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Hammered by Jasinda Wilder (1)

Chapter 1

“Damn you, Nicholas Irving,” I snarl, heaving at the stuck window. “You lazy, good for nothing, cheating bastard.”

After one last futile heave, I let go of the window and climb down from the kitchen counter where I’d been perched in my effort to get better leverage. The window over my sink was stuck, and I wanted the damn thing open. It’s ninety-five degrees outside, with almost a hundred percent humidity, and there’s no central A/C in the house. Not even a window unit. The summers are so hot here that I’d wanted to at least get a window unit for our bedroom, but Nicholas had refused, insisting he’d spring for central A/C this summer. I’d begged him all winter and spring, to no avail. Well…now it’s August, one of the hottest summers on record, and there’s no central A/C, and no window unit, and the house is like a blast furnace.

To top it off, having survived three brutal months of divorce proceedings, I’m now the ex Mrs. Nicholas Irving. The divorce was finalized about a month ago. And the bastard—the bastard—had spent the six months preceding the divorce helping himself to the money in our joint savings account. Yeah, our joint account, the one I’ve been dumping every penny of my salary into for years, to afford the remodel of this cheap-ass, broken-down, money pit of a fixer-upper he’d wanted to buy. Now, the bank account is all but empty. Zero. He’d spent it all. Our money. My money—my forty to sixty hours a week at Dr. Bishara’s practice, six to seven days a week, no vacations, not even a weekend into the city—gone.

Turns out I’m too trusting, and maybe too naive, and perhaps a little bit stupid. My paychecks were on auto-deposit, and I never bothered to check the account, trusting that my little nest egg was growing each month. I intentionally didn’t look at it so I wouldn’t be tempted to spend it on things like wine, or new scrubs, or new shoes. Or A/C. Or a working dishwasher. Or repairs for my broke-ass, piece-of-shit car.

No, I trusted my husband. “We’re saving for the remodel,” he said. “We’ll start this summer,” he said.

Nope.

I was saving—he was helping himself. While I was working my ass off to pay for the remodel, he was tapping the ass of the local science teacher, and then he moved on to his secretary—and spending our money on presents and dinners and wine.

Now I’m flat broke, stuck with a mortgage I can barely afford on a house with no A/C, a stuck window, no dishwasher, and at least a hundred thousand dollars worth of other repairs I can’t afford and can’t do myself.

I stare hard at the window, cursing it silently, willing it to budge. Even an inch! One inch, just enough to get the tiniest bit of air circulation in here, that’s it. I’ve got all the other windows open—all of them that will open, at least—and six box fans running, but this house has zero airflow because it’s ninety years old. Open-plan design was not a design concept in the early 1900s.

All I want, right now, is to open this damn kitchen window so I can feel a little bit of air stirring in the kitchen while I wash this sink full of dishes. That’s it really. One open window. Not so much to ask, is it?

Apparently it is. I’ve pounded on it, I’ve checked the lock, I’ve even gone around outside with a stepladder to see if it’s nailed shut, but I can’t see any reason it won’t open. It’s just stuck, and I’m going crazy.

To top it off, today was a day from hell.

On the way to work, three songs into my favorite playlist, my car audio died. Just…dead. No AM, no FM, obviously no XM, not even my aux cord would work.

Then, about ten minutes after clocking into work, with a waiting room overflowing with patients, the computer system crashed. The whole system— throughout the whole office. Computers, iPads, phones, everything—kaput. Dead. All our appointments, patient notes and records, prescriptions, everything, gone. Yeah, we had the paper records obviously, but that adds about ten to fifteen minutes per patient. And we were slammed with appointments from open to close, plus all our walk-in slots were triple-booked. The waiting room was a zoo from the moment we unlocked the doors and it never slowed down. And, oh yeah, Jackie called in sick; leaving me to pull double duty on the busiest day I can remember.

And then, when work was finally over, I dropped my phone on the way to my car, shattering the screen.

