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Page 16

No! Wait!

I helped him get off my lawn, not get off on my lawn. There is a difference, even if my brain can barely differentiate between the two at the moment.

After stumbling to the bathroom, I make the awful mistake of looking straight into the mirror. Jay-sus. I definitely look as bad as I feel—maybe even worse, considering the never-runs mascara has sprinted away from my eyelids—so I force myself into the shower. I’m not up for the whole serum/moisturizer/eye-cream circus today, so once I’ve dried off, I do a quick teeth-brushing/topknot combo and grab the first clothes I see.

I’m soooooo tempted to go back to bed, but I have a to-do list that keeps growing exponentially, and I need to get on it. Besides, I’m not starting the second day of the rest of my life hiding under the covers, no matter how hungover I am.

Once I sidestep down the stairs and get to the kitchen, I take two Tylenol and brew the strongest pot of coffee I can stomach. Three cups of a-spoon-would-stand-straight-up-in-it and one bowl of Froot Loops later, and I’m ready to face the world.

And by world, I mean the rest of the kitchen cabinets as well as the bookshelves packed full of paperback romances, biographies of musicians, and at least one copy of every single Nora Roberts and JD Robb book ever published in any language in the family room.

I work through it methodically. One trash-bag pile for the garage sale I hope to have, though I’m sure the HOA will be all up in arms about that; one trash-bag pile for donation; and one trash-bag pile for the landfill.

I’m about halfway through my third box of trash bags—not to mention an entire cabinet devoted to takeout chopsticks, silverware, and condiments—when I decide that Mikey was right. I need a dumpster. There’s no way a simple trash collection can deal with all of this.

I leave everything where it is, pausing in my work just long enough to wash my hands and get a second pot of coffee brewing, and then I chase down his card in my purse. I make the call, expecting it to go straight to voicemail like it did yesterday, but instead Mikey picks up on the second ring.

“This is Mikey.” His voice is warm and deep.

“Hi! This is Mallory Martin Bach, soon to be just Martin again. You came by my aunt’s house yesterday and—”

“I know who you are, Mallory.” Now he just sounds amused. “How are you doing today?”

“I’m getting by.” Yeah, there is no way I’m telling him I got sloppy drunk after seeing his estimate. That is not the way to conduct a business meeting. “How are you?”

“Better now that you’ve called.”

I have no clue how to respond to that. Is he flirting with me? It sounded like he was flirting, but it’s been so long since anyone did that, I can’t be sure. I decide to take the safe route and assume that he wasn’t—besides, it isn’t like I want to flirt back.

“Well, don’t get too excited.” My cheeks explode with heat when he lets out a startled laugh. “I mean, about the bid.” Way to go, Mallory. You are sooooooo smooth. Like crunchy peanut butter mixed with driveway gravel. “It turns out the only thing I know for sure I can afford today is the dumpster. I definitely want the dumpster.”

“Things are that bad, huh?” He sounds significantly more sympathetic than a contractor should, and I’m not sure how I feel about that, to be honest. It’s hard enough dealing with the situation I’m in all by myself. The last thing I want or need is someone else to see how pathetic I am right now.

I can handle a lot of things—Karl being a total dick for one. Finding out that I failed my aunt for two. I can even handle the recriminations from my parents and their plots for me to reconcile with Karl. However, the one thing I can’t take right now is someone feeling sorry for me. Just the idea makes me feel a hundred times more pathetic than I already do.

“The quote is okay,” I say. “But I need to look at the bid against the most pressing HOA violations. There’s no point in doing anything if they levy fines or sue me, as then I won’t have enough money to finish the project.”

Judging by the tone of the HOA letters my aunt received—letters I spent the first half a pot of coffee this morning sorting through—they are serious as a heart attack that this will be their next step. Turns out the HOA has been on her butt for the last year, everything from length-of-grass violations to four separate notices about her periwinkle shutters. And they are done waiting for the repairs.

Not for the first time, I wonder why she decided to leave this house to me. She might not have known before she died that I wouldn’t be able to afford it, but surely she had to have known that I would get stuck with all the HOA violations and all the mess.

I’m beginning to think I might not have been her favorite person after all, no matter what she used to say.

“I understand,” Mikey says. “But I’ve got an idea.”

“What’s that?” I ask warily. The last time a man told me he had an idea, it ended with a wedding ring on my finger and years of my soul and self-esteem being crushed.

“How about I take you to lunch tomorrow? We can talk about the bid, maybe see what absolutely has to be done immediately. We can figure out what we can start with, besides the dumpster, I mean, and a budget you can live with. And of course, talk about a possible insurance claim.”

“That’s a really nice offer.” Not a lie. “But the truth is, I shouldn’t waste your time. This is my problem, and I think I can sort through it all with the detailed bid you gave me.”

“Let me worry about my time,” he says with such confidence, I just want to close my eyes and believe. “I know you’re in a pinch, and I’d love to do what I can to help you out.”

Pull it back, Mallory! Do not fall for the I’ll-take-care-of-you bullshit.

“Why would you want to do that?”

Maybe it’s because up until now I spent most of my time around Karl and the people from his law firm, but my experience has been that people don’t go out of their way to help you unless there’s something in it for them.

He chuckles. “Because I like you, Mallory. So what do you say, tomorrow at Wilma’s Diner? It’s on Bay Drive. I can send you a link—”

“I know where it is,” I say.

An awkward silence ensues as I wait for him to say something else and apparently he waits for me to do the same thing. I don’t know what to say, though—this is new territory for me. Someone doing something nice just because? Trust issues? Me? Only a smidgen the size of the Grand Canyon.

Eventually, Mikey must get tired of waiting on me to speak, because he clears his throat. “So tomorrow at noon? Is it a date? Tell you what, I can even pick you up.”

“Sure,” I say, crossing my fingers in hopes that this isn’t a bad decision. “I’ll see you then.”

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