Nick scoops up the Kill the Bingo Caller mug before I can make it anywhere near my sister at the coffeepot and meets me halfway. “I’m reporting for duty.”
He’s in jeans that cling to his thick thighs, a T-shirt with sleeves that end right at that perfect spot on his biceps, and he—unlike me—has obviously showered that morning. Ugh. It isn’t fair. The man not only looks good this early but he comes bearing coffee.
I take a sip and then let out a contented sigh. “Oh fudge.”
One side of Nick’s mouth curls upward in a half smile that does funny things to me. Discombobulating things. Tingly things. Definitely I’ll-be-thinking-of-this-later-tonight things.
“Yeah,” he says, looking straight at me, his gaze dipping down to my mouth. “Early-morning coffee is the best, isn’t it?”
Oh. My. God. My skin feels flush. Forget funny things. That look from him has my toes half curled, and a greedy little groan, hungry and needy, escapes my lips. Why doesn’t real life come with a rewind button? My hands start to tremble and I set my mug on the counter before I drop it.
Forget oatmeal. I need to get out of here stat.
“I’m gonna go shower.” I shuffle backward. “Then it’s all about the green guest room. After that, we’re going to burn that ridiculous couch.”
I’m halfway up the stairs before I realize I left my coffee on the counter.
“Oh wow.” Sarah stops at the doorway and stares into the first of my aunt’s guest rooms. To be fair, it isn’t like any of us can get beyond the doorway; the room is so packed with clutter anyway.
Boxes, sewing mannequins, piles and piles of books, bolts of cloth, and baskets of yarn and ribbon cover every available spot.
“You sure you guys want to do this today?” I ask. “We could go downstairs and make margaritas and chocolate chip cookies instead.”
“It’s nine o’clock in the morning,” Nick says.
“Is that supposed to mean something to me?” I joke.
Nick takes a step closer, and the nice, wide upstairs hall gets a whole lot narrower. “Nope, just noting the time.”
“How about we make a plan to clear half the room today?” Sarah says. “We uncover the bed and tackle the side of the room closest to the door. Once we’ve done that, lunch—and margaritas at the Mexican restaurant down the street—is my treat. I found out a couple of weeks ago that they make really good virgin piña coladas.”
“Margaritas for lunch it is,” Nick says.
I look from them to the stacks and stacks of stuff crammed into every nook and cranny, then back again. “Or dinner…”
“Or dinner.” Sarah laughs as she turns in the doorway and takes a step into the hallway and a deep breath. “But I say we all take a box of trash bags and do our worst between now and one o’clock. Whoever manages to fill the most bags wins.”
“What do they win?” Nick asks.
I peek into the room—well, as much as I can because it’s just stuff from the floor to the ceiling.
“Winner gets their pick of whatever treasures we uncover in here.” I spot a pyramid of yarn in a million different colors. I’ve cleaned out so many rooms in the last week that standing here, trying to come up with a plan of attack for this room, feels overwhelming.
“Oooh, good idea!” Sarah does a little clap-dance move. “I want the hat.”
She points at the giant Kentucky Derby–style hat on the mannequin in the farthest corner of the room. My jaw unhinges. What in the hell? It’s hot pink (Aunt Maggie seems to have had a favorite color) and covered in pink roses and two nearly life-size flamingos that are also wearing flowery hats. It’s a monstrosity. It’s amazing. It’s sooooo Aunt Maggie.
“Sorry, I want that hat,” Nick teases her with an easy grin that makes my heart go pitter-patter even as I wonder what’s up.
He’s never been as easy around me as he is with Sarah. He smiles at her, laughs with her, and teases her while he’s all tense and grumpy and smoldering whenever he and I are alone together.
He is helpful, absolutely. Even thoughtful. But there’s definitely a lot more grump and smolder when he’s dealing with me. Then again, as I watch him literally reach up and tweak her ponytail, I admit that maybe I’m okay with the differences.
If Nick is going to tweak something of mine, I definitely don’t want it to be my ponytail.
Not that I want him to tweak anything, I assure myself. The last thing I want to do is add a new man to my life before I’m even officially divorced from the old man.
I clear my throat—and my mind—then say, “So it’s agreed. The hat is the prize.” I give Nick the side-eye. “I’ve got to admit, I’m kind of dying to see you in it.”
“Hot pink is my favorite color,” he shoots back.
“Mine too!” Sarah rubs her palms together and squeezes her way into the room. “So get ready to lose, buddy.”
He rolls his eyes in response, but he’s grinning, too, even before my newfound sister starts the countdown. “On your mark, get set, go!”
I’d like to say we leap into the room and get to work at the word “go,” but the truth is, beyond Sarah, we can’t get into the room. Instead, Nick and I each bend down and start grabbing stuff and pulling it into the hallway while Sarah does the same just inside the doorway. In an unspoken agreement, Nick and I make sure to grab the heavier stuff, leaving things like pillows and small material bolts for Sarah to lift.
I’m all for getting help cleaning out this room. But I draw the line at letting the pregnant woman lift anything heavier than her purse. Apparently, Nick feels exactly the same way, because anytime Sarah reaches for anything bigger than a shoebox, he magically gets there first.
Twenty minutes later, we have a ton of boxes and other things piled in my hallway and we’ve—kind of—made a path to the bed in the center of the room.
“Now what?” Sarah asks as she looks around with wide eyes.
I get it. It seems like a lot when it’s all piled up in one room. Now that it’s spread out, it’s completely overwhelming. But if the last week has taught me anything, it’s that you just keep sorting and pitching. Sorting and pitching. Eventually you get to the bottom.
“I say we sort,” Nick says. “Trash in one pile. Things for charity in a second pile. Things that need to be saved in a third pile. And everything we’re not sure of in a fourth pile that we can look at once we’ve got the first couple of rounds of items clear.”