“I’m worried about you, Chloe. I think we need to hire someone to take care of all of this.”
I rolled my eyes in exasperation for the hundredth time that morning. Not because I didn’t agree with my mother, but because she wholeheartedly believed she could hire a bodyguard to follow me from my house to the store.
“You can’t hire a bodyguard,” I said. “I’m not that important of a person.”
Betty Johnson straightened the turquoise nylon scarf tied loosely about her neck. She sniffed delicately while gazing out at the showroom of various furniture sets.
“Nonsense,” she said. “You’re important to me. Just say the word, Chloe, and I’ll have somebody over at that apartment—”
“Mom,” I cut in harshly, shaking my head at her. “Remember what the police officers and social services told us? It’s better to keep my distance right now. We don’t want to tip him off either.”
“I know that. I just think it’s unfair that he won’t send you your things.”
“He paid for the things he has.”
“It shouldn’t be like that, Chloe,” she said, shaking her head at me with a sad frown. “Your father didn’t raise you to believe that sort of thing in a relationship is okay. Then again, we can agree to say you weren’t in a relationship exactly.”
A headache pounded in my temples. I loved my mother more than anything in the world. She hadn’t even batted an eyelash when I’d called from the hospital with two broken ribs, bruised arms, and a concussion to ask for help. Years ago, my father had passed away from a heart attack, and while his death had been dark and abrupt, he had made sure that my mother and I were taken care of. I had never accepted my inheritance because of Luke. He could take everything else, just not any of my dad’s hard-earned money.
The last thing I wanted to talk about though was Luke. I’d done enough of it by talking to the police.
“I appreciate everything you are doing mom,” I said, giving her a smile. “I just want to focus on moving forward now. I can live without a computer and a phone for a little bit until I get a job.”
“Oh, please,” Betty said. “I’m buying you a phone. There’s no way you can go without a phone.”
“Don’t start, Chloe. Just say you love me, and let’s finish picking out your furniture so it can be delivered later.”
I embraced her tightly for a long moment, inhaling the smell of sunshine on her clothes. There was one perk at least to moving all the way out to Colorado. I got to be close to my mother again.
An hour later, I dropped her off at her gated retirement community with sprawling gardens and evergreen pines.
“I love you, dear,” Betty said, leaning in through the window to kiss me on the cheek. “Call me on that brand-new phone of yours if you need.”
I smiled. “Thanks, Mom. I will.”
By the time I arrived back to the house, the handymen my mother had hired to rip out the old carpet were pulling out rolls of rotted pads and stained carpet. I swept the hardwood floors free of nails and dust until the furniture trucks arrived. I stood on the porch while movers came in and out of the house.
Hope. It trickled through me for the first time in a long time. A new house. New furniture. I can do this. I can start my life over again. I tilted my head up to allow the warm sunshine to fall over my face.
“What the hell is all this?”
I started at the sound of Jake’s voice cutting through the morning as sharp as a surgical knife. My heart pounded against my ribcage when I saw him leaning over the fence slightly to watch the movers with an irritated scowl. Erika wasn’t kidding. He hates noise. There were dark circles underneath his eyes, but even rumpled he still looked sexy.
“Movers,” I said, stepping off the porch to walk up to him. The grass tickled my bare toes as I approached. He eyed me with an indifferent expression. “I’m sorry. Erika told me that you don’t like noise.”
“No,” he said sharply, “I don’t like noise. I work at night. The only time I ever get sleep is when my son is in school.”
I recoiled slightly at his agitated demeanor. “Okay, well, they’ll be done soon. I’m sorry. There isn’t anything I can do.”
Jake swept his gaze along the furniture trucks parked out front. It gave me a few seconds to admire his well-maintained frame. I wanted to reach out and feel those muscles bulging out. It wasn’t just his fit figure that hooked me. It was the haunted air that surrounded him. He kept his emotions well-hidden, though, when he looked back at me.
“Just tell them to keep it down,” he said. “This is the only time I get to sleep. I don’t have the ability to sleep all day like you do.”
The insult slapped me hard across the face. I stared at him as he leaned back to go to his house. What is his problem?
“I don’t have the ability to take a nap all day,” I said, a bit defensively. “I have things to do also.”
He snorted. “Such as?”
“I have a job too,” I said, though it was a flat-out lie. I still had to find a job by the end of the week in addition to everything else.
“You don’t look old enough to have an important job,” Jake commented flatly. “You don’t even look old enough to own a house that needs renovations.”
Anger skittered through me at those insults. “Well,” I said, hooking my hands on my hips, “I am old enough. I’m old enough to buy alcohol. I’m old enough to do everything. Not that it’s your business.”
“I didn’t ask,” he said. Jerk. “Just tell your movers to keep it quiet. I need to sleep.”
Exasperated, I looked over at the movers pulling out the frame for my new bed. They weren’t even that loud while they talked to each other.
“It’s impossible to keep quiet when you’re moving,” I said. “You’re asking me to do the impossible. Just close your bedroom window.”
He stiffened visibly at that. I had noticed, well rather heard, him slam his window shut the other night. It had been open again this morning, but the curtains had been drawn closed. I had no idea why I’d even looked at that this morning on my way out. Maybe it was because our bedroom windows faced one another. That thought caused an array of emotions to go through me.
“Tell them to be quiet,” he said shortly.
I opened my mouth to argue, but he was already stalking back up his driveway to the front door. He slammed the door shut without sparing me another glance. I walked up to my front porch with a sigh.
“Great,” I grumbled, shoving my hands in the pockets of my jeans. “I have an asshole for a neighbor who has ridiculously good hearing. How much better could this get?”