“I know it ain’t up to the decorating standards of the Split Rock.”
Ooh. Snap. Janie bristled. “I wasn’t comparing, if that’s what you’re getting at. I was trying to remember what it used to look like.”
The tense lines around his mouth relaxed. “I’d think you’d remember in detail, since I pretty much forbid you from making any changes after we got married, didn’t I?”
“Probably. But I was moving into your home with your family, so I didn’t push it.”
“I shoulda tried harder to make it our home.” Abe rubbed the back of his neck. “I did some dumb things, Janie. You can’t know how sorry I am.”
As thoughtful as his apology was, she waved him off. Playing the blame game now was pointless. “You said those boxes were downstairs?” She cut through the kitchen to the door that led into the basement.
“Careful you don’t trip,” he said as he followed her.
The lights were already on. This room hadn’t changed a bit. Wood-paneled walls. Floral curtains covering the small windows. Beanbag chairs held together with duct tape. Olive green shag carpeting. Reader’s Digest condensed books filled shelves. Along with board games she’d remembered: Life, Battleship, Mouse Trap, Chinese checkers. She and Celia had spent hours challenging each other, since Abe and Hank had been too busy or they believed it too juvenile to play board games with their little sister. Somehow in the bitterness of her marriage ending, she’d forgotten those happy times spent with Celia, munching popcorn, listening to the country tunes on the boom box.
Janie focused on the stacks of boxes rather than the memories. “Remind me again where you got all of this stuff?”
“My ex-girlfriend Nancy. She had so many boxes in her garage she had no place to park her car. I swear the whole reason she was dating me was to get rid of all this crap.”
“Oh, I’m sure there were other reasons.” One nine-inch reason in particular popped into her head.
Not productive. Think of something else.
How about his muscled chest spattered with just the right amount of dark hair? Or those perfect buns, tight and muscular from years in the saddle? Or those wonderfully callused hands? Or that heated look Abe got in his eye when he—
She jumped. What was wrong with her? She wasn’t supposed to be imagining her ex-husband naked. “Sorry. I’m just trying to figure out a starting point.” She ducked her head to hide the blush and opened the closest box. “First we should determine what to do with the clothing I don’t want.”
“I’m tempted to throw it all in the garbage. But that seems wasteful, don’t it?”
“Yes. Especially after keeping it all this time.” Janie peered up at Abe. “How long has this stuff been down here?”
“Since last Christmas.” He winced. “I have to pass by it when I use the laundry room. Every time I think I’ll take care of it next week. And then I never do.”
“Because you don’t want to let go of Nancy?”
He snorted. “Not even close.”
Outdated, matronly styles filled the first box and wouldn’t fit the hip, retro theme of the resort’s Western store, Wild West Clothiers. If all the boxes contained these types of clothes, they’d be done lickety-split. “Let’s put the stuff I’m not taking in garbage bags.”
“I’ll grab some.” Abe disappeared up the stairs.
The next box had two funky vintage Western shirts and a denim skirt that went into the keep pile.
By the time Abe returned with a roll of garbage bags, she’d cleared another box. “Look at you go.”
“I’m a woman on a mission.” She scrutinized a paisley scarf. If Harper couldn’t sell it she’d probably craft a headband out of it. The woman had a knack for recycling old pieces into new and had an eye for style, which was why she and Renner had hired her to run the store.
A heavy male sigh echoed. “I’m standing here doin’ nothin’.”
“That’s because I want you to rest up all those big muscles. I’ll use you later.” Janie glanced over at him. “You okay with that?”
“Ah. Sure.” He tugged on the collar of his shirt. “Is it getting hot in here, or is it just me?”
“Must just be you.” She shook out a floral sweater and caught a glimpse of Abe as he unbuttoned his cuffs.
Oh no. He wasn’t stripping—yep—off went his gray shirt, leaving him in a white wife beater. Ow wow. Had his chest always been that broad? Had his biceps always been that big? Had his forearms always bulged with ropy muscle? Had his stomach always been that flat?
“Lemme bring these to you.” Abe dragged the boxes closer, which seemed to strain his back muscles until those strong, tight cords of flesh rippled beautifully beneath his skin. He stood fewer than two feet away from her, breathing hard.
Wowza. He wasn’t the only one breathing hard. Something about seeing the man in heavy work mode had always tripped her trigger.
You’ll get eyestrain if you keep gawking at him like that.
They worked in silence. Although Janie feigned the utmost concentration on unpacking, she was hyperaware of Abe’s every move. Of his every toiling muscle. Of his every labored breath. “Were you serious about wanting to redo the basement?”
“Nah. I just wanted to lure you down here so we could relive the washing machine episode.” He paused and peeped at her from beneath those absurdly long eyelashes. “Do you remember?”
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