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Page 22

I say goodbye to Mr. Clean Neighbor, open my eyes again, and spy Nick staring at me as if I just might be the one who got nailed in the head by a wine bottle.

“You okay?” He comes closer, not touching but near enough that my girlie parts do the hello-hottie wake up and dance. “Do you need a glass of water or something?”

“Yes. Please. I’m parched.”

He heads to the fridge, and I wander into the spacious living room to scope the place out and get my suddenly-alive-again hormones under control. Nick’s place is nice. Modern. Lots of windows. Warm leather furniture that looks comfortable but not like you can’t eat a cookie on it. There are a couple of paintings here and there on the walls, but the biggest decorative touches are the plants. Lots of them. Everywhere. There are big ones and small ones and hanging ones and drooping ones and flowering ones.

I walk up to the closest plant, a giant thing with split, elephant-shaped dark-green leaves, and can’t resist stroking the shiny leaves. I know next to nothing about plants, but I’m pretty sure it’s a split-leaf philodendron. My roommate in college had one, and she swore I killed it with all my Red Hot Chili Peppers and Nine Inch Nails music, but I always thought it was because she would water it with the melted ice from her favorite vodka cranberries.

Again, I don’t know much about plants, but I’m pretty sure they don’t thrive on booze and sugar.

Nick obviously doesn’t listen to rock music or water his plants with anything but the purest, most rarefied water, because each and every one of them is gorgeous. Large, glossy, bright green, and full of life. It’s impossible not to smile while I wander from one to the next.

As I stroke the foliage of another plant—this one with tiny leaves that I absolutely have no idea the name of—I can’t help but think how weird it is to find something so…unruly with life in Nick’s orderly house. They are as wild and luscious and unrestrained as Nick is buttoned-up and restrained. It’s obvious that he doesn’t even try to exert any control over them. He just takes care of them and lets them do whatever they want to do.

Not gonna lie. I am sucked in, wanting to know the why of the one-of-these-things-is-not-like-the-other factor.

I move on to yet another plant—this one a bamboo palm, possibly—and I kind of want to name it. Actually, I want to name every single one of them with ridiculous monikers like Russell and Violeta and Brandywine. Yes, I definitely think the philodendron should be named Brandywine.

Too bad they aren’t my plants to name. They aren’t even my plants to ask about, despite me dying inside with questions.

Nick walks back in with two crystal highball glasses filled with water and hands one to me.

“Thank you,” I say, ignoring the tingle in my fingers where his hand brushed mine. “Where’s Buttercup?”

“Doggy day care.”

I nod and take a sip of water. “So, um, I just wanted to ask you a question about the HOA regulations.”

One of his dark brows goes up, and though his expression doesn’t change in any other way, I can’t help thinking that he’s bracing himself for me declaring the Periwinkle Revolution.

“Anything in particular?” he asks after taking a long, precise sip of his own water. Not a drip slips down his glass, which isn’t exactly a surprise. I’m sure it wouldn’t dare.

“I was wondering how to go about getting a dumpster. I mean, I know how to get a dumpster. I was just wondering if there are any HOA regulations about renting one and parking it in my driveway for a week or two.”

“A dumpster?” Now his second brow joins the first near his hairline. “Don’t you think you should start with something a little easier?” he suggests. “Like mowing the grass?”

“What is it with you and my grass?” I ask, setting my glass down on the coffee table. “Yeah, it’s a little long, but it’s not like it’s a jungle or anything.”

It is.

“I just know that too-long grass is the number one way to get a citation in this neighborhood.” He walks over, gets two white marble coasters out of a small drawer in the end table, and puts one under my glass and the other his. “Besides, if you deal with the grass quickly, then the HOA might let you slide on a few of the other violations for a little while.”

“Like the shutters?” It’s my turn to lift a brow.

He sighs. “Okay, yeah. The shutters are going to cause a problem soon enough—if they haven’t already.”

“Oh, they definitely have. But I have a plan to deal with that.” The plan is pretty simple, actually. It involves me, a ladder, and a couple of cans of all-weather paint in the most boring gray I can find.

It’s a far cry from periwinkle violet, but it’s guaranteed not to piss off the HOA and will keep me from racking up a bunch more fines, and that is all I care about right now. I can afford the dumpster and the earrings I’m wearing, but only if I don’t have a ton of extra fees I suddenly need to pay off.

“Why don’t you want to handle the grass first?” he says, his voice taking that ultra-patient tone one uses for small children and lost animals. “It’s an easy job and will give you a quick win.”

The dude is obsessed with Kentucky bluegrass or fine fescue or Bermudagrass or whatever the hell kind of grass lives in between all the weeds that have taken over my front lawn.

“Maybe I don’t want a quick win,” I shoot back at him.

He rolls his eyes. “Everyone wants a quick win. And a dumpster, while probably necessary, is pretty much the antithesis of quick or win.”

Honestly, if he didn’t look so cute trying so hard to be something he is most definitely not—in other words, nice—I might have found his continued fixation on my grass amusing. But there is no chance I’m going to give him the satisfaction of doing it on his timeline. Partly because I am sick to death of a man telling me what to do or think and partly because mowing the grass just isn’t feasible right now. The only mower I found in Aunt Maggie’s garage is an old-style push mower without a motor. I cannot replace it with a mower that was built in this century, at least not until I get a regular paycheck.

“You know, the lawn mower is older than dirt and in the garage, stored behind about ten thousand magazines in about twenty different piles. So if you want me to mow the grass, you’re going to have to step up and help me figure out how to get a dumpster so I can throw away the clutter and clear a path to the world’s oldest mower. Otherwise, I’m pretty sure the lawn will just keep growing forever.”

Yeah. Take that, Mr. Grass Man!

Whew, I’m all flush and giddy off that little speech. That’s right. I can do things my way.

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