Victoria scoffs. “Your life would be boring without me. You’d still be driving a Mercedes instead of the GTO.”

“That’s true.” He leans over and kisses her cheek. “I’d have a boring life if it weren’t for my very non-boring wife.”

It’s adorable and awful at the same time because this is the life I always wanted—the one I still want. The teasing. The fun. The in-it-togetherness, weird quirks and all.

And the thing is, I don’t just want that life. I want it with Nick because, despite how much I fought it, I’ve fallen for Mr. Always There and I can’t imagine him not being a part of my life. All I have to do to make that want a reality is to have the guts to fight for it.

Old me would have never. But the new Mallory Martin—done with being Bach—faced down Karl and won. I’ve lived through finding a treasure chest of my beloved aunt’s dildos. I’ve started a new life for myself that teenage me wouldn’t be ashamed of. I’m no longer a woman who hides in law office bathrooms. I can do this.

Nick scoots closer on the love seat and lowers his voice to a whisper. “Sorry about my parents.”

“They’re amazing.” It’s true. I’ve never seen two people more comfortable about being themselves with each other. “Nick, we need to talk.” Adrenaline surges through my veins because now that I know what I want, how I want my life to be, I want it to start now. “Can we go somewhere?”

He nods. “Sure, let’s—”

Before we can make any excuses to his parents and find somewhere to talk, though, the thick oak door to the study opens and a woman in a soft gray dress walks in. “Dinner is ready.”

“Wonderful,” Victoria says as she stands. “Shall we?”

“Mom, you know you could have just asked me to dinner instead of staging a big fight with your neighborhood nemesis.”

“True,” she says with an impish grin. “But where is the fun in that?”

Nick turns to his dad.

John shrugs as he starts toward the study door, arm in arm with his wife. “She’s your mother, son. She’s never going to do the expected.”

Nick looks over at me, a chagrined look on his face that hits me somewhere between oh-my-God-he’s-amazing and how-could-I-have-missed-this-all-along. “Sounds like someone else I know.”

Chapter Fifty-Eight

   The Holloway dining room is huge but still manages to feel cozy. It’s all soothing creams and light blues with neutral wood—everything illuminated by the sun coming in from the huge south-facing windows. We sit down at an oval table set for four. Victoria sits to my left and Nick to my right with John straight across, obviously more interested in the chicken cordon bleu than whatever intel into her son’s life Victoria is about to go mining for.

I, on the other hand, am a jumble of anticipation and nerves.

“I know you two have been sparring or flirting or hanging out, whatever it is that they call casual sex that really isn’t these days,” Victoria says as she pours a balsamic vinaigrette over her salad. “But what I really want is to hear it all from your perspective, Mallory. Nick gives very few satisfactory details.”

“Mo-om,” Nick groans and sinks back against his chair.

“It’s true.” Victoria passes the crystal decanter of vinaigrette to John. “You’re just like your father. It feels like reeling in a shark with a toy fishing pole to get either of you to give up the goods.” She takes a sip of wine and turns her attention back to me. “So, tell me everything.”

Everything? That’s a lot to unpack, but I’m not about to turn down the opening she’s given me.

I take a sip of my water and my hand doesn’t even shake. “Well, it all started when he wouldn’t stop harping on me to mow my grass so I would stop violating our HOA rules.”

“Nicolas!” Victoria exclaims. “How could you have acted like a Maude?”

“No, he was right,” I say. “I’d just inherited my aunt Maggie’s house and it was in a state. Still, it was heaven compared to living with my parents while I went through a messy—and only got messier—divorce. Nick helped set up a meeting with his partner, Gina, and while I was at the office, I just sort of happened to fall into the job of being the firm’s temporary office manager.”

“There was no ‘happened to fall into it,’” Nick says. “You stepped up, negotiated like a hostage-taker, and saved us from chaos. Once you’d been there an hour, we knew there was no way we could ever let you.”

“So you liked her office-management skills, is that right, Nick?” Victoria asks, and the double entendre she’s throwing down is big enough to win a prizefight.

Nick groans but says nothing else.

Breaking into the awkward silence that follows, I continue. “Between HOA issues, helping clean my aunt’s house, my divorce, and Nick’s office needing a new manager—well, that about sums up how we met.” I take a bite of chicken that probably tastes epic, if my stomach weren’t in knots. “This chicken is delicious.”

“Oh yes,” John says as he slices off another bite. “This is one of our chef’s specialties. Nick’s favorite, too.”

“So is this nasty divorce behind you yet, my dear?” From a different woman, the question would have come across as bitchy. But Victoria’s eyes are filled with nothing but concern for me.

I’m about to tell her the truth, that I am very much still in the middle of that shitstorm, but Nick replies first. “Mother, Mallory and I are no longer”—he waves his hand—“whatever we were before. She’s the best office manager we’ve ever had and a good neighbor, and that’s all. So let the woman eat in peace, okay?”

A hard band of regret squeezes my chest, making it almost impossible to breathe, much less eat. I turn to Nick, but he focuses on cutting another piece of chicken and chewing, completely unaware that my world is unraveling around me. The bastard. “You know, you could act like it bothers you just a little.”

He swallows his last bite and slowly turns to me, one eyebrow raised. “That what bothers me exactly?”

I roll my eyes at him. “That you’re not watching Lord of the Rings every night anymore.”

He fires back, “Who’s to say I’m not watching Lord of the Rings every night?”

My gaze narrows on his, the whole room disappearing except the two of us. “Are you saying, while I’ve been trying to sort out my baggage so that I know what I really want, you’ve been watching Lord of the Rings with someone else?”