Authors: Kate Hoffmann
Tags: #Romance: Modern, #Contemporary, #General, #Romance, #Adult, #Romance - General, #Romance - Contemporary, #Fiction, #Fiction - Romance
He looked up at her and gave her an impatient glare. “You’ll get used to them. Just wear them for the rest of the day to break them in.”
Eve glanced at her watch. She and Charlie had shared a late lunch together, eating at one of Eve’s favorite Chinese restaurants a few blocks from the Garden Gate. “I need to get back,” she said. “My sous-chef took the day off and I’ve got a lot of prep to do for this week. Especially if I’m taking tomorrow off.”
He handed the sales clerk his credit card and Eve reached for it. “You don’t have to pay for these,” she said.
“I want to. I’m pretty sure you wouldn’t be buying
them yourself, so they’ll be my treat. And just to make sure you wear them today, I’m keeping your Birkenstocks.” He put her shoes in the empty box, then leaned over and kissed her softly. “I’ll see you later tonight.”
“Why don’t you come in for a late supper?” she suggested.
“I’ll do that,” he said. “I’ll see you later.”
Eve hurried out of the store, nearly tripping over herself in the hiking boots. Though she knew she looked foolish in them, the residents of Boulder were quite forgiving when it came to outlandish outfits. Boulder was a city of wildly diverse individuals. On her way back to the restaurant she saw plenty of tie-dyed T-shirts, Western wear and bicycle shorts.
The dining room was empty when she walked in the front door. She smiled at Sarah, who was stacking glasses behind the bar, then strolled into the kitchen. Lily had the luncheon receipts spread across the worktable.
“There you are!” she said, spinning around to face Eve. Her gaze took in the boots and she frowned. “What are those on your feet?”
“Hiking boots,” Eve said. “Charlie bought them for me.”
“What happened to lingerie or perfume or a nice bouquet of roses?”
“He said I’d need them if we go hiking,” Eve explained.
“And you’d need a parachute if you were going to jump out of a plane. But I can’t see you doing either of those things.”
“I can be outdoorsy,” Eve said. “Besides, hiking is just walking…uphill…over rocks and branches and stuff. How hard can it be?”
“You must really love this guy,” Lily said.
“No!” Eve cried. “Far from it. I’m trying my best not to love him.”
“Be careful,” Lily murmured. “I know how long it took you to get over Matt.”
“This is different. I’m not planning to marry Charlie.”
The kitchen door swung open and Sarah poked her head inside. “Eve, you have a visitor.”
“Oh, good grief,” Lily said. “Can’t he spend a minute away from you?”
“It’s not Charlie,” Sarah said. “It’s your ex-husband.”
Eve glanced up at Lily and winced. “What does he want?”
“He didn’t say. He looks a little…nervous?”
Eve nodded. “I can’t imagine why he’s here, unless he’s looking for a free lunch.” She pointed at Lily. “You stay in the kitchen. I don’t need you stirring things up with him.”
Lily had never been fond of Matt and she wasn’t shy about letting her hatred show. They’d met while Eve was going through her divorce. When it had
come time to buy Matt out of the restaurant, Lily had decided to come in as a partner. It had been the best thing to ever happen to the Garden Gate. Lily was a wonderful business manager and a good friend.
When Eve emerged from the kitchen, she found Matt sitting at the bar, a half-empty glass of beer in front of him. She stood at the door watching him, wondering what she’d ever seen in him. He was self-involved and immature and a…a wimp. “Matt,” she murmured, as she stepped up beside him. “What can I do for you?”
He turned and smiled, but Eve could see it was forced. “Eve. Hi. Wow, you look good. How long has it been?”
“A while,” she said. “Why are you here?”
It was clear he’d expected some polite chitchat before getting down to the business at hand, but Eve didn’t have time to stroke his ego and make him feel comfortable. “Word around town is that you’ve got a new boyfriend. People have seen you out together.”
“So? I’m single. I’m allowed to date. You dated while we were married and it didn’t seem to bother you then.” She sighed. “What do you want?”
“I also heard you’ve been talking to some investors about a restaurant in Seattle.”
“Where did you hear that?” Eve asked.
“A reliable source.”
“What do you want, Matt?”
