“Give her the house.”
“I don’t want the house.” And she certainly didn’t need it. What Jackie needed most was air and to avoid her husband’s angry eyes.
“What Mrs. Crenshaw means is that she doesn’t want only the house.” Jackie’s attorney tapped a pen on the conference room table. “Did you bring a list of your assets today, Mr. Crenshaw?”
“Jackie knows about my assets.” Andy bit out each word.
Remaining silent, Jackie kept her gaze trained on the polished gleam of the table where she could see her reflection.
“I will not have my client intimidated.” This from the attorney Jackie wished she’d never hired.
“Mr. Crenshaw has no interest in intimidating your client, Ms. Winslow.” Andy’s attorney sounded just as cool as the icy blue shirt he wore.
“That’s certainly not what I’m seeing. He hasn’t taken his eyes off her since we sat down.” Her gaze flickered to Jackie’s face. “Are you okay?”
Jackie wanted to scream. No, she wasn’t okay. She was suffocating. Drowning in her own foolish decision to drive her husband away.
Andy answered for her. “She needs a break.”
Jackie finally met his gaze. He knew her so well. After ten years of marriage, why did that knowledge surprise her?
Andy’s attorney, a shark with a reputation of going for the jugular, sniffed. “My client is only looking out for his wife’s best interests.”
“Ex-wife,” Ms. Winslow corrected.
“The court has yet to make that distinction.”
With all eyes watching him, Andy pushed away from the table and walked around to where Jackie sat. He took hold of her chair and gave it an easy pull. “Come on. Let’s get some air.”
“Andy, you shouldn’t be talking to her,” his attorney protested.
“”Walking isn’t talking.”
“She’s your ex-wife!”
“The court has not made that distinction yet. Excuse us.”
Andy’s arm around her waist offered comfort as he guided her out through the double doors of the conference room. They didn’t say a word to one another until they walked out into the warm sunshine.
“Why don’t you want the house?”
Jackie stopped walking. “Memories, I suppose.” Tears filled her eyes, and she blinked them away rapidly.
He tucked her hair behind her ears, a gesture so familiar, her breath caught. “Some of them were good,” he whispered.
She bit her lower lip. “I know.”
Andy sighed and crammed his hands into the pockets of the grey dress slacks that fit his lean frame so well. “If you don’t want the house, what do you want?”
“Not this.” But this, asking him to leave, had been her choice. She couldn’t blame Andy for being angry, confused.
He took hold of her arms. “What ‘this’ don’t you want? The division of our assets? The meeting with the attorneys? What?”
“I don’t want to lose you.” The words spilled out before she could stop them, and the look on her husband’s face kicked her in the stomach.
“You wanted me to leave.”
“No, I didn’t. It just seemed liked my only option.” Time to tell all. Give him the facts so he could make the decision on his own. “The cancer’s back, Andy.”
He yanked her into his arms, holding her so tight her ribs ached. “That’s what’s been going on inside of you. I knew something was wrong, but you wouldn’t let me in.”
“I won’t let you watch me die, Andy. I went through that with Mom, and it hurt so much I could barely breathe.
Andy loosened his embrace so he could look at her. He closed his eyes for a second, and when he opened them, his tears matched hers. “I’m not going to watch you die, Jackie. I’m going to watch you live. You’re scared, and I understand that, but pushing me away isn’t the answer.”
A sob tore through her chest. “I know. I know. I just don’t want you to go through—”
“How about you let me decide what I go through?”
She was back in his arms again, her head on his chest. “I’ll probably lose my hair this time.”
“I’ll buy you a wig.”
“I probably won’t be able to work for a while.”
“I’ve always wanted a wife who didn’t work.” He leaned back to give her a grin.
Jackie returned his smile. “I feel so stupid now.”
He brushed the remaining tears away from her cheeks. “Admittedly, pushing me away wasn’t one of your shining moments.”
The smile segued into a laugh. “Not just that. I gave my attorney a $5,000 non-refundable retainer.”
“Ah.” Andy nodded. “Well, if it makes you feel any better, I just put my attorney’s kid through college.”