Did I mention that my car is twenty years old—the same car I bought thirdhand for five grand the summer before my freshman year of college? It was a piece of shit then, and that was fifteen years ago. The A/C is broken, and has been for years. The windshield wipers spazz out randomly, switching from low to high gear by themselves, whether or not it is raining. The transmission sounds like a garbage truck, the muffler has a hole in it and there’s a spiderweb crack in the windshield which is gradually getting larger.

And now the radio is broken.

And my phone is on life\ support.

And there’s no A/C at home either, and it’s hotter now at six o’clock in the evening than it was at noon.

AND THE FUCKING KITCHEN WINDOW WON’T OPEN.

I fight the urge to cry as I fail yet again to get the damn thing to even budge.

Screw it. Just screw it. Now I’m mad. I’ll get that thing open if I have to pry it open.

I hop down from the sink, lose my balance, and fall flat on my ass on the warped laminate floor. Good thing I’ve got plenty of padding back there, huh? I stand up, brush the dirt off the butt of my scrubs, and march out the back door. The backyard is one of my favorite places, and one of the reasons I agreed to buy the house—there’s a giant spreading oak tree that shades most of the yard, with a white-painted porch swing attached by two huge ropes to the lowest, thickest branch. Flowerbeds run around the perimeter of the fence line, planted with colorful, easy to maintain perennials, filled in with rocks instead of mulch, which keeps the maintenance even easier. There’s a cute little shed in the back corner of the yard, painted red with white stripes in an X on the door so it looks like a miniature barn.

I head over to the shed to get some tools. In it are an ancient push mower, a weed whacker, some pruning shears, a few trowels and buckets and spades, and a fifty-year-old Craftsman toolbox handed down from Nicholas’s grandfather, full of equally old tools. I open the toolbox and find a screwdriver and a huge, heavy hammer.

I march back across the grass, which desperately needs cutting, but guess what? The mower doesn’t work.

I slam through the back door, climb up onto the kitchen counter yet again, and wedge the screwdriver between the window and the frame. I give the back end of the screwdriver a solid whack with the hammer, and it bites back hard into my hand. I do the same thing on the other side of the window and then set the tools down and try to open the window.

Nothing.

DAMN IT.

I try again on both sides, higher, near the top of the window. Still nothing.

Getting more frustrated than ever, I decide to use a bit more force; this window WILL open, dammit.

Wedging the edge of the screwdriver between frame and window, I take a deep breath, line the hammer up with the screwdriver, and smash it as hard as I can.

The frame splinters apart, and the glass cracks. I curse floridly, and then set the tools down and try to open the window. I heave, and tug, and yank, and then, with a creaking, cracking noise, the window slides upward…sort of. It tilts in the frame, the right side moving slightly while the left side moves marginally. One more mighty heave and the window slides up all the way…

And the glass, already cracked, breaks entirely, chunks and shards of glass shattering on the counter and hitting the ground outside.

It’s open! Broken, but open.

I clear the broken shards away, inside and out, and, of course, I cut myself on a piece of glass. Sucking at the blood and cursing nonstop now, I deposit the bag of glass into the garbage can outside my garage, and go back inside. I wash my cut finger, squeeze a paper towel around it until it stops bleeding, and then wrap a Band-Aid on it, all the while staring at the mess of my kitchen window. The frame is splintered in several places and cracked from top to bottom, and the glass is shattered.

And it’s supposed to rain tonight and tomorrow.

I consider, for about six seconds, doing the dishes like I’d intended.

Nope. Not gonna happen tonight.

Screw it.

I have a couple bottles of red wine—one of my few splurges—so I open one, pour a nice big glass, and dump half a bag of Skinny Pop into a big bowl, grab my iPad, and curl up in the corner of my couch.

I need moral support. I have precisely one number in my favorites list: Audra Donovan, my best friend. I touch the number, put the phone on speaker, and then set it on my knee.

She answers on the fourth ring. “Hey, babe. Sorry, I can’t talk. I’m with a client.”

