Authors: Jennifer Crusie
Maybe This Time
ALSO BY JENNIFER CRUSIE
Welcome to Temptation
Crazy for You
Tell Me Lies
ST. MARTIN'S PRESS
This is a work of fiction. All of the characters, organizations, and events portrayed in this novel are either products of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously.
MAYBE THIS TIME
. Copyright Â© 2010 by Argh Ink, LLC. All rights reserved.
Printed in the United States of America. For information, address St. Martin's Press, 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10010.
First Edition: September 2010
10Â Â Â 9Â Â Â 8Â Â Â 7Â Â Â 6Â Â Â 5Â Â Â 4Â Â Â 3Â 2Â Â Â 1
This book is for
Sarah and Cecilia
who want cereal for breakfast every day
and who fill those days with joy.
My Thanks To
THE GLINDAS and the ARGH PEOPLE,
who suffered through this book with me
who helped me with the TV research and who is
like Kelly O'Keefe
HEIDI and DAN CULLINAN
who suggested the salvia
BROOKE BRANNON, SUE DANIC, MOLLY HASELHORST, LANI DIANE RICH, ROXANNE RICHARDSON
who beta read brilliantly
who gave me the original house that became Archer House, a picture of herself as a small child that became Alice, a translation of American English into British English for one character, and constant support throughout the writing of this (as in, “Hurry up and finish the [British expletive deleted] book, Crusie”)
JODI REAMER and AMY BERKOWER
who went above and beyond the call of agenthood .Â .Â . again
the finest editor an author can have
HENRY JAMES and TRUMAN CAPOTE
who were here first.
Maybe This Time
This book takes place in 1992.
Andie Miller sat in the reception room of her ex-husband's law office, holding on to ten years of uncashed alimony checks and a lot of unresolved rage.
This is why I never came back here,
Nothing wrong with repressed anger as long as it stays repressed
Andie jerked her head up and a lock of hair fell out of her chignon. She stuffed it back into the clip on the back of her head as North's neat, efficient secretary smiled at her, surrounded by the propriety of his Victorian architecture. If that secretary had a chignon, nothing would escape from it. North was probably crazy about her.
“Mr. Archer will see you now,” the secretary said.
“Well, good for him.” Andie stood up, yanked on the hem of the only suit jacket she owned, and then wondered if she'd sounded hostile.
“He's really very nice,” the secretary said.
“No, he isn't.” Andie strode across the ancient rug to the door of North's office, opened it before the secretary could get in ahead of her, and then stopped.
North sat behind his walnut desk, his cropped blond hair almost white in the sunlight from the window behind him. His wire-rimmed glasses had slid too far down his nose again, and his shirtsleeves were rolled up over his forearmsâ
Still playing racquetball,
Andie thoughtâand his shoulders were as straight as ever as he studied the papers spread out across the polished top of the desk. He looked exactly the way he had ten years ago when she'd bumped her suitcase on the door frame on her way out of townâ
“Miss Miller is here,” his secretary said from behind her, and he looked up at her over his glasses, and the years fell away, and she was right back where she'd begun, staring into those blue-gray eyes, her heart pounding.
After what seemed like forever, he stood up. “Andromeda. Thank you for coming.”
She crossed the office, smiled tightly at him over the massive desk, decided that shaking his hand would be weird, and sat down. “I called you, remember? Thank you for seeing me.”
North sat down, saying, “Thank you, Kristin,” to his secretary, who left.
“So the reason I calledâ” Andie began, just as he said, “How is your mother?”
Oh, we're going to be polite
. “Still crazy. How's yours?”
“Lydia is fine, thank you.” He straightened the papers on his desk into one stack.
A lot of really big trees had died to make that desk. His mother had probably gnawed them down, used her nails to saw the boards, and finished the decorative cutwork with her tongue.
“I'll tell her you asked after her.”
“She'll be thrilled. Say hi to Southie for me, too.” Andie opened her purse, took out the stack of alimony checks, and put them on the desk. “I came to give these back to you.”
