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She shakes her head. “It’s summer. I don’t think we’ll see them for another hour or so.”

“You’re happy.” I smile.

Addy matches my smile. “Deliriously. But you know this, so stop trying to change the subject.”

“What subject?”

“You and Avery.”

I lace my fingers behind my head. “There is no me and Avery. I’ve known her for two seconds. She’s a diva. I prefer the dog to her, but I feel indebted to a friend, so I’m sacrificing my summer road trip to chauffeur them to L.A.”

“She’s pretty.” Addy smirks.

“She’s fake looking.”

“Does she have a boyfriend?”

“No. Yes. I don’t know. What does it matter?” Irritation strains my words.

Addy returns her attention to the plates she’s assembling with fruit, avocado toast, tomatoes, and sprouts. “Oh man … she’s way up under your skin already. This is going to get really good. You should message me with updates.”

“So remind me again why you’re home?”

“Nice diversion, Jake. I told you, Elena didn’t want to miss her friend’s birthday party, so we agreed to wait another day.”

“Oh, yeah, that’s right. So, how are the kids?”

“Jake, you’re such a guy. They’re fine. We’re fine. And don’t think we’re done talking about you.” She slides a plate in front of me. “But first, I’m going to go check on Avery.”

* * *

Avery

“Avery?” Addy knocks on the door.

I open it, wrapped in a white robe that was folded like new next to the shower. “I hope you don’t mind.” I tug at the sash to the robe.

“That’s what it’s there for.” She tucks her long, blond hair behind her ears. It looks a lot healthier than mine.

“Jake made me bathe in the creek. I can’t tell you how amazing that shower felt.” I ease the towel off my head.

“Jake’s got a great personality. He’s such a jokester.”

“Jokester?” I glance at her reflection in the mirror as I work the comb through my hair with cautious strokes. “I’m not sure he’s joking.” Thinking back to last night in the creek, I mentally smile. That was fun, a kind of fun I hadn’t had in years. “Does he joke with you like that? Would he make you bathe in a creek?”

Addy rubs her lips together. “I had a different relationship with Jake years ago, and yes, it was playful.”

I pause the comb. “Different?”

“It was before I married my husband, Quinn. We broke up for awhile, and Jake, who worked for me at the time, was exactly what I needed at that point in my life. He made me feel young and carefree. We had so much fun together.”

She’s good with words, particularly saying everything and nothing at the same time. “So … you were in a relationship with Jake?”

“Yes, a casual one.”

I nod slowly, resuming my combing. “I just got out of a relationship. Anthony wanted to marry me.”

“Oh, I’m sorry. What happened?”

“He lied to me. Said he didn’t like chocolate.”

Addy’s forehead wrinkles. “Did you find his chocolate stash?”

“No. Caught him eating chocolate mousse … in the kitchen … off the naked body of his cook.”

“Ohhh … that’s …”

I shrug. “Pretty much the story of my life.” Whether she wants to hear it or not, I back up the truck and dump my entire saga onto her. If my sister, Sydney, were here, she’d be my sounding board, therapist, and surgeon to put my life back together. By the time I finish doing my hair, makeup, and filing my nails, Addy has the whole story.

“I’m very sorry, Avery.”

I draw in a deep breath, feeling so much better for finding a sympathetic ear—the shower and well-lit mirror to do my makeup helped too. “Thank you for listening. It’s not the end of the world. I’m just in a rut.”

“Come on, let’s feed you. And don’t let Jake ruffle your feathers. He has his own issues, but I thought when he gave up fighting, he let those go. Apparently, you’ve unintentionally brought a few to the surface again.”

I follow her down the stairs. “Fighting?”

“Yes. He was an underground fighter, ultimate fighter … something like that. I’m not an expert on it, but I watched him send a guy out on a stretcher. Not my thing, but it was kind of …” She glances over her shoulder and winks. “Hot.”

Well great. I’m traveling with someone who has no issue beating another human within inches of their life. If I didn’t feel I could be that next human, I might share Addy’s assessment of Jake’s strength being kind of hot.

