Never a Hero (A Tucker Springs Novel)

Never a Hero (A Tucker Springs Novel), by Marie Sexton
Author: 
eBook ISBN: 
978-1-937551-94-0
eBook release: 
May 13, 2013
eBook Formats: 
pdf, mobi, html, epub
Print ISBN: 
978-1-937551-95-7
Print release: 
May 13, 2013
Word count: 
45,000
Page count: 
174
Type: 
Cover by: 

This title is part of the Tucker Springs universe.

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Everyone deserves a hero.

Owen Meade is desperately in need of a hero. Raised by a mother who made him ashamed of his stutter, his sexual orientation, and his congenitally amputated arm, Owen lives like a hermit in his Tucker Springs apartment. But then hunky veterinarian Nick Reynolds moves in downstairs.

Nick is sexy and confident, and makes Owen comfortable with himself in a way nobody ever has. He also introduces Owen to his firecracker of a little sister, who was born with a similar congenital amputation but never let it stand in her way. When she signs the two of them up for piano lessons—and insists that they play together in a recital—Owen can’t find a way to say no. Especially since it gives him a good excuse to spend more time with Nick.

Owen knows he’s falling hard for his neighbor, but every time he gets close, Nick inexplicably pulls away. Battling his mother’s scorn and Nick’s secrets, Owen soon realizes that instead of waiting for a hero, it’s time to be one—for himself and for Nick.

This title comes with no special warnings.

Caution: The following details may be considered spoilerish.

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Chapter One

It took three years for me to convince myself I was in love with my downstairs neighbor. It only took one day for her to move out of my life.

It wasn’t her fault. Not really. It wasn’t as if I’d ever told her how I felt. In truth, I’d barely spoken to her at all, outside of the general pleasantries between neighbors when we passed on the walk or ran into each other in our shared backyard. But I’d watched her. Not in a stalker kind of way. But some days, when she was out in the garden, I’d sit on my porch and read so I could catch glimpses of her through the flowers as she knelt in the dirt, her fingers sunk into the cold Colorado soil.

But what had really made me love her was listening to her.

Her name was Regina, and she was a pianist. Not a concert pianist, or even an aspiring one. She had a day job somewhere in town, doing what, I didn’t know, but for three years, I’d seen her leave at 7:45 and come home at 5:20. For an hour or so, she’d be out of my sight, in her own apartment below mine. But sometime around 6:30 or 7:00, she’d always start to play, and I’d lie on the couch in my living room, directly above her piano, and think about how I could learn to love a woman like her.

But now here she was, moving out.

I watched out my window as she loaded boxes into a truck. She had help. Two men and one woman. I barely noticed the woman, but I studied the men. One was smaller, studious looking, glasses perched on his nose. A bit twitchy about touching the boxes or going in the house. I dubbed him The Academic. The other was bigger. Huge, in fact. Clearly one of those men who spent hours in the gym. He lugged boxes out to the truck two and three at a time.

The Hero.

Not that he was Regina’s hero, though. The men were obviously a couple, although I tried not to notice how happy they looked together. The lingering glances and the secret smiles. For three years, I’d lived only a few blocks from the Light District in Tucker Springs, and for three years, I’d told myself it wasn’t the place for me. That all I needed was to meet the right woman, and maybe all those other thoughts that snuck into my head late at night would disappear. That she could help me erase the embarrassed regret of my high school years, and the loneliness that had haunted me since college. If Regina and I were a couple, I’d told myself, her playing would get me through the tough times. Whenever I’d start to wonder how it felt to be on my knees in front of another man, whenever I’d start to think about what I really wanted, I could turn to her and say, “Play something for me.” And she’d smile at me, pleased that I wanted to hear her latest piece, and as her fingers would dance over the keys, teasing Bach or Beethoven or Mozart from that big square box, I’d fall in love with her again and forget about the fact that it was men who turned my head, time and again.

Except now she was moving.

I pulled the shade down and turned away. I didn’t want to watch her leave.

I also didn’t want to watch two men who could openly admit they were in love.

