And of course, she was always around. Ugh. I don’t know who disgusted me more, myself or Talia. She might be the immature brat, but I was certainly feeling like one. Who gets jealous of some guy they’ve never even kissed, anyway?
Stalkers and crazy people.
We hadn’t entered full-on stalker territory just yet, but sometimes I felt like it was close. I caught myself watching him around the property, unconsciously tracking his schedule so that I could just happen to be around when he was. Pathetic. Lame. But, oh my God, the man was a work of art . . . And when he smiled, it felt like my heart might explode. Well, something definitely wanted to explode. Ha! On the bright side he was getting tons of work done and probably putting in more hours than was fair. For the first time since my mom died, I didn’t feel all stressed out about the apartments.
Cooper’s repairs weren’t the only changes in the building, either. That weekend a new family had moved into the last vacant unit, and overnight the place had burst with energy because there were four kids.
Yeah, four. In a two-bedroom apartment.
That violated my policy on the number of people per bedroom, but I had a soft spot for the mother, Janelle. We’d gone to school together and she’d gotten pregnant about the same time as my friend Carrie. Her story hadn’t ended as well. The father took off right after the baby was born and Janelle’s parents kicked her out. She’d drifted from one dead-end job to the next until about ten years ago, when she married a man whose main purpose in life seemed to be drinking and knocking her around.
They’d had three more kids together before she’d gotten up the nerve to move out, and when she’d come to me asking about the empty place, there was no way in hell I’d have said no.
Now I came home every day to find children running wild around our little courtyard, and while it was noisy it was also fantastic. Sure, I got the occasional twinge, the memory of little Tricia bittersweet and full of pain. But when they started building a fort using pallets and scraps from one of my dad’s old projects, I didn’t have the heart to tell them no.
There was only one downside . . . Janelle’s first child, Sadie, was all grown up, and she was part of Talia’s little posse. Now the bitch had two reasons to come hang out around my building, and I didn’t like that one little bit.
Still, I felt optimistic that Thursday night. I’d made all the special-order caramels and had dipped about half of them. If I finished the rest by tomorrow, I’d be able to take my first weekend totally off in forever. Carrie and I had already booked ourselves into the day spa for manis, pedis, and drinkies.
That’s why—despite my inner creeper when it came to Cooper—I was feeling all pleased with myself. Dad was already in bed, and I’d settled onto the porch swing with a book, enjoying the fading light and night air. These days it was too hot to spend much time outside, but the evenings were perfect. Living in the northwest, I had only a month or two each year where it was actually warm enough to sit outside in the dark. I liked to take advantage of them.
The book was good, and I was sucked in deep enough that I didn’t even notice when someone started up the porch steps.
“Tinker, you got a minute?” he asked, startling an unattractive squawk out of me. Cooper laughed, and I glared up at him.
“Think you’re pretty sneaky, don’t you?”
He shrugged, the smile on his face crinkling the edges of his eyes in an impossibly sexy way. Sheesh. Did he do anything that wasn’t hot? (Okay, I’d watched him kiss Talia the other night and threw up a little in the back of my mouth, so I guess there was that.)
“Sure, it’s all my fault,” he replied. “I wrote the book, snuck it into your house, and then waited for my moment to scare you.”
“You’re not helping,” I said, trying to stare down my nose at him. Seeing as he was taller than me and also standing up, this was less than effective. “So what’s up?”
“I wanted to go over a couple things with you about the building,” he said, holding up a little notebook. “Mind if I sit down?”
Sit down? Next to me? Yes, please.
Scooting over, I made room for him, reminding myself that it wasn’t stalkerish if he was the one who’d asked to sit there in the first place. Cooper settled on the swing, which was just a little tight for someone his size. That meant his leg was pressing against mine and our shoulders touched. Then his special scent washed over me and I had to hold back a shiver.
“So I noticed some of the upper-floor apartments have water stains on their ceilings,” he said. “I talked to the tenants, and apparently the roof started leaking last winter. They talked to your dad about it, but . . . Well, it didn’t get fixed. I guess your mom gave them a cut in their rent in exchange for putting up with it, and told them the roof would get repaired this summer.”
“I didn’t see anything about that in her files,” I said, feeling my stomach sink. How many more little surprises did she leave behind? “But we were just in survival mode after she passed.”
“That’s what I figured,” he said, twisting to look at me. Our shoulders bumped and he frowned. “This is awkward—do you mind if I put my arm behind you?”
He raised it to the back of the swing and for one glorious instant I thought he might actually touch me. Instead he let it rest on the back side of the swing seat. Pisser. I wanted to lean into his body as he held me close. Then he’d pull me in and kiss me and . . . What? Sweep me off into the sunset on his magical winged lion while singing songs about my beauty? That was about as likely as him making a move on me right now.
Stupid reality, fucking up all my fantasies.
“So how bad is it?” I asked, mentally tallying my bank balance. I had some savings, but not a lot. There’d be more once the divorce was final, but despite all my lawyer’s calls to Brandon’s lawyer, we still hadn’t made any progress. The big holdup right now was whether or not to sell the house. He was being a jerk about it because I didn’t have enough cash to buy him out. But we’d put in a commercial kitchen in the basement and I’d need it if I moved back to Seattle . . . Brandon kept saying I should sell the apartment building to pay him off—I couldn’t begin to wrap my head around the idea. Not only that, it seemed like there was less money in our investments than I remembered. It didn’t add up, and we’d been arguing about it for months.