I hear music thudding in the background, and a deep male grunt of exertion.

“Ugh, fine,” I grumble. “Be that way. Your best friend needs you, but it’s fine. Whatever.”

She says something, but it’s muffled and meant for her client, and then I can hear her properly. “Oh quit being passive-aggressive, Imogen. You know I hate it when you’re passive-aggressive.”

“I had the worst day ever, Audra,” I whine. “I need a drinking buddy.”

Audra sighs. “You know I would, but I have clients until nine tonight and then again early in the morning. But we’re having tacos and margs on Friday, right?”

“Yeah, but that’s days away still.”

She just laughs. “Wow, you really had a shitty day, huh? You’re never this whiny.”

I can’t help laughing with her. “You have no idea how shitty.”

“I’m sorry, babe. Look, I’ve gotta go, but I’ll see you soon, okay?”

“Fine,” I moan, perhaps somewhat melodramatically. “Go be more important than me.”

She just laughs again. “God, you’re being ridiculous. Drink some wine and go to bed. You’ll feel better in the morning.”

“Kay-bye,” I say, turning it into one word.

“Bye!” she calls in a singsong.

I haven’t had dinner, and I’m going to end up drinking this whole bottle of wine and eating the entire bag of popcorn but hell, after the day I’ve had, I don’t even care. It’s Skinny Pop, so it’s not THAT bad, right? And they say red wine is good for you…

Honestly, at this point, I don’t even need an excuse.

As I try to relax by catching up on Facebook, my mind begins to wander, and I think back on the past couple of years. Nicholas stopped looking at me as an object of attraction roughly fourteen months ago. Actually, fourteen months, three weeks, and two days ago. And…four hours.

How do I know, down to the hour, when my husband—ex-husband—stopped desiring me?

Because it was fourteen months, three weeks, two days, and four hours ago that I had my last miscarriage after our third and final attempt at IVF. Close to $60,000 in fertility treatments and medications—debt which I bear almost entirely. We tried for years to get pregnant. Countless doctor appointments. Funny positions, lying with my legs in the air for half an hour after lackluster sex with my distracted husband, shots, pills, transvaginal ultrasounds which I attended alone…

After that last miscarriage, Nicholas just checked out. He stopped looking at me. Stopped seeing me at all, much less seeing me as a woman, as his wife, as his friend, even less as a woman with sexual appeal.

He reserved all that attention for Tanya, his secretary. Clichéd, but true. He’s an associate principal at the local high school, and he has his own secretary. Tanya is a twenty-two-year-old, size-three, fake D-cup, community college drop-out, who apparently has a thing for forty-four-year-old balding, overweight, associate principals with a low sex drive, lower sperm count, and a twenty-four-hour refractory period.

With those thoughts running through my head, I notice I’ve already finished my first glass of wine, and think about what I’m going to watch on Netflix. I take my iPad with me to the kitchen and pour another glass of wine. I can’t decide between season four of The Tudors, and the latest Ali Wong special, so I scroll through my Instagram feed for a minute.

My cousin Sheila and her husband are having a baby—woohoo for them.

My favorite reality star is in Tahiti, drinking rum and looking fit and fabulous—I mean, she has a six pack and guns, and she’s older than me. No fair.

Nicholas’s sister is posting a series of selfie-stories, mostly loops of her posing at the gym—she’s a personal trainer, and I followed her on the idea that it would motivate me to get in shape, but instead it just makes me feel even more lacking and unmotivated.

Bloody Hell. Why do I do this? Why do I go on here when all it does is make me feel like shit?

I’m about to close out the app when an ad catches my attention.

Instead of a fitness model, it’s a photo of burly, tattooed, sexy male arm holding a wrench, about to tighten a pipe under a sink.

