He rears back, almost offended by the question. Still, it bears asking. “Of course it’s freely given. When I asked you the other night if you wanted me and Edith to be your people, this was part of the deal. You can walk out of my life tomorrow. Quit working for me. Date Tucker. Go back to your husband, and I’ll still be your person if you need me. That’s how it works.”
I’m tearing up inside a steakhouse while an overwrought country song plays overhead. How cliché.
“I appreciate what you’re saying, I really do, but think about it from my perspective. You’re holding all the cards. You’ve given me a place to live and a place to work”—I drop my voice in case the people in the booth behind us are listening—“not to mention what happened last night. That introduces a whole other slew of complications.”
“So let’s uncomplicate it.”
“Do you not want to repeat what we did last night?” I ask quietly.
If so, what was all that making out we did this afternoon for?
“Are you firing me?”
“Are you kicking me out of the shack? Because now that it’s adorable and trendy, I really like living in it.”
He finds that amusing. “No, you can live in the chic shack as long as you want.”
“Well then how are we uncomplicating things?”
“I think I’m going to hire another housekeeper, maybe one with housekeeping experience.”
“Don’t you like the way I fold your underwear?”
He cracks up at that.
“I’m doing it because it’s a lot of work, and I think if you had some help, you’d have more time to focus on what your next step should be.”
“Yes, like what Edith was saying about charging people for the yoga class. That’s a good idea.”
“Well if you’re going to phase me out, I’ll need severance, and if we’re going to keep doing that other thing, I’ll need hazard pay.”
He moves his arm back around my shoulder. “I’ll consider it.”
“Also, the new housekeeper can give Alfred his baths. I’m never doing that again.”
He’s wearing a panty-dropping smile as he says, “He likes you.”
“He likes everyone.”
“Tell that to the door-to-door salesman he chased down the road the other day.”
We are flirting. We are openly flirting, and I need to focus.
I straighten up and return my attention to the table. “Right, but what about what you just told Tucker? About having my divorce under control?”
“We can call my guy in the morning. He’ll explain it better than I can, but basically a lot depends on whether or not you come to an uncontested agreement on the terms of the divorce.”
I nod. “I’ve already decided that’s what I want.”
“What about alimony? My lawyer says you could easily get two or three years of spousal support.”
My stomach twists into a knot. “No. I don’t want anything from him.”
“Don’t throw it away just to spite him.”
I turn and look him square in the eye. “Think about what I’ve done for the last eight weeks. Do you think I would have willingly scrubbed toilets if it wasn’t absolutely necessary? Do you think I would have survived in that dingy shack with no A/C if there was any other way forward? I would gladly give up all the money in the world in exchange for not having to deal with him any longer.”
He nods. “Good. That means the divorce will probably be done as soon as possible.”
I glance down at his lips, suddenly overwhelmed by the urge to lay one on him.
“This is the sexiest family law conversation I’ve ever had on a date.”
He smiles. “Want to change the subject?”
“Will you do that thing with your finger again? Where you play with my dress strap?”
“Oh, I didn’t realize I was doing that.”
Our gazes lock, and I think if Edith weren’t making her way back over to us, he’d lean down and kiss me. Maybe it’s better that she is here; this way we have to eat our steaks instead of each other.
“Oh, don’t mind me,” Edith says when she sits down. “I’m just an old lady who can’t hear a damn thing in this loud-ass restaurant.”
We make it home late after dinner and Edith announces very loudly to anyone within earshot that she’s going to bed.
“And you two better go on too. That’s my secret to good health, you know—eight hours every night!”
Jack walks me back to my shack, which is odd considering his bedroom is in the exact opposite direction.
I’m thinking of ways to draw him into the shack for a little nightcap (Ooh, I called my sex lawyer and he’s about to serve you with a big subpoena), when he tells me he has to head over to San Antonio for a day trip early in the morning.
He might as well have just told me he’s going off to war with the way my body reacts to the information.
What I really want to ask is, Do you have to?
“I have meetings with a grocery distributor there. We’ve been working on getting Blue Stone wine into their stores. There are a lot of details to hammer out and I need to be there to help my project manager.”
“When will you get back?”
“Sometime after dinner.”
I should not be depressed by this, but I am.
“Are you going to start Christine-ing me?”
“Never,” he says, squeezing my hand. “I’ll bring you back a souvenir.”
Now we’re talking. I perk up immediately.
Then, he throws a cherry on top. “And maybe the day after, you and I can go out on a real date, just the two of us.”
“Really? I don’t know…Edith makes a great third wheel, like when she talked about her bunions on the way home? I would have never brought that up on a first date, but I liked the sincerity.”
He laughs at my stupid joke, which means he’s definitely into me.
When we reach the shack, he turns me to face him and hooks his hands around my waist. His fingers barely dip past the hem of my jeans as he squeezes and tugs me toward him.
“So this is good night?”
I tilt my head back to look up at him. His head is framed by stars. Out here, you can see millions of them.
“Or?” I ask, like a shameless flirt.
“Or I could kiss you?”
He’s bending down before he’s even finished the question and the last word is whispered against my lips right before his mouth presses to mine. My insides liquefy. My arms link around his neck, partly because I want to keep him right where he is, and partly because he’s so tall, I sort of have to hoist myself up to reach his lips without straining my neck.
Just like against the front door and in his office, our kisses go straight from zero to sixty. If a scientist stuck an old-fashioned thermometer between us, the mercury would blast straight out of the top.
His hand skims along the side of my breast and my brain says, Yes! Let’s do this, big boy! but he pulls back and presses his forehead to mine.
“It’s just that my meeting is really, really early tomorrow morning, and I have to be on point.”
“That’s okay, we can have sex really quickly.”
He laughs. “I want us to go slow. After everything you’ve been through, I want to be careful.”
“I’m not fragile.” I pinch my forearm to prove my point. “Look, see? That didn’t even hurt.”
He soothes the patch of slightly red skin with his hand. I swoon.
“You could come with me tomorrow?” he continues, obviously noticing how sad I am that he’s leaving.
I smile. “You go. Make all the deals, shake a bunch of hands, sign contracts, kiss babies. I’ll be here, holding down the fort with Edith.”
He closes his eyes, takes a deep breath (like he’s gathering every ounce of resolve inside of him), and then he steps back and releases me.