“Scared?” I squawk even as my heart beats thunderously. “Of what? You?”

He nods. “Damn right, of me. And of you feeling something for me whether you want to or not. But because you haven’t learned nearly as much from your bad marriage as you think you have, you’ve decided to blow everything up instead of sitting down and having a conversation with me like a normal person.”

“Excuse me? Are you saying I’m not normal?” I demand.

“Are you kidding me?” He snorts. “Honey, you are a lot of things. Normal isn’t one of them.”

“Don’t call me honey in that tone.”

“Oh, sorry. Did Karl do that, too?” he asks.

My head threatens to explode. “You’re a real asshole, you know that?”

“Maybe.” He inclines his head. “But I’m also a pretty decent guy, which you’d know if you ever let yourself talk to me without an agenda. But you’re too busy running away from whatever you think this is to bother asking me what I think it is. Or what I want from you.”

The weight is back, pressing on my chest like a bad marriage and the thousand mistakes that killed it. “So what do you want?”

“Too late and not enough, Mallory.” He walks over to his office door. “But I’ll tell you one thing. It probably wouldn’t be to fall for a woman who comes with an entire eighteen-wheeler full of baggage attached. Someone who makes you realize that—before her—you weren’t really living. That you’ve just been existing in a world without color since your wife died. Or one who’s too scared to turn all that color into a real, authentic, beautiful life.”

His words are still hanging in the air between us—painting pictures in the empty spaces of the room and the even emptier spaces of my soul—when he yanks his door open. “Goodbye, Mallory. Have a safe life.”

Chapter Fifty-Four

   I spend the next two hours after Nick kicks me out of his office driving around aimlessly. It’s probably not one of my better moves, considering Jimi Hendrix doesn’t get the best gas mileage. He does, however, have a fantastic compilation of CDs to wallow to, and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t taking full advantage of that during my drive.

Eventually, though, I have to go home, and as I turn onto my street, I can’t help glancing over at Nick’s house to see if the lights are on. They are, which means he’s home, and for a second I can’t help wondering what he’s doing.

But that’s not my business anymore—if it ever was—so I force myself to stop guessing and look away. On the plus side, the full dumpster appears to have been replaced with a new empty one, so at least I know what I’ll be doing tonight. Purging the final guest room and my messed-up head at the same time.

I’m wondering about dinner—and whether or not I’m going to need to cook something or if my mom or Sarah did—but when I make it around to the back door, it’s to find my mom’s and Sarah’s suitcases lined up right outside. And the two of them sitting on the couch drinking lemonade.

“I’m going back to your father, Mallory.” My mom says it quickly, like she’s ripping off a Band-Aid. Which maybe she is, because God knows, I feel the sting. “And I’m taking Sarah with me.”

“Sarah? Why?” I glance between the two of them, and I can’t help noting that they both look…hopeful. How can that be possible after everything that’s happened?

“Because it’s high time your dad gets to know his daughter. Compartmentalizing her to one evening a week for pretty much her entire life is not an acceptable way to treat his daughter and it is not any way for him to get to know her,” Mom says crisply. “So she’ll be moving in with us for a while. I’ll be able to help with the baby after it’s born, and we are all going to work on being a family. Something we should have been doing for a long time now.”

She gives me an arch look, like I’m part of the problem. Which…whatever. I’ve already had Nick dump all over me today about my emotional unavailability. My mother might as well climb on board, too.

Then again, it’s not like she’s got much room to talk.

As my divorce from Karl and my fling—or whatever it is we had—with Nick has taught me, it usually takes two people to ruin a relationship. And while my relationship with my mother hasn’t been great for a lot of years, it’s not all my fault. She has more than played a role.

Speaking of which, I don’t get it. “How could you possibly take him back, Mom? He cheated on you and lied to you for twenty-seven years. I don’t get how you could ever forgive that.”

“I can forgive it because”—she makes air quotes with her fingers—“‘we were on a break.’ Was I angry that your father went right out and slept with someone else the second we decided to separate? Absolutely. Do I understand that he was as hurt and broken as I was by the state of our marriage and that men—especially of your father’s generation—tend to deal with their emotions differently than women? Also absolutely.

“I never blamed him for cheating on me—” She breaks off with a sigh. “That’s a lie. I totally blamed him for cheating, but I never said it out loud to him. I kept it buried inside me, thinking if I talked to him about how angry and hurt and violated I felt, it would ruin any second chance we had to make things right.”

She sighs. “But what I didn’t realize was that not talking about it was doing just as good a job at ruining us as talking would have—probably an even better job. Your dad didn’t bring up that time because he didn’t want to hurt me, and because he was afraid I would leave him if he rocked the boat too much.”

“Which is why he never told you about Sarah?” I ask, brows lifted incredulously. “Because he didn’t want to hurt you?” I can’t keep the skepticism out of my tone.

My mother’s eyes narrow in warning. “You don’t have to believe your father, but you don’t get to bad-mouth him to me.”

“Yeah, well, I’m happy to tell him to his face.”

“You know, Mallory, if you could ever stop casting blame, you’d probably get a lot further in life.” My mom glances in the direction of Nick’s house. “And probably a lot further in relationships as well.”

“Don’t, Mom.” I get up and storm into the kitchen to pour myself a glass of wine. “Don’t get on the same old tired loop about how Karl and my marriage breaking up was all my fault. That if I’d worn lipstick more or worn prettier dresses, he wouldn’t have screwed his twenty-three-year-old paralegal. Because that is bullshit and I am sick to death of you putting it on me.” I take a big sip of wine for courage and then say what I should have said a long time ago. “It’s not fair and it hurts. A lot.”