The Last Boyfriend(11)

By: Nora Roberts

“He taught his sons how to hammer them, so he’s had as much a part in creating this as they have.”

Justine’s eyes softened. “That’s a good thing to say. Just the right thing.” She held out a hand, giving Hope’s a tug when they joined. “I wish it would snow. I want to see how it looks in the snow, then in the spring and the summer, on into the fall. I want to see it shine here, in every season.”

“I’ll keep it beautiful for you.”

“I know you will. You’ll be happy here, Hope. I want you to be happy here, to have everyone who comes to stay happy here.”

“I’m already happy here.”

* * *

HAPPIER THAN SHE’D been in a long time, Hope thought as she went back to polishing her kitchen cabinets. She had an opportunity to do good work for good people.

She tipped her head as she studied the cabinets. And to reward herself, she’d pop over to the gift store before closing and buy those gorgeous bowls she’d had her eye on. A little personal housewarming gift.

Ryder carted in boxes. “What is it with women and shelves?” he demanded. “How many linear feet of flat surface does one person need?”

“That would depend,” she said coolly, “on how many things that person chooses to display.”

“Dust catchers.”

“Dust catchers to some, mementos and personal style to others.”

“Where the hell do you want your flat surfaces for your mementos and personal style? I haven’t got all day.”

“Just leave them. I’ll deal with them later.”


He set them on the floor, turned.

His mother stood in the doorway, arms folded, giving him a look that still made his shoulders hunch and his balls shrink up a little.

“I apologize for my son, Hope. He’s obviously misplaced his manners inside his crappy mood.”

“It’s nothing. Ryder’s busy. Everyone’s busy today.”

“Busy doesn’t serve as an excuse for rude. Does it, Ryder?”

“No, ma’am. I’d be happy to hang your shelves,” he said to Hope, “if you’ll show me where you want them.”

“That’s better.” Justine gave him one last hard look before she went back across the hall.

“Well?” Ryder demanded. “Where am I putting them?”

“The suggestion I have at the moment wouldn’t be the walls.”

His grin came fast and bright, surprising her. “Since I don’t have any mementos I’d like to stick up my ass, how about a second choice?”

“Just leave them there, and you?” She pointed toward the door.

Gauging her, he hooked his thumbs in his tool belt. “I’m not afraid of you, but I’m afraid of her. I don’t hang these, she’ll make me pay for it. So I’m not leaving until you pick your spots.”

“They’re already marked.”

“What’s marked?”

“I measured the shelves, I measured the space. I marked the areas.” She gestured to the space between her front windows, then toward the bathroom. “I think you can take it from there.”

Tossing down her polishing rag, she sailed out. She’d help Owen until his bad-tempered brother finished.

* * *

AVERY KEPT UP with the progress across Main by texts, and a quick drop-in from Clare. With the bus tour finished and the rush quieted, she took a short break in the back dining room to scarf down some pasta.

For now, the video machines stayed silent. She calculated another hour or two before kids slid in after school to set them beeping and banging.

The quarters added up, she reminded herself.

“I really wanted to get over, just for a minute, to see.” She gulped down Gatorade. Energy, she thought. She needed all she could get to finish it out till closing. “Hope sent me some pictures over the phone.”

“I couldn’t give them any real time, either. The bus tour swarmed us, too. God bless them, every one.” Clare smiled, picked at her own salad. “Beckett told me the inspector gave the thumbs-up on the load-in. All of it.”

“All of it?”

“It’s nothing but details now, and he’ll be back, but he said they could start bringing everything in. Hope can’t move in, of course, but we can really start setting things up.”