide open the back door and nearly swallow my tongue. While he definitely looks amazing in dress pants or a suit, he looks AMAZING with all the exclamation points in ripped jeans and a black V-neck T-shirt. “What are you doing here?”

And why is he dressed like that? Not that I’m complaining, but still. It’s definitely a different look.

He lifts a brow. “I was under the impression that I was being pressed into service. I’m here to help you clean.”

“Oh, right!” I step back to let him in. “I didn’t mean you had to come by tonight. It’s Thursday.”

“Do you have other plans?” he asks, his eyes suddenly intent on mine.

“No, of course not.” Heat blooms in my cheeks. “I guess I just assumed that you did.”

“Nope,” he says with a grin. “I’m free all night. So where do you want to start?”

“I’ve been working in the bed…room…” My voice trails off at the end as I realize what room I just invited him into. And what people normally do there. In half a heartbeat, my bra feels too tight as warm desire winds through me. I clear my throat and will my suddenly out-of-control libido to settle down. “I got started on the master closet a few hours ago, but there’s just so much to get through.”

“Well, then I guess we’d better get back to it, right?” He takes off up the staircase, expertly dodging the piles stacked on every step.

“Yeah, of course.” I start up behind him. “But I feel like I should warn you. Things upstairs are a lot worse than they are downstairs.”

He glances back at me while I talk—which I appreciate, considering it used to take a full tap routine and long periods of nudity to even get Karl to focus on me, let alone with such concern and intensity.

“You okay?” The caring is implicit in the question—and his tone.

It has me ducking my head so he can’t see how much a simple question like that means to me. How long has it been since someone asked me that question? And how much longer since someone paid attention to the answer?

“I’m good, actually. A little sad, sure, but as I’m sorting through all of Aunt Maggie’s things, it’s hard to ignore the fact that she had a good life.”

He smiles. “That’s all that matters, then, isn’t it?”

“Yeah.” We get to the top of the stairs, and I lead him toward the master bedroom. “I think it is.”