He was like a shadow, following tight on her heels.
And that was when Moose’s wife, Deandra, called her cell.
* * *
Anne didn’t get back home until five. Investigating Ripkin Development had left her with some backlog work, and then there was the report to file on the apartment fire.
Plus, her mother.
The idea of spending the entire Saturday with the woman had been enough to take her work ethic, already strong, to juicehead levels. It wasn’t that her mother was totally awful—and that was part of the problem. If the woman had been rude, cantankerous, angry; then Anne’s avoidance would be justified. Instead, she was stuck with the reality that she was being unfair, especially after she’d let loose on the woman, and she hated that . . . even as she couldn’t change her overwhelming need to get away from Nancy Janice.
“Come on, Soot,” she said as she hooked the lead on his collar. “Time to check out your own backyard.”
She’d crated him at her office for the three hours she’d been over at the apartment site, and then they’d enjoyed a nice long walk to a coffee shop for lunch. After all that exercise, he’d curled up at her feet for the rest of the afternoon.
Bracing herself, she let them both in. “Mom?”
When there was no answer, she went through and let Soot out. She found the note, written in her mother’s flowery flourish, on the kitchen table.
Okay, so she was due back at six after an afternoon of bridge. Which meant Anne had an hour to decompress.
After feeding Soot, she went upstairs and started the shower. It felt good to take her prosthesis off. Even better to get under the hot water.
She was squeezing shampoo on the top of her head, which was what you did when you only had one palm and had to use it for dispensing, when she looked down and focused on her stump. The taper from her elbow down to the blunt end was pronounced due to muscle atrophy and the flesh was still mottled and angry from the infection even after nine months had passed.
Ripkin’s smug voice wormed into her ear, taunting her even as she told herself it shouldn’t.
But the truth was, there might have been more than one reason she hadn’t wanted to get naked with Danny. And she hated that Ripkin, that shit, had tapped the nerve even as she’d denied it to his face. He’d been wrong about one aspect, though. It wasn’t a female thing to feel less than whole if you lost a limb. It was a human thing. She’d been in that rehab hospital with men who had been in motorcycle and farming accidents, even one guy who’d had some bad luck with a chain saw.
They had been just as scared as she’d been, not only about how to work through life and jobs, but with who they were. What they had become. And physical attractiveness was part of that.
Telling herself she was just fine, she finished her suds-and-rinse routine and stepped out. As she was drying off, she glanced at her naked body in the mirror—and couldn’t remember the last time she had really looked at herself.
It wasn’t going to start tonight, she knew that much.
Dressed in jeans and sweatshirt, she went downstairs and checked the clock on the microwave. Twenty-three minutes left of peace.
On that note, if she could get dinner organized, that would cut down the conversation. Opening the refrigerator door, she—
“Oh . . . God.”
Everything had been reorganized in there, the shelves moved up or down to accommodate a new arrangement of milk cartons and juice bottles and leftover containers. Shutting the thing, she went over to her cupboards on a hunch.
Yup. Her plates were—okay, all the way across the room now. Spices were in a different cupboard. Silverware had been put in plastic slides in a drawer that had previously been for hardware.
Great. How could she possibly have known that setting the don’t-touch-my-stuff boundary required an asterisk that included cupboards, closets, and drawers?
As her temper mounted up and got ready to ride the range, she knew she had to get out of the house. There was only one option.