“Owen, you’re an idiot,” I told myself. After all, a braver man would have offered to help. A more confident man would have taken this last opportunity to talk to her. Maybe get her phone number. A forwarding address, in case there was mail or a package. In case she wanted to have dinner some night. A whole man would have offered to help her move. An undamaged man wouldn’t have been afraid to walk out and say, “Hey, let me lend you a hand.”

I laughed suddenly at my own thoughts. How ironic that I’d think of one of my least-favorite phrases in the English language. I didn’t exactly have an extra hand to spare.

I looked down at my left arm, where it ended in a smooth tapered stump just below my elbow.

“Let me lend you a hand,” I said out loud. “But only if you give it back when you’re done.”

It wasn’t as absurd as it sounded. I could have helped. It wasn’t like I was incapable of carrying a damn box. Not two or three at a time, like The Hero, but that didn’t make me worthless.

No, it wasn’t my missing arm that stopped me from helping Regina move. It was the way they’d all react, sorting carefully through the boxes, deciding which ones I could carry. Nothing too heavy. Nothing breakable. Certainly not the glassware, or the boxes of books. Linens, though. Linens they might let me carry.

Or pillows. Even a one-armed man could carry pillows.

I’d never be anybody’s hero.

“Stop feeling sorry for yourself,” I muttered.

I was startled by a knock on the door. I was even more surprised to open it and find Regina on the other side. I stood as I always did, with the left half of my body hidden behind the door. Certainly she knew by now about my missing arm, but I’d learned people didn’t like to see it.

“Hi, Erwin!” she said. It was an indicator of how little we’d actually talked. She didn’t even know my name.

I was slow to answer, making sure my tongue was ready to move. I’d beaten my stutter years ago, but it still appeared sometimes. Usually at the least-opportune moments. “Ready to go?” I asked her, gesturing toward the truck.

“Yep, this is it!” She held a set of keys out for me. “I told the landlord I’d leave the spares with you.”

I held out my right hand and let the keys fall into my palm. I thought about the one thing I hadn’t seen The Hero carry out her door. “What about your piano?”

She shrugged and ran a hand through her short hair. There was more gray in it than I’d realized. When I’d imagined a life with her, I’d made her my age, but I was reminded now of the fact that she was actually more than ten years my senior, although she looked damn good for her age. “I’m leaving it. It wasn’t mine to begin with. It belonged to whoever lived here before me, and anyway, it’d be a pain in the ass to move.”

“Will you buy a new one?”

“I don’t know. Maybe eventually. But mostly it takes up space and gathers dust, you know?”

She’d played almost every night. Certainly she loved it. I’d made myself believe she loved it. How else could I possibly love her?

“Anyway,” she said, suddenly awkward. “Take care.”

Take care.

Then she turned around and walked away. Down the sidewalk to the truck. Away from the imaginary life she’d unknowingly starred in.

Away from me.

# # #

Two days later, the scene was repeated in reverse. A Tahoe and a pickup truck filled with furniture and boxes parked in front of the house. A total of four men got out and walked through the bright autumn leaves littering the lawn to the side of the house, out of my line of sight.

I should introduce myself. Find out who exactly was moving in and give him the spare key.

That’s what I told myself, but I knew I wouldn’t do it. Not until I was forced to.

I heard laughter downstairs, then piano notes. Not a real song like Regina had played. Not the practiced music of a pianist, but the inexpert jangle of random tones as somebody tested the instrument. I pictured one of the men leaning against Regina’s piano, hitting the keys, laughing with his friends at his own lack of skill.

“Don’t quit your day job!” one of them said.

The house I lived in had been built as a split-level in the seventies, but had been broken up into two separate apartments. Mine consisted of what had once been the main floor, which meant my door opened onto the front porch. The lower apartment was reached via a stairway at the side of the house. The setup was unusual in that the house was built on a hill and had a walk-out basement, making the downstairs living space far more tolerable than most basement apartments. I listened to the men below as they wandered through the apartment, looking in closets and kitchen cabinets, opening the sliding glass door to look at our shared backyard. Most times, their words were indistinguishable, but I could hear their laughter clearly through the vents. It had been a long time since I’d shared that kind of easy laughter with anybody.