There’s a caption with it:

Dad Bod Contracting—for ALL your domestic contracting needs. Have a leaky faucet or clogged disposal? Need a new patio with intricate paving designs? Want your garage transformed into a yoga studio? Dad Bod Contracting has you COVERED. Our clean, well-mannered, and friendly professionals pride themselves on attention to detail. Every job comes with a 100% customer SATISFACTION guarantee. No job is too small. Hand us your “honey-do” list and we’ll get it done, and we’ll look good doing it! A good job well done is one phone call away, so call Dad Bod Contracting today!

There’s a phone number with a local area code, and an email address.

I have zero dollars, I remind myself.

Not true—I have just enough in the bank to pay the mortgage, utilities, and buy exactly $126 worth of groceries.

The kitchen window will cost more than $126 to fix, guaranteed.

I have just under two grand available on my credit card, though. That is meant for emergencies, and I’ve been trying to pay that down rather than put more on it.

But it’s going to rain, and I have to at least get a board or a tarp on that window until it can be properly fixed.

I really don’t have the money for this.

But screw it.

I use Siri to dial the number, since my phone is near death. The phone rings for a few moments—three rings, four, and then five, and I resign myself to going to leaving a voicemail message and dealing with a wet kitchen in the morning.

Then, a miracle happens.

“This is James.” His voice is deep, rough, curt, but not unfriendly.

“Hi, um, I saw an ad on Instagram… is this Dad Bod Contracting?”

“Yep. I’m James Bod, I own the company.”

“Is that your arm in the photo?” I hear myself asking. Why did I ask that?

A pause, and a hint of amusement in his voice when he answers. “Ah, no. That’s one of my employees.” Another pause. “Is there something I can help you with?”

“Um. Yeah. I…broke my kitchen window and it’s going to rain. I definitely need it covered at the very least, and I was wondering how much it would cost to fix it.”

“What kind of window?” he asks, and I hear sliding and scraping in the background, and a hammer, and a saw whining and buzzing.

“The kind that slides up and down? It’s over my kitchen sink.”

“So not a floor-to-ceiling, or anything unique.”

“Nope, just your average window.”

“Okay, well I think I can have a guy out there in an hour or two. He’ll at least be able to board it off to keep the rain out.”

I pull the phone away from my ear and glance at the time: 6:49pm. “He’ll come over at eight or nine tonight?”

“He will if I tell him to, because I’m paying him. He’s also got no life, so it won’t be interrupting anything.”

“Hey jackass, I have a life,” I hear someone say in the background.

“Pounding pitchers at Billy Bar doesn’t count,” James replies. “Sorry. He’ll be there ASAP, okay? No worries.”

“Okay,” I say. “Thank you.” I hesitate again. “Um, how much will it cost for him to come out?” I hate having to ask, hate the embarrassment of having him know I’m literally counting pennies.

“Quotes are free.” Then I hear a crash on his end of the phone. “Watch it, asshole! Put a hole in the drywall and I’m not paying for your time to fix it. Jesus. Clumsy oaf.” To me, then. “I gotta go. He’ll be by in an hour or two, and don’t worry about the cost. Just recommend us to your friends; god knows we need the business. Just text me your address.”

He hangs up, I text my address to him, and then set the phone down.

Recommend them to my friends.

Ha. That’s a good one.

What friends? I have one friend, Audra, and she lives in a swanky condo where all repairs are part of the building maintenance. So…good luck with that.

Somehow, I’ve finished half the second glass of wine already. “Screw it,” I say out loud, and help myself to the rest of the bottle, and then toss the bottle into the trash so I don’t have to look at the evidence of my lush status. I bring the bag of popcorn with me back into the living room, curl back up on the couch, and turn on the Ali Wong special, because god knows I need to laugh.

The hour-long special has five minutes left when I hear tires in the gravel driveway. The engine shuts off, and a minute later a heavy tread pounds on the creaky porch steps.

The knock is four sharp pounds, as if the person on the other end is either impatient, or very strong, or both.

Still clutching my wineglass, I answer the door.

In my scrubs.

Sweaty from the heat.

More than a little tipsy.

Have I mentioned that it’s been more than a year since I’ve had sex?

Hopefully that explains the reaction that follows.