“I’m really scared.”
“I know, but the only way we’ll get through this is together. Now let’s go home.”
I banged my head on the hood of the aging Chevy I’d been attempting to resuscitate. Rubbing the knot already forming, I pulled myself out from under the steel and straightened.
“I’m sorry.” The deep voice pulled my gaze to its owner.
In a charcoal suit with a pacific blue tie that matched his eyes, the man had every inch of my attention. “Umm...it’s okay. How can I help you?” Painfully aware of the grease under my nails and how I’d piled my hair into a sloppy bun that morning, I tried to sound professional.
He winced and pointed toward a black sports car parked against the curb. “I think I need another battery. Is the…” he stopped, coughed, and tried again…”are you the mechanic?”
“I’m one of them, yes. Name’s Charlie.” I didn’t stick out my hand even though I wanted to feel the touch of his.
“Nick.” The way he smiled, he didn’t seem to mind my messy look.
Suddenly nervous, I swiped a rag from the doorknob behind me and wiped my hands. “Let me take a look.”
I walked toward the sleek machine. “When is the last time you replaced the battery?”
“Last year, I believe.” His gaze lingered on mine a little longer than necessary, but I didn’t complain. “Had to call roadside assistance for a jump just to get here. It’s not holding a charge.”
“It’s probably the alternator. I’ll check, but I can already tell you we don’t have those in stock, not for this baby.” I patted the side of the car like it was a friendly dog.
“How long would it take to get it in stock, provided that’s the problem?” He’d regained composure and now leaned against the driver’s door like he had all the time in the world, which was a good thing considering how long it would take to get an alternator here.
“About a week.” I headed back to the garage and snagged the voltmeter. “It won’t take long to install it once the alternator’s in, provided that’s the problem. If this checks out, I’ll put it up on the rack and run a diagnostic. You’re welcome to wait inside.”
“I think I’d rather watch if that’s okay.”
I wondered if he wanted to watch me or my work. I hoped his interest leaned more toward me which was ridiculous considering he probably lived in a fancy city so many miles away from my small town. “No problem.”
Nick didn’t just watch. He hovered. Close enough for me to smell his aftershave and see the stubble on his chin. Which was why I dropped the voltmeter. Twice. Finally, I stepped back to breathe. “Yep. It’s your alternator. I can get that ordered for you unless you have another shop in mind.”
He gave me a full throttle smile, and I caught my breath. “Something tells me I’m not going to mind hanging around town for a week.”
Heat rose up the back of my neck, and I scurried toward the shop with him right behind me. “You might change your mind when you see how little there is to do here.” I rang up the charges, and when he handed me his credit card, our fingers touched. Lightning zipped up my arm.
“Well, I already know one thing I’d like to do.” He lifted those perfect blue eyes to my face.
“I hope it doesn’t have anything to do with fancy cocktails or trendy nightclubs.”
“Don’t judge a man by his car. I like small towns. Been thinking about taking a long vacation to a town just like this.”
“Oh, yeah?” I might need CPR any moment.
“So what time does this garage close?”
“Six.” I couldn’t hear my voice over the rapid beating of my heart.
“Think I could buy you a cup of coffee?”
Be calm, Charlie. Act like you’ve had a date before!
“Sure. I’ll need to go home first and wash off the grease.”
“I hadn’t noticed it.” His gaze had dropped to my lips.
“Oh. Okay.” I came around from behind the counter. Trying to watch him and where I was walking didn’t work. The toe of my sneaker caught on a chair leg, and I pitched forward with a surprised yelp.
Nick’s arms surrounded me before I could hit the floor. For a moment, neither of us spoke. Or breathed. “About that cup of coffee…”
“Let’s make it dinner.”
While the butterflies in my stomach did a crazy dance, I smiled back at him. “How long is this vacation you’re planning?”
“My schedule’s flexible. I work mostly online.”
“I didn’t think I could love the internet more.”
My thoughts, experiences, challenges, and goals. Right here. At least once a week or so. Oh, and opinions, too. Those will definitely come in. Join me!