For the first time, I regretted having an apartment below me.

Luckily, the torture didn’t last long. Soon enough, the laughter stopped and the moving began. I watched for a few minutes through my window. Like before, two of the men were clearly a couple. They were happy and stupidly in love, one of them tall and thin and dark, the other shorter and blond. I immediately hated them for their easy, open affection. I hoped they weren’t the ones moving in.

I turned my attention to the other two. Neither was a big as The Hero had been, although one of them in particular was obviously well acquainted with the gym. His arms bulged under the short sleeves of his shirt. Dark blond hair and bright, laughing eyes. I couldn’t decide if he and the fourth man, whose arms were covered with tattoos, were lovers or not. Friends certainly, but if they were more, they at least didn’t glow with the bright, electric giddiness of the other two.

Four able-bodied men. Not a missing limb among them.

I didn’t even think about offering to help.

Instead, I went to my computer and worked. After all, there were bills to pay. A teacher in high school had shown me how to type one-handed, using home row as my base, keeping my index finger on the F and my pinky on the J. I’d always been a stellar student, and typing was no different. I’d practiced with relentless determination and could now type one-handed as well as many people could with two, and missing my left hand didn’t diminish my ability to use a mouse. I put on my headphones and lost the afternoon to work, designing newsletters and brochures for a local marketing company. It wasn’t necessarily a job I loved, but it was one I was good at and it allowed me the luxury of working from home. My music drowned out the sound of the men bumping down the outside steps with boxes and furniture.

It wasn’t until long after I’d quit working for the day that the knock came, not from the front door where one might expect it, but from the sliding glass door in the dining room, which meant whoever was knocking must have come through the shared backyard and up the stairs to my elevated porch. I rounded the corner from my hallway and saw the blond with the big arms waving at me through the glass.

Too late to pretend I wasn’t home.

I slid the door aside, painfully aware of the fact that I couldn’t hide the left half of my body from his view. “Yes?”

“Hey!” he said, holding his right hand out to me. “I’m Nick Reynolds. I just moved in downstairs. I thought I should introduce myself since we’re neighbors now.”

He was cute. That was the first thought that came into my mind. Really goddamn cute, like boy-next-door cute, but with attitude. The smart-assed altar boy. The kid who always made wisecracks in class, yet managed to charm the teachers into not caring. The kind of guy every girl wanted to date. The kind of guy who radiated confidence.

The kind of guy I’d never be.

“Nice to meet you,” he said. His hand was still out in front of him, and I realized with a start that I’d been staring stupidly at him since I’d opened the door. I reached out and let him shake my hand. He was taller than me, but not by much, with a firm grip.

“Owen Meade,” I managed to say.

“Owen.” His smile grew bigger. “Listen, I wondered if you’d like to come down and meet the girls. It’s a mess down there, ’cause I haven’t had a chance to unpack anything, and there are boxes everywhere and no place to sit except the floor, but you’ll have to meet them eventually, and probably sooner’s better than later since we’ll be sharing a backyard, don’t you think?”

I suddenly wished I’d paid a bit more attention when he was moving in. Girls had moved in with him? Not just one, either. Girls, plural. Either he was the luckiest SOB in town, or he was a single father. “Girls?”

“Yeah. Well, two girls, technically. One boy.”

“Uh . . .”

“Unless you’re allergic to dogs or something.”

“Dogs?”

His smile disappeared and was replaced by sudden concern. “You’re not, are you? Allergic, I mean? Or scared of them? ’Cause they’re great dogs, really. Although Bonny will get into your trash every chance she gets, so you’ll want to keep it in the garage. Do you keep it in the garage? Not on the back porch, right?” He looked around the porch, which did not in fact contain any garbage. “Good. That’s good. Other than that, I promise they won’t cause you a bit of trouble. And don’t worry about the yard, either. I’ll keep it clean, so you don’t have to worry about landmines or anything.”