North looked at the checks for a moment, the strong, sharp planes of his face shadowed by the back light from the window.
she thought, and when he didn't, she said, “They're all there, one hundred and nineteen of them. November nineteen eighty-two to last month.”
His face was as expressionless as ever. “Why?”
“Because they're a link between us. We haven't talked in ten years but every month you send me a check even though you know I don't want alimony. Which means every month I get an envelope in the mail that says I used to be married to you. And every month I don't cash them, and it's like we're nodding in the street or something. We're still
“Not very well.” North looked at the stack. “Why now?”
“I'm getting married.”
She watched him go still, the pause stretching out until she said, “North?”
“Congratulations. Who's the lucky man?”
“Will Spenser,” Andie said, pretty sure North wouldn't know him.
“He's a great guy.” She thought about Will, tall, blond, and genial. The anti-North: He never forgot she existed. “I'm ready to settle down, so I'm drawing a line under my old life.” She nodded at the checks. “That's why I came to give you those back. Don't send any more. Please.”
After a moment, he nodded. “Of course. Congratulations. The family will want to send a gift.” He pulled his legal pad toward him. “Are you registered?”
“No, I'm not registered,” Andie said, exasperated. “Technically, I'm not even engaged yet. He asked me, but I needed to give you the checks back before I said yes.” She didn't know why she'd expected him to have a reaction to the news. It wasn't as if he still cared. She wasn't sure he'd cared when she'd left.
“I see. Thank you for returning the checks.”
North straightened the papers on his desk again, and then looked down at the top paper for a long moment, as if he were reading
it. He'd probably forgotten she was there again because his work wasâ
He looked up. “Perhaps, since you haven't said yes yet, you could postpone your new life.”
“I have a problem you could help with. It would only take you a few months, maybe lessâ”
“North, did you even hear what I said?”
“âand we'd pay you ten thousand dollars a month, plus expenses, room, and board.”
She started to protest and then thought,
Ten thousand dollars a month?
He straightened the folder on his desk again. “Theodore Archer, a distant cousin, died two years ago and made me the guardian of his two children.”
Ten thousand a month. There had to be a catch. Then the rest of what he'd said hit her. “Children?”
“I went down to see them at the family home where their aunt was taking care of them. They'd been living there with their father, their grandmother, and their aunt since the little girl was born eight years ago, but the grandmother had died before Theodore.”
“Down? They're not here in Ohio?”
“The house is in a remote area in the south of the state. The place is isolated, but the children seemed fine with their aunt, so we agreed it was best that they'd stay there with her in order to disrupt their lives as little as possible.”
And to disrupt yours as little as possible,
North waited, as if he expected her to say it out loud. When she didn't, he went on. “Unfortunately, the aunt died in June. Since then I've hired three nannies, but none have stayed.”
“Lot of death in the family,” Andie said.
“The children's mother died in childbirth with the little girl.
The grandmother died in her seventies of a heart attack. Theodore was killed in a car accident. The aunt fell from a tower on the houseâ”
“Wait, the house has
“It's a very old house,” North said, his tone making it clear that he didn't want to discuss towers. “The battlements are crumbling, and she evidently leaned on the wrong stone and fell into the moat.”
“The moat,” Andie said. “Is this a joke?”
“No. Theodore's great-great-grandfather had the house brought over from England in the 1850s. I don't know why he dug a moat. The point is, these children have nobody, and they're alone down there in the middle of nowhere with only the housekeeper taking care of them. If you will go down there, I will pay you ten thousand a month to .Â .Â . fix them.”
“Fix them,” Andie said. Ten thousand a month was ridiculous, but it would pay off her credit card bills and her car. In one month. Ten thousand dollars would mean she could get married without debt. Not that Will cared, but it would be better to go to him free and clear. “What do you mean, fix them?”
“The children are .Â .Â . odd. We wanted to bring them here in June after their aunt's death, but the little girl had a psychotic break when the nanny tried to take her away from the house. The boy was sent away to boarding school at the beginning of August, but he's been expelled for setting fires. I need someone to go down there and stabilize the children, bring their education up to standard for their grade level so they can go to public school, and then move them up here with us.”