“You don’t need to leave.” No way. I just found her—okay, really, she found me—but either way, I’m not letting her go now. “I just didn’t think you were in any mood to be alone right now.”

“I can stay,” Nick volunteers, easy-breezy. “Sarah can veg out with Netflix, and I can clean a few closets.”

“You don’t have to d-do that,” I splutter.

Mortification has me doing a gut clench for some reason I don’t understand. It’s not like he hasn’t seen the inside of my house.

“Sure I do.” His eyes meet mine. “A deal’s a deal, after all, and I’m officially your helper every day, remember? Go enjoy your date.”

“Yes, but—” I break off because I don’t know what I want to say. Why does it feel so wrong on a gut level to leave him here, working on my house, while I’m out on a date with some other guy?

It’s absurd. I mean, it isn’t like it matters. Nick and I are…friends. That’s all. Nothing more. In fact, we’re barely even that. Why should either of us care if one of us goes on a date with someone else? Why should either of us care if one of us encourages the other to go on said date?

I mean, yeah, we had a moment yesterday, and we had a moment the other evening, when I thought for sure he was going to kiss me. But he didn’t. He left, and I need to remember that. Need to realize that when he tells me to go on a date with Mikey, he means it. There’s nothing for me to feel guilty about.

Or to feel any way about, for that matter. We barely know each other.

“Go, Mallory,” Sarah says, and it’s obvious she’s trying to be as nice. “Go on, have fun.”

“Sounds like your sister has made up her mind.” Mikey’s face is made even hotter—who would have thought that possible?—by an enthusiastic grin. “Think you can handle it?”

I sneak another look at Nick. Who is already gathering trash bags and telling Sarah a joke. Mr. Uptight has jokes now?




I give Mikey my most dazzling smile. “Yes, let’s go have a blast.”

I slip my hand into the crook of Mikey’s arm, and we follow the path around the house to his truck. And I don’t even look back at all—not even once—which is exactly what I want out of this moment.


Chapter Thirty-Two

   Bella Bella’s is a neighborhood Italian restaurant that has white tablecloths, votive candles floating in a bowl surrounded by fresh flowers, and a hostess dressed in all black who never smiles when she seats you. In other words, it is the fancy date-night place that stays on the right side of too expensive but has great food and no one brings their kids.

Mikey and I have gone through all the small talk by the time my chicken Parm and his lasagna arrive. The weather. The way Sutton changed but still stayed the same. Angela’s kids, the amazing renovation he’s working on for the Jhaveris a few blocks over from my place. Now I’m chewing each bite a million times to keep my mouth full so I don’t have to come up with any more chitchat. I mean, honestly, my mind is still going a million miles an hour about the whole “secret sister” thing anyway.

It sucks because he’s so nice and hot and an absolute gem of a guy—but for someone else. There’s no way to avoid it; I’m just not ready for dating. I might never be.

“So,” I say, drawing out the word. “Talk to me about dumpsters.”

Mikey wriggles his eyebrows and gives me an exaggerated leer. “You wanna talk dirty, huh?”

I let out a squawk of amusement that has several other diners turning to stare. Oops.

“Well, I actually already got approval from the HOA, and I can afford it, so what do I need to know?”

“You want to consider a lot of things. Placement. Size. What you can’t put in there. Exactly how much you can put in. Oh, and how much it’s gonna weigh when you’re done filling it. Landfills are gonna weigh that sucker before you can empty it, and that bill can be a shock.”

Great. Just what I need—another bill.

“Did you save room for dessert?”

Always. Who doesn’t save room for cannoli? Too bad I just can’t do another half hour of dumpster talk, and I’ve exhausted everything else.

“I wish; that chicken Parm was too good not to eat it all.”

“I understand.”

I’m pretty sure he does. In addition to being a fantastic guy, he’s smart as hell.

He stands up. “Shall we?”

I nod. I insist on leaving the tip when he won’t let me split the check, and after he pays the bill, we walk out into the parking lot. He doesn’t try to hold my hand or even walk so close that we’re almost touching. I spend most of the ride home asking questions about the renovations Aunt Maggie’s house needs.

The running convo in my head, though, is all about what a sweetheart of a guy he is. Really, he deserves someone better than a woman with enough baggage to start her own luggage company. No. What I need—when the time is right—is a guy with as much baggage as I have. Then we’ll be equals, at least.

Nick probably has baggage. Why else would he be so uptight? He might even own his own luggage line full of more emotional BS than I have.

“So that’s when I switched my lifelong allegiance from the Yankees to the Mets.”

I jerk my head around and stare at him. “What?”

He snort-laughs. “I figured that would get your attention. I almost went from being a Devils fan to a Rangers fan, but I can’t even kid about that.”

Way to go, Mallory. You are such a keeper.

“I’m sorry, Mikey. It was a long day clearing out another room of Aunt Maggie’s stuff, and I’m about to drop.” Not a total lie.

“Sure,” he says, keeping his tone light even as I see the truth in his eyes. “That makes sense.”

He pulls to a stop in front of the house, and I’m opening the door before he’s even turned off the ignition.

“Thanks so much for everything,” I say as I do the short-people maneuvering it takes to get out of a big truck. “Next time, though, I’m picking up the bill.”

“You got it.” He glances over at the other side of the driveway. “That’s where I’d recommend putting the dumpster. Enough room to get your car in and out of the garage but easy for the truck to drop off and pick up.”

“Then that’s where we’ll put it.” I step down from the runner under the passenger door. “Night, Mikey.”