“Landmines?” It was a stupid word to latch onto, but he was talking so fast, and I wasn’t used to talking to people in person. Email was more my speed.

He laughed, as if I’d made a joke. “Right. So how about it?”

I blinked at him, trying to figure out what he’d asked me. Several questions, and now I wasn’t sure which one to answer.

“I’m sorry,” I said, feeling like a fool. “What exactly are you asking me?”

He smiled at me, and I began to blush for no good reason whatsoever. To my surprise, he began to blush too. “I’m talking really fast, aren’t I?”

I laughed, feeling relieved it wasn’t just me. “You really are.”

“I do that sometimes. Especially when I’m tired.” He reached up to touch his hair, a gesture that spoke more of nervous habit than vanity. “Anyway. The real question is, do you want to come down and meet the dogs? Maybe hang out and have a beer?”

Hang out and have a beer. Such a simple concept, and yet it caused my heart to swell.

“I’d love to,” I said, and I was surprised at how much I meant it.

# # #

The dogs were named Betty, Bert, and Bonny. Betty was a shaggy white dog, about the size of a cocker spaniel. She ran in circles around my ankles. Bert was a heavy-bodied yellow lab mix. He sat stoically in front of me, his thick tail thumping against the floor. Bonny was about knee-height, colored like a Doberman, but built like a pony keg on popsicle sticks.

“Humane Society guesses she’s half-shepherd, half-beagle. Can you believe that?” Nick smiled and shook his head, looking down at her. She was the only one who wasn’t interested in me. She seemed far more interested in sniffing every inch of the kitchen. “She can jump five-foot fences without missing a beat and she’s smarter than any dog has a right to be, I’ll tell you that. Makes me appreciate the dumb ones a bit more, you know?” He moved a box off a kitchen chair and motioned me toward it. “Sit down.”

I did, and immediately had Bert’s head in my lap and Betty scrambling on her back paws, standing at attention near my knees. I put my right hand out and let them both sniff and nuzzle me. I stroked Bert’s head, then reached for Betty. As I did, Bert nudged his head against my left arm. He didn’t care there wasn’t a hand there, so I rubbed his neck with the rounded end of my arm while petting Betty.

“You’ll be their new best friend,” Nick said.

I suddenly became aware of his eyes on me. Of the fact that I was sitting in front of him with my greatest insecurity exposed. Usually I didn’t leave the house without a long sleeve covering my stump and now here I was, not only with it uncovered, but using it as if it were a whole, useful limb. It was something that often made people uncomfortable, but when I looked up at him, he wasn’t looking at my ruined arm. He also wasn’t doing what most people did, straining so hard to not look at it that I could almost taste their discomfort. Instead, he was shaking his head at his dogs.

“Go lie down, guys!”

“They’re fine.”

He laughed. “You say that now, but they’ll have you petting them all night.” He turned and pulled a beer out of the fridge, twisted the top off, and handed me the bottle. “Here. Drink this. Please. The guys brought them for moving day, but didn’t finish them. Somebody should drink them.”

“What about you?”

“I don’t drink.”

I looked down at the open beer in my hand, thinking about how Nick hadn’t hesitated to open it. Every other time somebody had handed me a beer, they’d done it with the top on. I could hold the bottle against my body with my left arm and open it with my right hand, but that always led to them either apologizing and offering to do it for me, or turning away and pretending they didn’t notice my awkwardness, but not with Nick. There hadn’t even been the telltale split second of hesitation as he wondered how to handle the situation. Maybe he would have opened it for anybody. Maybe the fact that I had only one hand had nothing to do with it.

Why did it matter so much, anyway?

I took a drink of beer while Nick went about clearing off another chair to sit in. His arms flexed as he shifted boxes. Hints of tattoo ink peeked from beneath his sleeves. When he bent over, his T-shirt rode up a bit in the back. His pants weren’t low enough to make it embarrassing, but I could see the curve of his back, the way the soft flesh of his sides dipped toward his spine. I could imagine the way that bit of skin would feel under my hand.

