Home > 99 Percent Mine(7)

99 Percent Mine(7)
Author: Sally Thorne

Those muscles. I think I’m starting to sweat.

“You scared the shit out of me. I thought you were—” I shut my mouth and dance Patty on my folded knee. “Honestly, she’s so cute.”

“Who’d you think I was?” His husky voice gets more bass to it and a scared-twist feeling in my gut tightens. Big men are so casually brutal. Look at the size of those boots. Those fists. He could kill. But then I overlay the memory of an eight-year-old boy over the top of his adult shape, and I remember Valeska, and I exhale.

“Just some dude I threw out of the bar. Seriously, Tom, you nearly gave me a heart—” Goddamn it. His eyes snap to my chest. “Don’t,” I order firmly, and he slouches, picking at the side of his boot. He knows the rules. Fussing is forbidden.

“I can worry if I want, Princess,” he grumbles to the ground. “You can’t stop me.”

“No one calls me Princess anymore. Do I look like a princess?” I put Patty on the grass. He gives me a one-second glance, top to bottom, and looks away, the answer locked in his head and a lift to the corner of his mouth.

Oh man, the urge to get that answer out of him is intense. It’d probably require putting my hands on him and squeezing.

I get to my feet slowly to avoid a heart scramble, then look back at the decal on the side of the black truck. The penny drops. I spin around to him. “Valeska Building Services. Holy shit. You’re free.”

“Yeah,” he says like he’s admitting something, one eye narrowed as he looks up at my face.

“You did it.” I can’t stop the smile spreading across my face. “You got away from Aldo. Tom, I am so fucking proud of you.”

“Don’t get too proud,” he warns, ducking his head so I can’t see that he’s pleased. “I haven’t done anything yet.”

When Aldo came through town to assess the cottage, he suggested a place where we could hire a bulldozer. That’s his level of tact, discussing our deceased grandmother’s estate. Jamie laughed at the joke, so there’s his tact level, too.

I reminded them that it was literally in Loretta’s last will and testament that the cottage be restored, and she’d stipulated a budget be set aside for it. The laughing stopped. Aldo heaved a sigh and filled out the council approval paperwork, saying several times that his pen didn’t work. I slapped another one in his hand, and he narrowed his bloodshot eyes at me.

This will be a labor of love, Aldo said. A huge expensive risky mistake.

I told him, No shit, Sherlock. Keep writing. Why did Loretta make the final condition that Jamie and I sell? Did she never stop to consider that I might want to live here forever, wallowing in my loneliness? With twins, everything has to be split and fair.

“I guess Aldo taught you the most important lesson of your career.” I wait a beat as Tom mulls it over. “What not to do.”

“True,” Tom says with a faint smile, his eyes on the decal on his truck. “When in doubt, I’ll ask myself, what would Aldo do?”

“And you’ll just do the exact opposite. You know he grabbed my butt? Like, when Jamie and I visited you on your very first job site? What a piece of shit. I was barely eighteen. Just a kid.”

“I didn’t know that.” Tom’s mouth flattens. “Did you break his hand?”

“You’re lucky I didn’t call you to bury a body for me. You would, right?” I can’t help it; I want to know if I can still summon Valeska, as much as I shouldn’t. He belongs to Megan now.

“I’ve got a shovel in the back,” he says, nodding at the truck. It’s a disturbing thrill to know he’s not kidding. If I needed him to, he’d dig a hole with his bare hands. “I know he was an unprofessional asshole, but he gave me my first chance. I didn’t have a lot of options, put it that way. Not like you and Jamie.” He sits himself up straight and puts his boots together like a good boy. “There will be no ass-grabbing on my site.”

“Depends on who’s doing the grabbing,” I say in a thoughtful tone, but crack up when Tom’s eyes get scary. “I know, I know. No one is more professional than you. My butt is safe.”

“I’m going to do everything perfectly.” Tom won coloring-in competitions as a kid. This house is going to be his big-boy equivalent.

“I know you will.” I look down at Tom’s shoulders. His T-shirt is trying its hardest. He’s gotten so big since I saw him last. He’s always been tall and muscly, but this is next level. He’s been working himself into the ground. “Well, what are you waiting for? I bet you have a key. Let the renovations commence.”

“I might start in the morning, if you don’t mind.” He laughs, groans, and stretches in one movement. Like he’s flat in a bed instead of on some rickety old stairs. “I do have a key. But I know how you feel about … privacy.”

He says it like privacy is only one of the options he could have gone with. He always does this; he gives me one tidbit on what he thinks I’m like, then he clams up until Megan jingles her car keys and he’s gone for another six months.

The tidbit leaves me ravenous, and I’m wiring my own jaw shut to not press and ask for more. I’m sweating so much my tank is stuck to my back.

We watch Patty as she paddles through the leaves on the lawn, nose to the ground. She half squats and changes her mind. Tom sighs wearily. “Now it’s time to pee? She’s had nearly an hour to do this.”

“Well, I’m more determined than ever to find my passport now. It’s definitely in the house, but Loretta’s hidden it.” I click my fingers for Patty. Come back, li’l buffer. I haul myself down to sit on the step beside him.

“Might have to order a new one,” Tom says with a tone of reluctance.

“The old one has all my stamps in it. It’s like my scrapbook. I’ll find it tomorrow when I pack.” Looking up to the sky, I tell Loretta, “I need to get out of here. Give it back.”

“Maybe she wants you to stick around for once.” He took a risk there, tacking on for once.

“I’ll ignore that,” I warn him, and he just looks up at the starry sky and smiles. I’m predictable, apparently. So is my stomach. It fills with sparkles.

His is the kind of bone structure that makes me blurt stupid things. So I do. “Every single time I see you, I can’t believe you’re not a kid anymore. Look at you.”

“All grown up.”

His torso looks like a pack of chocolate, with the squares visible through the wrapper. You know how chocolate has that matte-glossy texture? That’s his skin. I want to scrape across him with my fingernails. I want to start my weekly Halloween binge.

Megan, Megan, diamond rings. The incantation doesn’t completely work.

He has the kind of density that makes me constantly guess to myself how much he’d weigh. Does muscle weigh more than fat? He’s a ton. He’s six-six, and I watched him get this tall, but it’s a surprise every time I see him. It’s the body you see on first responders. Think big-ass firemen kicking in doors, ready to save you.

“How do you cope with a skeleton that big?” I ask, and he looks down at himself, mystified. “I mean, how do you coordinate all four limbs and actually ambulate around the place?” My eyes are back on his shoulders, following the round lines down, the flat sections, the dips and shadowed lines, the creases on the cotton.

I can see his belt, which doesn’t know how lucky it is to be strapped around that, and a lush half inch of black underwear waistband, and my cheeks are burning and I can hear my heart and—

“Eyes up, DB.” He’s busted me. Not that I was very subtle. “Me and my skeleton get around just fine. Now, what’s going on with this rickety porch?”

I try to think of how I can explain it. What did happen to the house? I think I messed up and neglected it. That loose board, for example? I should have found a hammer and whacked it flat.

“My theory is that Loretta’s magic held the entire house together.” I rub my palms briskly on my thighs to banish the crying feeling I know is going to well up inside me.

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