A wave of heat blasted her. They’d been out checking cattle on the ATV and it’d started to pour. By the time they returned home, their clothes were soaked. She’d insisted they strip in the entryway and she’d carried the sopping bundle down to the laundry room, expecting Abe would take his shower first. But he’d followed her. After the washer lid had slammed, he’d been on her. Dropping to his knees and making her come with his mouth, before stretching her across the washer and taking her from behind as the machine kicked into the spin cycle. It’d been a sizzling encounter because it was so out of character for Abe—and out of the norm for them. Living with two other people—his younger brother and sister—restricted their amorous activities to the bedroom.

She lifted her gaze to his. Her heart sped up witnessing the fire in his eyes. “Of course I remember. It was one of the few times we were . . .”

Abe inched closer. “We were what?”

“Alone. Sexually spontaneous.”

“Sad state of our marriage, doncha think?”

“It was what it was.”

“You can’t know how that eats at me.” He reached out to touch her, but dropped his hand at the last second. “I wasn’t aware of the mistakes I’d made with you until Hank and Lainie got married.”

“Abe—”

“I’m sorry. So goddamned sorry. If I could go back . . .”

“You can’t. It wouldn’t change anything. We both made mistakes.”

His gray eyes searched hers carefully. “Are you saying it was a mistake when you left me?”

The last thing she needed was to justify why she’d left him. The mistakes hadn’t been all his, but she would’ve suffocated if she’d stayed here. There was no way she could tell Abe that without revisiting the pain they’d caused each other when she’d walked out. She smiled at him softly. “I’m saying we have a lot more boxes to get through. Let’s not dwell on stuff that doesn’t matter now.”

Abe didn’t argue. After a bit, he said, “I did ask you here for your professional advice. I don’t want to spiff up the downstairs for Celia. I want to do it for me.”

“That’s surprising.”

“Why?”

It’d dredge up the past they were tiptoeing around if she pointed out how rarely Abe had done things for himself. His efforts had been ranch or family focused. “You considered the basement Celia’s domain.”

“I ain’t kiddin’ myself that Celia will ever live here again for any length of time.”

Janie smoothed the wrinkles out of a sleeveless red and white checked blouse. “If she finds her dream guy will she inherit a chunk of Lawson land to build her own place so she can be close to family?”

“I guess we’ll see. Something’s changed in her. She always was a little naïve and I blame me’n Hank for that. We overprotected her. Set down ultimatums—which is something I was good at, huh?”

“You’ve had your moments.”

“Like I said, I have changed. So has Celia. Now she’s quick to leave a situation if it riles her in some way.”

“Meaning what?”

“Meaning the Celia we raised never backed down from a confrontation with me or Hank or any of the guys she’s been around her whole life. Now she walks away.”

“You don’t see that as a sign she’s grown up? Grown out of her mouthy ways?” After the words tumbled free, Janie wished she’d kept her trap shut. Abe had always leapt to Celia’s defense—no matter what. It’d been another sticking point in their marriage.

Abe shook his head. “I’m guessing life on the road shocked her more than she’d imagined. Anytime I’ve tried to talk to her about it, she clams up. Anyway, I don’t need her approval for the changes I intend to make to my house. Especially after sharing it for so many years and taking what everyone else wanted into account.”

“Whole basement remodel or just one room?” At his confused look, she clarified, “If you want to update the bathroom or the bedrooms, the time to do it is when the place is ripped to shreds. Not two or three years down the road.”

Abe’s gaze encompassed the space. “Does it need that?”

In lieu of answering, she lobbed a hideous mustard yellow sweater at the throw pile.

“Come on, Janie,” he cajoled. “Tell me what you’d do to set up my man cave in style.”

“I’d knock down the walls of Celia’s bedroom, adding space onto this room and turning that area into a bar. Then I’d take out the tub/shower combo in the bathroom and install a walk-in glass-walled shower. Building a small half wall would hide the toilet and allow for a double sink vanity. I’d have the décor in the guest bedroom be something fun and funky and totally unexpected.” Janie glanced up when Abe stayed quiet. “What? Sound too extreme?”

“No. It sounds exactly like what I want.”

“Really?”

“Yep. Any chance you could get goin’ on this soon? Granted, I’ll need time to dig up the coffee cans in the backyard to pay for it.”

She balled up a polka-dotted turtleneck and threw it at him. “Smart-ass.”

He grinned and threw the shirt right back at her. “I am serious. Holt’s crew is almost done with Bran and Harper’s remodel. I’d like to get him booked for this project before someone else snaps him up.”

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