I took a gulp of beer and looked away from him as he turned to sit down, rather than be caught staring. The kitchen was small and packed with boxes. From where I sat, I could see into what would have been the dining room, except instead of a table and chairs, it held Regina’s baby grand piano. So many times I’d heard her playing it, and yet this was the first time I’d seen it. The lid was closed, and like everything else, it was covered with boxes.

“Takes up a hell of a lot of room.”

“She used to play every night. I can’t believe she left it.”

“Huh.” But he clearly wasn’t interested in Regina or her piano. Instead, he was staring at my left arm. “Amniotic band?” He asked the question without apology or embarrassment.

I felt a blush begin to creep up my neck. I nodded. Yes, it had been an amniotic band that had robbed me of my arm when I was still in utero. It occurred in approximately one of every twelve hundred live births. Not so terribly rare, and yet sometimes I felt as if it made me a freak, like I was the only person walking around who wasn’t one hundred percent complete. And yet, I found Nick’s candor refreshing. A lifetime of living with such a simple disability, yet I’d never had anybody but doctors address me about it with such openness. “How’d you know?”

He shrugged. “Just a guess. My sister’s your opposite. Missing her right arm.” He touched his forearm. “About the same placement, too.”

I looked down at the pink tapered end of my missing arm. I put my hand over it, trying to hide it, and yet when I looked at Nick, it was obvious he wasn’t thinking about my missing arm at all. He was looking around at the piles of boxes, stacked ominously around us.

“God, moving sucks,” he sighed. “It’ll be months before I get all this shit unpacked.”

“Where’d you move here from?”

“Across town.” His gaze was sheepish. “Got busted by my landlord.”

“Like, with drugs or something?”

He gestured at the dogs, now sprawled around us on the kitchen floor. “Dogs. I only had Bert when I signed the lease, but more kept turning up, needing homes.”

“What do you do?”

“I’m a veterinarian. I have an office downtown.”

That surprised me, although I couldn’t have said why. He was so comfortably good-looking. So casually sexy. Somehow, I’d expected him to have a glamorously dangerous job. Like a race car driver, although there were obviously no race car tracks in Tucker Springs. The idea of him as some kind of doctor, spending his days helping wounded animals, only added to his charm.

Charm I was suddenly desperate to ignore.

“So, you’re alone?” I asked, looking around at the boxes. “I thought maybe the guy with the tattoos . . .”

I let my words trail to a halt, wondering if the question was too personal, hoping I hadn’t offended him by assuming he was gay, but he smiled. “Seth? No.” He leaned a little closer. “I’m not seeing anyone at the moment.”

My heart began to race. I’d only thought to make small talk, to get my mind off how attractive he was, and I’d managed to make things a hundred times worse. The implication of his words filled me with something that was part dread, part absolute joy. I didn’t trust myself to speak without my old stutter appearing. “Oh,” was all I managed to say.

He leaned closer, and I felt compelled to meet his gaze. He had dark blue eyes, and they bored into me with a directness that was unnerving. “Are you single?”

Yes! Yes, I’m single.

Fast on the tail of that thought came the fact that he had no idea how fucked-up I was.

“Uh . . .”

But before I could formulate an answer, before I could compel my heavy tongue to speak, his mood changed. The intensity of his gaze wavered, and his shoulders slumped. His playfulness gave way to something new.

Regret?

He sat back in his seat, looking down at his dogs. “I’m sorry. That was inappropriate.”

My heart was still pounding. My palm was sweaty, and I wiped it on my jeans. I had to clear my throat before I could speak. “I think I started it.”

He laughed, but it wasn’t the way he’d laughed earlier. This laughter had a hard edge to it. “I can’t believe I forgot.”

“Forgot what?”

He put his head in his hands and rubbed his face, suddenly looking weary. “It’s been a long day.”

I had no idea what had just happened between us, but I knew when I’d overstayed my welcome. I stood up, and when he looked up at me, I couldn’t tell if he was disappointed or relieved.

