This is a lot to process. A lot a lot.
My dad had an affair. I have a half sister. Does Mom know? Does it matter at this point?
“Sarah,” I start, prepared to say what, I have no fucking idea, but then I look at my sister and what I see is a woman alone, without someone like Aunt Maggie to pull her in and wrap her arms around her—without someone who will tell her they’ll figure everything out. Together.
So that’s what I do. I throw my arms around her shoulders and squeeze her tight. “It’s gonna be okay. We’ll figure this out. Together.”
Sarah lets out another huge torrent of tears. “Really?” She presses the crumpled-up tissues to her face. “I don’t know what to say. I’ll be out of your hair as soon as I get an apartment.”
“There’s no hurry. There’s plenty of room here, and she was your Aunt Maggie, too. I’d love to have you stay as long as you want—as long as you don’t mind a mess.” As soon as the words are out of my mouth, I realize just how much I mean them.
“I don’t mind at all,” Sarah says.
I laugh. I can’t help myself. “You haven’t seen the upstairs yet.”
We’re both still sniffling messes when Nick walks in through the patio door and comes to a dead stop. “Is everything okay? What happened?”
I look at Sarah. She looks at me. And we both burst out laughing at the thought of even trying to bring him up to speed.
Nick looks from me to Sarah and back again and, going by the crinkles around his very serious eyes, he’s trying to figure out how we’re related. I have a feeling that’s going to be happening a lot.
“What are you doing here?” I ask, glancing down at the stack of papers in his hands that isn’t contained in a panic-inducing folder.
“Wow.” He shoves a hand in his jeans pocket. “Temper your excitement. I could be dropping off paperwork for Gina.”
I lift a brow at him. “Are you?”
“No,” he says with a crooked grin.
The second he smiles, Sarah let out a tiny squeak and, believe me, I get it. He looks hot as fuck when he’s doing his flirty-but-still-kind-of-grumbly face. When he smiles? Well, the only thing holding up my panties right now are my super-tight jeans. The man has game—even in a room full of women who are currently disgusted with the entire male species.
“So what brings you all the way across the street?” I ask.
And yes, I am aware that in some circles, my question—and the tone I am asking it in—might be considered flirtatious. Which I sorta, kinda meant, God help me.
I could be imagining this, but I’m pretty sure his eyes go a few shades darker as he looks at me, if that’s even possible. For long seconds, he doesn’t say anything and neither do I. We just kind of watch each other, and I have to admit that watching him is a lot better than dealing with the bombshells my sister just dropped on me. Even if it is just for a minute or two.
Sarah clears her throat. “Do I need to give you guys some space?”
Way to make it weird, Mallory.
“No,” we both say at the same time.
Nick holds up the papers. “I got the committee to fast-track the approvals for your dumpster. I figured I’d bring them by personally instead of making you wait to get them in the mail.”
He offers them to me. “They said yes.”
“Oh, that’s amazing.” I take the papers, ready to start crying again but this time out of happiness. “Thank you so much. I owe you.”
I can’t believe he thought to make a special appeal to the board. I didn’t expect it, but then again, it isn’t like this is the first time he’s gone above and beyond. From sticking up for me to Karl to helping me with the house to giving me a job and free legal counsel, Nick isn’t nearly as gruff as he wants people to think. Truth be told, there’s a lot of softness underneath.
Exhibit forty-two in my case? Even as he stays near enough to me that I can smell the scent of his soap, he glances over at Sarah, and the heat level between us just drops.
He dips his head down so his lips are practically touching my ear. “Is everything okay?”
Wow, how in the hell do I start? “Not really. This is my s—” I nearly choke on the word, even though none of this mess is her fault.
I clear my throat and try again, and this time I finally manage to get the word out. “My sister, Sarah. Sarah, this is my…”
This time when I fumble for words, it has nothing to do with angsty familial relationships and everything to do with the fact that I have no clue what to call Nick. My neighbor? My friend? My boss?
“Friend.” Nick fills in the awkward silence for me with an easier smile than any he’s ever given me. “I’m Mallory’s friend Nick.”
Sarah peeks up at him, her lips almost curled into a tiny smile, and not for the first time, I realize how fragile she looks. So different from the woman I met at the Stella & Dot party. “Nice to meet you, friend Nick.”
Some of the tension in the room eases right in time for Mikey to show up at my back door, dressed in his date-night best dark-rinse jeans and gray Henley. Ugh. In all the confusion, I forgot to text him that I want to cancel tonight. Damn it.
Smoothing a hand over my now-ruffled hair—nothing like finding out you have a long-lost sister to mess up twenty-five intense minutes with a straight iron and hair gloss—I step through the open door. Oh yeah, Mallory, standing on the other side of a sliding glass door is gonna give you two plenty of privacy. Nick and Sarah stay in the family room, watching unabashedly.
“Wow,” Mikey says with an appreciative grin. “You look gorgeous.”
“Thank you.” I tuck an errant, and obnoxiously frizzy, hair behind my ear. “You look nice, too. But I’m afraid I’ve got a problem.”
“What kind of problem?” His smile stays in place, but his eyes dim a little. Not that I blame him—Mikey’s not naive. He knows I’m about to break the cardinal rule of dating by canceling on him when he’s already arrived for the date.
“My sister showed up out of the blue, and she just broke up with her boyfriend. She needs a place to stay, and she’s really upset, and—”
Right then, the sound of Sarah’s full-bodied laugh about something Nick said carries out to us.
“It’s okay,” Sarah says as she gives Mikey a wave. “The last thing I want to do is disrupt your night. Especially since Nick just explained you’re the contractor who’s going to bring this beautiful house to life. I just love the mahogany staircase and the built-in bookshelves.” She makes a sweeping gesture. “Besides, I can leave if—”