He looked uneasy and a bit pale. “Business has
been a little down lately. And I—I figure since I helped build your business, I should get a share of anything that comes out of it like this new restaurant. Of course, if you want to buy me out right away, we could negotiate a fair price.”
“Buy you out of what?” Eve said, staring at him in astonishment. He really was an idiot. How could she have missed that?
Matt cleared his throat. “A lawyer friend of mine mentioned that I might want to consider renegotiating the divorce settlement, seeing as how it’s had such a negative impact on my earning ability.”
“Did you ever think maybe it was your bad behavior that had an effect on your business? Messing around with college-age girls doesn’t make you look particularly responsible.”
“Come on, Eve. Both you and I know that our marriage was a mistake from the beginning. You didn’t want me anymore than I wanted you.”
“Get out of here,” she said. “If you want to try to renegotiate the settlement, feel free. But I don’t think there’s a judge in this county who will side with you.”
Eve could see that he hadn’t expected the response she gave. In the past, Eve might just have given him the money, hoping to keep their relationship pleasant. But she wanted Matt out of her life. If she paid him, he’d be back for more.
“I’m not looking for much,” Matt said. “I just have
some…unexpected expenses. My lawyer says I’ve got a good case.”
“Great. Go for it. Show the entire city of Boulder what a horrible excuse for a husband you were.”
He stood up and drained the rest of his beer, then set it down on the bar. “You don’t have to be so nasty.”
It felt liberating to tell him off, Eve mused. She was slamming the door shut on that part of her life and moving on. “I made a mistake five years ago,” Eve said. “But I’m not going to make another one tonight. If you come after me for more money, I will spend every last cent I have making sure you don’t get anything. Now get out of my restaurant.”
He walked to the door, his shoulders slumped. When he was finally outside, Eve leaned back against the bar and tried to slow her pounding pulse. She’d never loved him, that much was clear to her now. And he’d never loved her. Their marriage
been a huge mistake.
“Good for you.”
Eve looked over to find Lily watching her from the kitchen door. She smiled weakly at her friend. “Thanks. It felt good. How could I have been so stupid? Why couldn’t I see what kind of man he was?”
“Maybe you were in love with someone else?” Lily offered.
“Maybe,” Eve admitted.
Perhaps Charlie had been the reason her marriage had failed. Maybe, deep down in the secret corners of her heart, she’d loved him and not Matt. And now they had a second chance to make things right.
But did she have the courage to put her heart on the line all over again? Or would she let another chance pass her by?
HIS IS WEIRD,
said, glancing over his shoulder at Jack’s two kids sitting silently in the backseat of the SUV. “I haven’t spent a whole lot of time around kids.” He lowered his voice. “They’re kind of scary.”
“Yeah, just don’t look them in the eye or they’ll throw themselves on the ground and pitch a fit.”
“Don’t they talk?”
“Sure,” Jack said. “But if they’re quiet in the car, we stop for ice cream. I have them trained well. Their mother doesn’t like them to have sweets.” Jack looked in the rearview mirror. “You guys can talk. You’re starting to scare Charlie a little bit.”
The boy and girl both grinned then launched into a series of unrelated questions. Was his watch waterproof? Did he own a dog? How many pieces of bubblegum could he fit in his mouth at once? Was he going to get ice cream, too?
They were odd kids. The boy was nearly nine and the girl had just turned six. According to Jack, they were both quite bright and inquisitive, but easily
bored and distracted. Though they were on their best behavior at the moment, Jack had warned Charlie that they could have a meltdown at any moment, for any reason.
Charlie tried to answer their questions, one by one, and the conversation slowly disintegrated into silliness, with a long series of poop and fart jokes. Jack seemed completely oblivious to it all. Charlie was almost relieved when they pulled up to the park. The kids jumped out of the car and ran toward the playground equipment, while Jack grabbed the basketball from the cargo area.
“Aren’t you worried about them?” Charlie asked. “How are we going to play ball and watch them at the same time?”
“Don’t worry,” Jack said. “As a parent, you develop a very keen sense of where they are at all times. It’s like they have a built-in global positioning chip. If they wander too far, an alarm goes off in your head. And then there’s always their instinct to tattle on each other. If one does something wrong, the other will scream bloody murder in a matter of seconds. They monitor each other’s behavior.”