“It was nice meeting you,” I said. The words felt inadequate. Utterly mundane.

“You didn’t even get a chance to finish your beer.”

“Yeah, well.” I floundered for something to say. “Maybe another time.”

It felt like a stupid thing to say, but he smiled at me anyway. “I’d like that.”

I went alone back up the stairs to my porch and stood at the railing of my balcony, looking down at the yard. Bert and Betty were outside now, sniffing among fallen leaves and the dead husks of Regina’s flowers. The sky overhead was cloudless, the stars bright and clear. A cool breeze caressed my skin, and for once, I didn’t care that my left arm was bare.

It was a perfect fall evening, the kind of evening that made every kid think longingly of pumpkin patches and corn mazes and trick-or-treating. But I wasn’t thinking of those things. I was thinking of Nick’s parting words.

I’d like that.

Chapter Two

That night, I dreamed about Nick. I couldn’t remember the details when I woke, but I knew it had been about him, and I knew it had been erotic. I was left with a lingering sense of arousal that made me uneasy.

I’d known since I was a teenager that I was attracted to men—I was well past being able to deny it—but somehow, I’d never pictured myself in a homosexual relationship. There were plenty of gay men who married women and made normal lives for themselves. That was what I wanted, not because I thought homosexuality was a sin, but because I’d already disappointed my mother too many times. First I’d had the bad luck to be born flawed. Later, the stutter had developed. Then there’d been high school.

I didn’t want to think about that.

It was all in the past, anyway. If I settled down and had a family, maybe she’d be proud of me. Maybe having grandchildren would erase the grim scowl from her face.

Of course, in order to marry a woman, I’d actually have to meet one first. And date her. I’d have to fall in love.

Hard enough to do without letting thoughts of Nick Reynolds cloud my brain. And why should I waste my time obsessing about him, anyway? When I’d come home from Nick’s apartment the night before, I’d felt almost giddy, but in the cool light of day, the events with Nick began to seem far less romantic and far more casual. What had really happened? Nothing. I’d sat in his kitchen with him. I’d drunk half a beer. We’d exchanged pleasantries. Nothing more. Upon closer examination, I was sure he’d never actually been flirting with me. After all, why would he? Nick was gorgeous and confident and could probably have any man—or woman—he set his sights on. And what was I? A one-armed shut-in with borderline social anxiety.

Why would he want me?

By the time I heard him come home from work, I felt like I was back to normal. I found myself missing Regina, who I’d never even talked to. She’d been the cornerstone of my fantasy. The linchpin in my illusion that my life could ever be normal.

I missed hearing her play.

I went on like that for the better part of a week, alternately obsessing about Nick and doing my best to pretend he didn’t exist. I’d see him come and go from work, although I stayed out of sight. Occasionally I saw him in the backyard with his dogs, but I was too scared to go down and talk to him. I wished desperately for him to knock on my door again, to offer me another beer, but he never did. I spent hours debating how I could approach him, planning exactly what I’d say, only to have my courage fail when given the opportunity to follow through. Then, when the day had ended and the house was quiet both upstairs and down, I lay in bed scolding myself, telling myself I was just lonely, I needed a friend, but that finding a male lover was the last thing on my mind.

Mostly, though, I went about my life as usual, which was to say, I stayed hidden in my home.

When I finally spoke to him again, it was coincidence more than anything. I paid to have my groceries delivered to my front door each week. I requested they be left on my front porch. I paid online and left the driver’s tip under the mat. It was all arranged to allow me to avoid the grocery stores, the pointing children, the awkwardness of holding my wallet pinned to my body with my stump while rooting through it with my good hand, the embarrassment of the delivery man who didn’t know whether to hand me the groceries or whether to offer to bring them in.

I was just stepping out onto my front porch to retrieve them when Nick arrived home from work. He could have waved, maybe yelled hello and gone on his way around the side of the house to his door, but instead he came up to the porch.

Great. Now, instead of a delivery man, I had Nick to deal with.

