She pouted. “So, it’s ugly. Is it like a curly fry? Or wait, it’s tiny, right? Like a baby carrot?”

“Are you hungry? What’s with all the food references?”

She sighed. “I’m starving. Have you eaten lunch?”

I grabbed my purse. “Let me lock up Wayland and we’ll go. You want to drive?”

“I guess.” She reached out and hugged me, the impulsive gesture catching me by surprise. “I missed you, Elle.”

I set my purse down and squeezed her back. “I missed you too. Like crazy. Even when I didn’t want to.” She started to pull away and I tightened my grip on her, my mouth close to her ear. “It’s not ugly or tiny. I think you’ll be very pleased.”

She whooped out a celebratory yelp, one that sent Wayland into a barking fit, and had me laughing, despite the plummet my morality had just taken.

“Now come on,” I insisted. “For once, I’m buying you lunch.”

34

Easton found me on the back porch, my feet resting on a bag of dog food, a glass of wine in hand. “Hey.” He bent over and brushed his lips against mine.

“Here.” I pulled my bag of chips off the adjacent chair and patted the cushion. “Sit. You can watch your son make a complete fool of himself.”

“What’s he doing?” He settled into the chair and worked at his tie, loosening the knot and lifting it over his head.

“He’s terrified of that container.” I held out my glass of wine and he took it, tipping back the glass and taking a generous sip of the chilled white chardonnay—a recommendation from Julia De Luca which was excellent and cheap, a winning combination.

“This is good,” he remarked. Glancing at the darkening yard, he whistled for Wayland, who glanced his way, then returned his tense attention to the empty gallon of weed killer, which had blown off out of the recycling container and was lying on its side in the yard.

“You can have some of those chips if you’re hungry.”

He picked up the bag and grimaced. “Kale potato chips? Where’d these come from?”

“Chelsea stopped by. We grabbed lunch and made up. All is forgiven.”

“Wow. I forgave Nicole, Chelsea forgave us, Aaron might actually get laid… things are looking up.”

“Don’t forget about my closing next week,” I pointed out. “The De Luca house will officially put me on the map. Julia already referred a friend of hers to me.”

“Why were they selling that house? Are they buying something else in town?”

“I think there’s some kind of drama with Brad’s family. I asked, and they didn’t really answer, so I dropped it. But if they do buy something else, I think they’ll definitely use me again.”

“Of course they will.” He reached out and grabbed my hand. “Congratulations, baby. You know, we never did go out and celebrate that sale.”

“We went to Roadhouse, remember? You ate too many of the peanuts and got all puffy?”

“No, we needed to do a proper celebration. Something like old times. Smith & Wollensky… or maybe Joe’s Stone Crabs.” His eyes lit up. “Come on. This was a huge sale for you. You need to be properly wined and dined. Buy a new dress. Let me get you flowers. Order too many desserts and have drunk sex in the limo.”

“Oh there’s a limo?” I raised my brows and laughed as he pulled me out of my chair and onto his lap. “You know I’m no good in limos.”

“You won’t fall asleep in this one,” he vowed. “I have all sorts of filthy ideas to keep you awake.”

“Let’s let it close first,” I negotiated. “I don’t want to jinx anything.”

“You can’t jinx this,” he whispered, nuzzling the crook of my neck. “This is the beginning of everything. Can’t you feel it? Our lives, coming together?”

Wayland let out a low growl, then bolted away from the bucket with a terrified whimper as a gust of wind rolled it a half-turn to the side. I laughed, calling him to me, and he scurried over, his tail pinched between his legs.

“Don’t let him—” Easton’s warning was cut off as Wayland crawled into our laps, his feet pistoning into my thighs as he worked his way in between us and laid back, exposing his belly.

“I can’t breathe,” Easton wheezed. “You guys are too heavy.”

“DOWN.” I pointed to the floor and Wayland opened his mouth, his tongue lolling out one side.

“Go on.” Easton heaved him off in a tumble of paws, ears, and tail, and I smiled as he hit the ground and immediately sprinted into the dark. “Okay, where were we?”

“You were telling me that this was the beginning of everything.” I settled back onto his lap and curled against his chest, my head settling against his shoulder.

“It is,” he said softly. “I know it is.”

“I think you’re right.” I lifted my chin enough to kiss his neck. “And okay, I’ll let you shower me with praise and expensive food in a candlelit setting.”

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