The Last Boyfriend(7)

By: Nora Roberts

“You look tired.”

She shot him a disgusted look over the tub of black olives. “Thanks. That’s what every girl loves to hear.” Then she shrugged. “I am tired. I thought I’d sleep in this morning. Franny would open, I’d come in about eleven thirty. Not much of a commute since I moved right upstairs. So I watched some Jimmy Fallon, finished a book I’ve been trying to squeeze out time to read all week. I didn’t go down until nearly two. Then Franny calls at eight. Six hours isn’t bad, unless you worked a double and you’re going to work another.”

“Bright side? Business is good.”

“I’ll think about bright side after the bus tour. Anyway, enough. How’s it going at the inn?”

“So good we’re going to start loading in the third floor tomorrow.”

“Loading in what?”

“Furniture, Avery.”

She set down the tub, goggled at him. “Seriously? Seriously?”

“The inspector’s going to take a look this afternoon, give us the go or no. I’m saying go because there’s no reason for no. I just talked to Hope. She’s going to start cleaning up there. My mother and my aunt are coming in—maybe are in already since it’s going on eleven now—to pitch in.”

“I wanted to do that. I can’t.”

“Don’t worry about that. We’ve got plenty of hands.”

“I wanted mine to be two of them. Maybe tomorrow, depending on sickness and root canals. Jeez, Owen, this is major.” She did a little heel-toe dance on her green high-tops. “And you wait almost an hour to spill it?”

“You were too busy bitching at me.”

“If you’d spilled, I’d’ve been too excited to bitch. Your own fault.”

She smiled at him, pretty Avery MacTavish with the tired eyes.

“Why don’t you sit down for a few minutes?”

“I’ve got to keep moving today, like a shark.” She snapped the lid on the tub, replaced it, then went over to check her sauces.

He watched her work. She always seemed to be doing half a dozen things at once, like a constant juggling act with balls hanging in the air, others bouncing madly until she managed to grab and toss them again.

It amazed his organized mind.

“I’d better get back. Thanks for the coffee.”

“No problem. If any of the crew’s thinking about lunch here today, tell them to wait until one thirty. The rush’ll be over.”

“Okay.” He gathered his things, then paused at the door. “Avery? What color is that? The hair.”

“This? Copper Penny.”

He grinned, shook his head. “I knew it. See you later.”


OWEN STRAPPED HIS tool belt on, checked his punch-out list against Ryder’s.

“The third floor’s full of women,” Ryder told him, with an edge of bitterness.

“Are they naked?”

“Mom’s one of them.”

“Okay, scratch the naked.”

“Mom, Carolee, the innkeeper. Clare might still be up there. Dude, they’re a swarm. One of them keeps buzzing down here, asking questions.” Ryder grabbed his Gatorade off the kitchen island where he’d spread out plans and lists since Hope had booted him out of her projected office space. “Since you’re the one who opened the gates there, you’re the one who’s going to answer all the damn questions. And where the hell were you?”

“I left word. I went over to Avery’s so I could make some calls. Inspector’s going to take a look at the third floor to clear the load-in there. He’ll check out the rest while he’s here. Furniture for up there’s set, and they’ll start hauling it in, setting it up in the morning. Window-blind install’s set. They’ll start upstairs this afternoon. You want the rest?”

“You’re giving me a headache.”

“That’s why I make the calls. I can start running trim on two.”

“Third floor.” Ryder drilled a finger into Owen’s chest. “Women. All yours, brother.”

“Fine, fine.”

He wanted to work, to slide into the rhythm of nail guns, hammers, drills. Men. But he went back outside, cursed the cold as he rounded back and jogged up the stairs.