Mr. Right Next Door

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“It was all very confusing and I’d swear most of their stories consisted of nothing but outlandish lies.”
    “Small-town living at it’s best,” she said.
    “So do I get to hear the truth? From you? Because I figure there must be some shred of truth to it and, who knows, we might all need to be on the lookout for pirates one day?”
    “You’re making fun of me—”
    “No. Really. I mean, if it happened to you, it could happen to anyone, right? I could get attacked by pirates tomorrow—”
    “In Magnolia Falls, Georgia—”
    “And I wouldn’t know what to do. And you’d feel guilty about it,” Nick said, for a moment forgetting himself and talking just for the sake of arguing with her, because, well, he liked it. “I mean, look how badly I handled being attacked by that vicious cat with the three-inch claws.”
    “Cleo doesn’t have a vicious bone in her body. She’s just overly friendly.”
    “And free and easy in applying her claws to my lap. There’s no telling what kind of injuries I sustained.”
    “To go along with your bad shoulder, knee and back?”
    “There is nothing wrong with my back,” he said.
    Did she really think he was old and falling apart? Not that he should care.
    Or had he reached that hideous state Harry had described?
    Invisible to women of a certain age?
    Nick cringed.
    Not that he made a habit of chasing after women half—well, not exactly half his age—two-thirds his age?
    No, she wasn’t two-thirds his age.
    Women between half and two-thirds of his age?
    Which sounded every bit as pathetic as chasing after women half his age.
    “You looked happy for just a moment,” she said.
    Nick shrugged. “What can I say? I have my moments.”
    “That’s all? Moments of happiness.”
    At this point she looked as if she actually cared. Or maybe just felt sorry for him. Who could tell? And what did it matter anyway?
    Nick was happy running around, chasing criminals, righting wrongs. He’d do that for as long as he could and when he couldn’t anymore…Well, he’d worry about it when the time came.
    He’d leave. Kim would be a little wiser, a little sadder, and life would go on. She’d find someone who wasn’t a criminal and she’d be fine staying right here in her little town, listening to gossip at the diner and being looked after by her older brother, the cop, and fussed over by her sisters.
    Nothing to worry about here.
    “You know, since you’re here, you could help me for a moment, if it’s not too much trouble. I need to take some measurements of the fountain, so the class and I can make design plans.” She held up a tape measure and waited.
    She thought he couldn’t handle holding on to one end of a tape measure?
    What did she think? That he was going to collapse from standing up too long in the sun?
    Oh, hell.
    How bad did he look?
    “I think I can manage,” he said, hoping he didn’t sound too sarcastic, too disgusted or too grumpy.
    Must not have managed, because she sighed heavily. “I just thought…. you know…. Leaning over the edge and into the water to measure the work space we have on the bottom of the fountain. I thought it might aggravate your knee or maybe your shoulder—”
    “And since I am practically on death’s door—”
    “That’s not what I said. Not at all. I was just concerned—”
    “Give me the damned tape measure,” he said, holding out his hand.
    She plopped it down on his palm none too gently.
    “Where to?”
    “Right where you are is fine,” she said.
    So he didn’t have to be troubled with moving, he realized, when she grabbed the end of the tape measure and pulled it along with herself as she walked to the other side of the fountain.
    Harry must be about to bust a gut laughing, if he’d heard that.
    Nick shook his head and tried not to scowl.
    Scary Nick. Scary Nick.
    No good for getting the woman to talk to him.
    He obediently held his end of the tape measure as instructed. Inside the fountain and along its

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