“Wait.”

Addy stops at the bottom of the stairs. “Yeah?”

I glance around, seeing no sign of anyone else in earshot. “So you had a fling with Jake, yet he comes here and camps on your property, uses your bathroom, and your husband is okay with it? Does he not know about your past with Jake?”

Her smile is a bit wicked. “Oh, Quinn knows everything. It took a few years before I could even say Jake’s name without him losing his shit. But Jake took over my business, and I still make investments in it. Jake and I share a passion that’s for a greater good—changing the way people look at food. And Quinn loves me, so he deals with my relationship with Jake. I think their relationship has finally hit lukewarm, but I’m guessing that’s where it will peak.”

“Mom?”

Addy looks up the stairs with a smile that I’ve seen a million times before on my sister’s face. It’s the mother smile. “Elena, good morning, sleepyhead.”

A blond-haired girl with olive skin makes her way down the stairs, eyeing me the whole time.

“Elena, this is Avery, Jake’s friend.”

I’m not Jake’s friend. Not by a long shot. Not in this lifetime. Not if he was the last man standing. Nope. Never ever. “Hi, Elena. Nice to meet you. I have a niece that’s just about your size. She likes to surf. What do you like to do?”

“I sail on a boat with my mom.” She hugs Addy.

“That sounds fun.”

“It is.” Addy kisses the top of her head. “Elena loves the water. Her twin, Ben, gets so seasick. Go figure.”

“There’s my girl.” Jake grins, showing all those perfectly irritating teeth.

“Jake,” Elena whispers, hiding behind Addy.

Oh my gosh. She’s blushing.

Addy chuckles. “My darling daughter has a crush on Jake, much to her father’s disapproval.”

“We’ve got time to get your dad’s blessing on our marriage in another decade.”

Elena goes from pink to chili pepper red when Jake kisses her on the cheek.

“Eat up, Avery. We’re leaving soon. I fed Swarley while you two ladies were upstairs talking about me.” He gives me a pointed look while passing by to head up the stairs. “I’ll grab your luggage. Don’t forget to tip the bellboy.”

“Yes, come eat.” Addy motions to the kitchen. “I’m going to pack you some food to go as well.”

“Oh, you don’t have to do that.” I start to inhale the food.

“I insist.”

I don’t argue. I’ll need my strength to bring down a two-hundred-plus-pound fighter who thinks he can manipulate me with lies. Before I take my last bite, Satan stabs my happy bubble with his pointy trident.

“Ready?”

I ignore him. “Addy, is this quartz or granite?” I rub the white countertop.

“Avery, chop chop.”

Addy grins as her gaze ping-pongs between us. I turn my last bite into five, like a mouse nibbling cheese.

“Quartz.”

“My dad built my mom this house to get her back.” Elena grins, picking sliced strawberries off her avocado toast.

“Is that so? Tell me more.” I shift my stool toward Elena kneeled on the stool next to mine.

“No time for more. I’m leaving without you in five minutes.”

Poke. Poke.

I’m going to stab that trident up his ass. He just doesn’t know it yet.

“You have a lovely home, Addy. I can’t thank you enough for your generosity. It’s hard to find truly kind people these days.”

Addy hands me a bag. “You are welcome anytime.”

She won’t think that when I murder her business buddy. “It was nice meeting you, Elena.”

Elena ignores me because her dreamy Jake is in the room. Poor girl is headed down the road of heartbreak. She will cross a million Jakes in her life, and most of them will be dick cheese.

“Taking off?”

Hold. The. Phone.

God has appeared.

Dear Heavenly Father,

I had no idea you were Latino in your human form. Good choice! Are you here to save me from Satan?

“Yes.” Jake gives Latino God a slight smile.

Addy married a god. I want to high-five her, but we haven’t known each other long enough to celebrate snagging a really hot guy.

“Quinn, this is Jake’s friend, Avery. Avery this is my husband, Quinn.”

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