“What’s all this?” he asked, looking at the bags and boxes at my feet.

“Groceries.” I gathered up most of the plastic bags by their handles and draped them over my left arm. My left elbow was intact, and I had nearly two inches of arm below that, so I could hang them from the bend of my stump.

And that’s what it was—a stump. Some people preferred the term “residual limb,” but to me, that didn’t do it justice. It was like changing the diagnosis of “shell shock” to “post-traumatic stress disorder.” As if adding more syllables to it could alter the truth of the situation. As if having a longer phrase could make my arm longer too.

I could feel Nick watching me as I looped the bag handles over the crook of my elbow, although it didn’t make me as uncomfortable as it usually did. He didn’t offer to help, either. Most people turned away and pretended not to notice my predicament, or they fell all over themselves trying to do it for me, but Nick just stood there watching. So many times, I’d been annoyed at people for helping when it wasn’t needed, but now I couldn’t help but wonder why he wasn’t.

I picked up the last bag in my right hand, leaving only one box.

“I’ll get that one,” he said.

And in the blink of an eye, I did a one-eighty. I went from being annoyed because he wasn’t helping to being annoyed that he was. “You don’t have to do that.”

He smiled at me, and I had the uncomfortable feeling he knew exactly what I was thinking. “I’m not being charitable. I’m being rude. This way I can walk into your house rather than waiting for you to invite me in.” He balanced the box on his left hand and opened the door for me with his right. “After you.”

Whether my annoyance was rational or not, he’d managed to derail it. I couldn’t be mad, which left me with nothing but nervous butterflies in my stomach.

He followed me in, and without being asked, he began to take groceries out of the bags, setting them on the counter for me to put away. “I haven’t seen you,” he said.

I was glad I didn’t have to face him. Instead, I could concentrate on picking up cans of soup and putting them in the cupboard.

“I’ve been busy.”

“Doing what?”

“Working.”

“Where do you work?”

“I work for Here and Now. They’re a marketing company. Mostly I design brochures and newsletters and put together postcard advertising campaigns.”

“You work from home?”

“Yes.”

The groceries were all laid out on the counter now. He leaned back against my table to watch while I sorted through them and put them away.

“You have your groceries delivered.”

It wasn’t a question. “Yes.”

“I notice an awful lot of catalogs in your mailbox.”

I stopped, staring down at the boxed entrée in my hand. Our mailboxes were side-by-side on the front porch, and not deep enough to hide anything as big as a magazine. It was something anybody might have noticed, but it felt like an intrusion.

“So?”

“So, I’m beginning to think you don’t get out much.”

I slammed the cupboard door closed, harder than I’d intended, and turned to face him. I wanted to tell him to mind his own business, but I didn’t trust myself to speak. The last thing I wanted was to start stuttering.

He stared back at me, completely unfazed by my discomfort. He pointed at the box in my hand. “That stuff’s crap, you know. Too much sodium. Tons of glutamates. No nutritional value whatsoever.”

Too fast. Talking to him made my head spin. He was always jumping too quickly from one thing to another, from intimate to casual in the blink of an eye. I looked down at the chicken pot pie. “It’s kept me alive this long.”

He laughed. “Still, I think we can do better. How about if I make you dinner instead?”

He wanted to cook for me?

I cleared my throat, tested the obedience of my tongue, and finally managed to say, “Sounds great.”

# # #

from My Fiction Nook

I was engaged from the start . . . unable to put it down. [R]ead this!!!

from The Delighted Reader

[R]ich with depth . . . [I] found myself once again touched emotionally by the characters and their lives.

from Sinfully Sexy Book Reviews

Marie Sexton's writing . . . has the most incredible insight into social situations, behaviour and interaction.

from Red Hot Books

[A] romance I could root for. Not to mention some solid sexual tension . . . [I] would definitely recommend this one . . . 

from Building Carpenters

So what did I think about the book? Love isn’t a strong enough word. If you have a book wishlist somewhere PUT THIS ON IT!!!

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