Mr. Right Next Door

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Annoying her would probably not help in that regard. He wondered if Harry had a parabolic mike on them and had picked up the entire conversation. Or if Harry read lips. Nick often suspected the man did. Or had some kind of mystical powers when it came to snooping. Harry knew way too much.
    Nick feared he was scowling again.
    Kim Cassidy was laughing.
    “I’m sorry,” she said. “You’re just…well, you’re a funny man.”
    “Funny as in strange?”
    “Maybe. I don’t know. I was thinking more amusing. I can’t tell if you’re being sarcastic all the time or just honest.”
    “I’ve been accused of having a pessimistic streak and a very dry sense of humor,” Nick admitted.
    Which amused her all the more.
    “Yes. That!” she said. “Are you annoyed with me or just stating the obvious? I can’t begin to tell.”
    Again, Nick had no idea what the right answer might be and he needed the right answer. He needed to stay here with her and find out what was going on with her and lover boy.
    “I’m trying not to be…annoying,” he said finally.
    “It doesn’t come easy to me some days.”
    She nodded. At least she wasn’t laughing now. She was looking at him like she might feel sorry for him, which he liked even less but probably suited his purpose better.
    What the hell was he supposed to say now?
    “Nice fountain.” It was all he could come up with.
    She was standing by the thing, after all. Sketching it, from what he could see of the pad of paper in her hand.
    “It’s my summer project,” she said, flipping through the sketchbook and then turning it to face him, showing him drawings of designs for the bottom of what looked like this fountain. “We’re going to design and install a mosaic on the bottom and maybe on the sidewalk around the edges of the fountain.”
    “Me and a bunch of teenagers who managed to flunk an introductory art class and were sentenced to summer school.”
    “They flunked an introductory art class?”
    Kim nodded, a hand resting on the outside wall of the fountain, assessing it with a critical eye.
    It was about fifteen feet in diameter, round and shallow, made of weathered concrete with something that looked like a cartoon fairy on top. Or maybe a mermaid. Who could tell? Nick wasn’t exactly an art connoisseur.
    “You can imagine, they’re less than enthusiastic about being in class with me this summer,” she said. “I thought being outside, having lots of mallets and being able to pound glass into little pieces might hold their attention, so I talked the city council and the school district into letting us redo the fountain.”
    Nick frowned, couldn’t help it. “Are any of them violent? Because being around them with mallets and broken glass—”
    “They’re kids who flunked art, not criminals,” she claimed. “Okay…some of them might have been in a few minor skirmishes, but nothing serious.”
    “Define nothing serious, ” he said.
    “Now you sound like my brother.”
    “Good for him. You should listen to him.”
    She got a stubborn look on her face. An annoyed look. And damned if it wasn’t adorable.
    “If I listened to my brother, I’d never go anywhere and I’d never do anything—”
    “Good for him,” Nick said again, then knew this was as good an opening as he was ever going to get. “Which reminds me, were you really attacked by pirates?”
    “No. Not really,” she claimed. “The ship I was on was attacked by pirates, but they didn’t even get on board and they didn’t get anywhere near me. Someone at the diner told you?”
    He nodded. It was true. They had. They’d told him fifteen different stories about her and the pirates before he’d lost count of them and given up on remembering them, sure there wasn’t the slightest bit of truth to any of them.
    Which he realized could work for him now.
    “Actually, they told me at least fifteen different versions of the story of you and the pirates,” he admitted.

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