“Yes, ma’am,” Nick says.
Geraldine hits the button that raises the gate and Nick drives through at a slower speed—only making me use two of my butt muscles so I don’t go flying. All I can see are trees with lone driveways disappearing between thick coverage, with names like Springsteen and Bongiovi on the mailboxes, but not a single house in sight.
Then Nick hooks a left down another densely tree-lined street and hits the brakes so hard, the seat belt is gonna become practically a new layer of skin between my boobs for the foreseeable future.
He jerks his chin to the right. “The Lauder place.”
Well, that’s one word for it. I would have called it the Lauder freakin’ estate. It looks like someone took a castle out of Disney Paris and plopped it down in Jersey. It’s huge and stone, and I get to stare at it with my mouth hanging open for about six seconds before the Mercedes rounds the corner and Nick guns it.
There are more visible homes on this stretch, and all of them have three things in common. One, they are massive places where a person can say “her room’s in the south wing” and it wouldn’t be ironic. Two, the yards are pristine and landscaped to look like formal French gardens. Three, there isn’t a single solitary sign of life in any of them. No kids playing outside. No homeowners puttering in their flower boxes. No cars sitting in the circular driveways.
Except for one place and, of course, that’s the one that Nick whips the Mercedes into, pulling to a stop right beside a bright canary-yellow old-school Camaro. It has white racing stripes going down the hood, which has a cowl scoop that sticks out from the hood like a nose—or a giant yellow middle finger.
On the other side of the car stands a short woman who is maybe five-two on a tall day, in her early sixties with mahogany hair cut in a bob that hits her right in the sweet spot of her jawline. She’s surrounded by a handful of people towering over her in full diamonds at ten in the morning, who look about to pop while she has the look of utter boredom and distance I know I’ve seen before. Pivoting in my seat, I look at the man who used the exact same look to great effect on me earlier today.
“That’s your mom?”
He lets out a long sigh and turns off the engine. “The one and only Victoria Holloway.”
“Is that her car?” It’s a monster. A badass, classic muscle-car monster in a loud enough color, the astronauts can probably see it from the space station.
Nick opens his car door as he says, “I have my suspicions.”
We get out of the Mercedes and make our way over to the scrum.
“You know the rules, Vickie. We expect things to be held to a certain level in Woodhill Estates, and you have been keeping this”—the woman points a manicured nail at the Camaro—“thing parked in your driveway for four days. The community rules clearly state all vehicles have to be stored in the garage.”
“Maude, don’t you ever call Limoncello a thing again. She is a fully restored 1967 Chevrolet Camaro with a 6.2 liter LS3 engine with a six-speed transmission, a cold-air intake, speed injectors, and a Brian Tooley stage-three camshaft. And when Limoncello hits the street, she’s going to blow the shingles right off your roof, so treat her with some respect because she deserves it.”
Maude’s high-boned cheeks turn red with anger. “I don’t care what this thing is, if it’s out here one more hour, I’m going to have it towed.”
Victoria—I can’t even imagine ever calling this woman Vickie unless I felt like getting my ass kicked—doesn’t make a move toward the other woman. She doesn’t have to. One lift of a single dark eyebrow does the job. Maude takes two big steps back. Who’da thought Maude was smart enough for that?
“I’d love to see you try, Maude, darling,” Victoria says.
Wow. Go Victoria.
Nick clears his throat and each of the four people surrounding his mom turn to look at him. Only Victoria smiles.
“Now, now, Mrs. Crews,” he says in an aw-shucks tone as he holds up his hands in supplication. “We both know that you have no such authority to step on private property, HOA violation or not. The neighborhood guidelines allow you to file a complaint. I’ll help you with the paperwork.”
Yeah. That’s the softy hidden underneath all the prickly layers.
The realization hits me so hard, I nearly stumble back. I’ve never been more wrong about anything—and I’ve been wrong about sooooo much stuff—as I’ve been to think that Nick would ever secretly be hiding a side of himself that’s even on the same stratosphere of douche canoe as my ex. He couldn’t. Not even a little. Nick’s kind and generous and always helping people, even when they probably don’t deserve it—like me. And Maude.
And I fucked it all up.
“Now, listen here, young man, don’t talk down to me,” Maude says, planting her hands on her St.-John-pantsuit-encased hips. “I knew you when you were still in diapers.”
Nick’s mom draws to her full height and shuts Maude down immediately. “Yes, and that’s when we lived in that much smaller home to the east of the golf course. If you like, we could move closer to you again. I understand the Moores to your left are selling soon. Maybe we’ll just get it as an extra place for parties.”
Maude physically blanches. The other folks start peeling away from the woman who has been the ringleader as well. I’m just a bystander who knows no one, and my stomach is all nervous swirls.
Nick lets out a deep sigh. “Mo-om, let’s not escalate the situation.” He turns back to Maude and the rest of her now-wary toadies. “I’d like to remind everyone here that I am no longer in diapers and have a law degree now, which is why I feel confident reminding everyone you are standing on private property.”
“And if you don’t leave,” Victoria says, her tone imperious as she manages to look down her nose at Maude even though the other woman has four inches on her, “I’ll call the cops and we can really create a scene.”
I step forward, already digging through my purse. “Did you want to borrow my phone?”
Nick’s mom looks me over, cataloging me from my slightly frizzy topknot to non-matching Rothy’s that I’d thrown on in my hurry to get to Nick and apologize. Whatever she sees, it must check all the right boxes, because she flashes me a smile that is 60 percent approval and 40 percent let’s-go-start-some-shit.
“You have it handy?” she asks.
“I’m always here to give the middle finger to HOA rules.” I should show her—or her gardener, really—how to mow a giant SOS in her front yard. With the size of the Holloway acreage, they might be able to see it and her car from space.
“Ohhhhhhh, I like you.” She holds out her hand. “Let’s do this.”