Charlie shook his head. “I don’t know how you do it. It’s got to be overwhelming. You’re responsible for making sure they don’t both turn into a couple of losers.”
“You just do your best,” Jack said. “They’re good kids. Most of the time. Hell, look at you. You didn’t
have a dad for most of your teenage years and you turned out all right.” Jack dribbled the ball, then took a jump shot. “Do you want to play some one-on-one or should we play HORSE?”
“I think we should stick to HORSE,” Charlie said. “I haven’t played basketball in a couple years. There aren’t a whole lot of courts at base camp.”
Jack tossed him the ball. “You start. For every one you miss, you get a letter and you have to answer a question.”
“A question about what?”
“It can be about anything. But you have to be completely honest.”
Charlie smiled as he remembered. It was the same way they’d played it when they were in college. It was so much easier to talk about sticky subjects when they had basketball to focus on. “All right.” He took a shot from the baseline and missed.
“How is it going with the girl? Eve, is that her name?” Jack asked.
“It’s going well. Really well. We spend every night together. The sex is incredible. She’s funny and smart and she’s an incredible cook, even though all she cooks is vegetables. I’m taking her camping tomorrow, so she might even like the outdoors.”
Jack took a shot from the top of the key and missed. Charlie scooped up the rebound and dribbled over to the right corner. “Your turn,” he said. “Were
you there when your kids were born? I mean, did you see it all?”
“Sure,” Jack said. “It was pretty cool. I got to hold them right away and cut the cord. They were all slimy and red. They looked like hell. But they got a lot cuter after a few months. And once they started walking and talking, the fun began.” Jack chuckled. “You wouldn’t believe half the stuff that comes out of their mouths.”
Charlie took his shot and made it. Jack jogged over and took the same shot and missed. “That’s H,” Charlie said. “So is it true what they say? That your sex life goes to hell after you have kids?”
“Things change,” Jack said. “But it stops being about the sex. That’s not really how we express our feelings for each other. At least, not exclusively. It’s about making a home and watching over each other. Helping each other through the rough times. Cleaning up the puke, taking out the garbage, snaking the drain in the kitchen sink. Those are the kind of things that Jenny loves. When I do those things, the sex gets even better.”
“When did you know you were in love with her?” Charlie asked.
“Man, you have it bad, don’t you?” Jack said. “I can hear it in your voice.”
“No,” Charlie said. “I’m just curious, that’s all.”
“When did I know I was in love with Jenny? We were playing softball. You were there, remember?
She took a line drive to the face and went down. She was crying and her makeup was running down her face and her nose had swollen up to twice its size. She asked me if it looked bad and I couldn’t bring myself to tell her the truth. I told her she looked beautiful. And it was the truth. At that moment, she was the most beautiful woman in the world to me. She still is. That’s when I realized I had to marry her.”
“I get that,” Charlie said. “I used to be into a woman’s looks. The hair, the boobs, the butt. It made a difference in the attraction I felt. But with Eve, I don’t really think about those things. She’s just…Eve. And she’s perfect exactly the way she is. In fact, I really like the imperfections.”
“So what are you going to do about this girl?” Jack asked.
“I don’t know. I guess I’m going to have to see where it all goes and then I’ll decide.”
“Don’t let her get away,” Jack warned. “It’s the worst thing you can do. If she’s the one and you mess it up, Charlie, you’re going to regret it for the rest of your life.” He chuckled. “And just think, a few years from now you can have a couple of those.” He pointed to his kids. “Brenna, don’t eat sand. Garrett, why would you let her do that? Come over here, both of you.”
Charlie watched as Jack tended to his children, wiping his daughter’s face clean with the hem of his T-shirt and gently scolding his son. In all the years
Charlie had known Jack, he’d never once imagined him in the role of father. But Jack was good at it. He seemed to maintain a sense of humor, even when his children misbehaved. And it was apparent that his children adored him.
“You know what would get rid of that nasty taste in your mouth, Brenna? Ice cream. I think we should go get some right now. In fact, I know a place where we can find the best ice cream sundaes in town.” Charlie reached out and took the little girl’s hand. “I know the lady who makes them.”
“Where are we going?” Brenna asked.
“A place not too far from here,” Charlie said. “The owner will make us whatever we want.” He glanced over at Jack. “I might as well introduce you.”