“Dinner sounds perfect.”

Chapter Forty-Six

   One text to my mom and an hour later, I rinse off a soapy but clean dish and hand it to Nick. My belly is full of the best thing in the world to eat after a long day at work—breakfast for dinner.

I’ll admit, when he asked, I didn’t think he meant dinner at his place, but honestly, it just felt perfect. No awkward silences over a restaurant table while waiting on our orders to be taken or dinner to be cleared away. We were both too busy sorting out who would make what and where to really pause long enough to feel weird.

“You’ve got to be kidding me,” he says as he dries off the plate and puts it in the cabinet over the wine fridge. “You haven’t ever seen any of the Lord of the Rings? Frodo? The Shire? Gandalf? One ring to rule them all? We have to fix this. Tonight.”

Temptation, thy name is Netflix and chill with my superhot neighbor who kisses like it’s his job and loves what he does for a living. Speaking of which…

“I have work tomorrow.”

“Amazing, so do I.” He tosses the tea towel over one shoulder and leans against the granite counter. “We’ll only watch the first one.”

I pull the sink drain and watch the suds disappear along with my willpower. “How long is it?”

“Good movies aren’t about how long they are.”

That is definitely a lie, but the kind that I want to believe. I have no idea what it is about this man, but he just gets to me. Every. Damn. Time.

“Nick.” I hold out my dripping hands for the towel.

“Fine.” Instead of handing over the towel, he starts to dry my hands. “It’s nearly four hours. But it’s worth it.” He hangs up the towel and walks me out of the kitchen into the living room. My purse is on the coffee table. My heels are still by the front door. “Come on, I have a big screen, a really comfy couch, and I won’t even say all of Sam’s lines during the movie.”

“Is this just an excuse to sit in the dark and make out?” I’m not saying I’m projecting, but yeah, I am totally projecting.

“That is an extra added benefit.”

I lift an eyebrow. “For friends with benefits and only friends with benefits?” Confirming that last bit for myself? Absolutely. So what if I just decided over soapy dishes that it was time I sow some wild oats, be free, roll with it. “Okay. I’ll stay.”

We settle in on the couch, with me tucked into his shoulder, and he turns on the movie. We don’t even make it through the opening title sequence before Nick has lost his shirt and my pants are in danger of coming off. Without a single protest, he scoops me up in his strong arms and carries me upstairs. In any other circumstance, it would be ultraromantic, but I’m not looking for romance. I’m not looking for love. I’m definitely not looking to fall for anyone.

This is just for fun. I have absolutely nothing to worry about.

And if my ovaries are taking bets on which one of us is lying, well, that’s nobody’s business but my own. They’re traitorous bitches anyway.

I sink my fingers into his hair, nuzzle his neck, and tell him all the things I want him to do to my body tonight, a list of demands that it’s apparent he’s more than willing to deliver as he starts taking the stairs two at a time.

He drops me onto the bed, and I bounce with a giggle that gets stuck in my throat when he unbuckles his pants and climbs onto the bed over me, his strong arms caging me in.

His eyes twinkle as he grins and says, “Oh, we’re definitely going to do that second one you mentioned.”

That one is my favorite, too, so I grin right back.

Then he leans forward and shows me all the ways the things on my list of demands can make me scream an orgasm, and I’m practically hoarse by morning when I tiptoe home and get dressed for work with a silly, satisfied smile on my face.

The next two weeks follow a similar pattern.

At work, I find more and more ways to make myself useful and ensure Nick’s office runs smoother. It’s an incredibly satisfying job. And Nick is the epitome of professional there, never crossing a single line. But when the clock strikes five, by some unspoken agreement, we meet up at my house for some light packing, then dinner with my mom and sister, or we head to his place for an evening of cooking and teasing and walking the dog.

And always, every night, Nick suggests we watch a Lord of the Rings, which is code if I’ve ever heard it for wanna fuck?

I’m not ashamed to admit the hobbits never make it out of the village as far as I’ve seen.

In fact, it’s gotten to the point that my heart starts to pound with desire every time I hear Sauron’s name in the opening scene. I don’t think that’s the reaction Peter Jackson, the director, had in mind at all when he made the film, but all I can say is kudos, Peter. Kudos. I fucking love your movie.

Chapter Forty-Seven

   Nick and I have a rhythm in the kitchen that almost feels like we’ve practiced it all our lives. I place pasta into the boiling water on the stove just as Nick finishes chopping basil and turns to toss it in the saucepan as he puts the finishing touches on the alfredo sauce.

Everything has been going so smoothly, I hate to rock the boat with an uncomfortable question, but it’s been bugging me for a while now. I hesitate, and almost decide to wait and ask tomorrow instead, but then remind myself that’s what Old Mallory would do.

New Mallory squares her shoulders and just asks, “So, umm, I’ve been wondering something.”

Nick turns the burner down as he continues to stir the sauce slowly. “Mm-hmm. What’s up?”

“If you and Aunt Maggie were so close, why didn’t you ever do anything around her house or mow the lawn or anything?” The question has been gnawing at me for weeks. I’ve really gotten to know him, or at least I think I have, and he’s a great guy. I just can’t reconcile the Nick I know with the Nick who wouldn’t do something as simple as occasionally mow an old lady’s lawn.

He holds my gaze, as though he’s trying to decide how much to say, and my stomach sinks. I’m not going to like his answer, I’m sure, but I have to know. “Just tell me. I can take it.”

His eyes soften. “Oh, hon, it’s nothing bad. Not really.” He walks over and pulls me into his arms. “I used to do all the things around her place. That’s how we met, actually. I knew she was having trouble with her lawn guy being reliable, so I walked over one day and offered to mow it for her. I just got into the habit of coming over a few times a week, changing her light bulbs, fixing her dryer, whatever she needed. Even after she went to live in that active-living facility, I tried to continue to keep the house up for her.”