But business aside, I was also pretty sure that if Reese got angry enough, bad things might start happening. Stabby, shooty things. I based this on the impressive display of collectible knives and guns hanging over the mantel in the living room.
“Nice weapons,” I muttered, eyes wide. He laughed.
“Most of those were my dad’s,” he said. “Although I’ve picked up a few along the way myself, too.”
I turned to face him, offering my most businesslike smile.
“Can you show me around the house?” I asked. “I’d like to get a feel for the place, see how much work I have ahead of me. I have five hours before I need to pick up Jess.”
“She doing okay?”
Hmm … How to answer that? I met his gaze, wishing his eyes weren’t so bright and blue. It wasn’t fair for a man to have muscles like that and such gorgeous eyes. And those lips, all framed in just a scruff of beard …
“She’s angry at me and angry at the world,” I said finally. “And I said something stupid to hurt her feelings, which didn’t help things. Hard to know what direction we’re going.”
“You wanna talk about it?”
That startled me. I coughed, looking away. Why on earth would he offer to talk to me about Jessica? Second man to ask today, I realized, thinking back to Nate at lunch. Great. I was surrounded by sexy men and all they wanted to do was discuss my shitty parenting techniques.
“No. Let’s just get this done, okay?”
He raised a brow, holding up his hands in amused surrender.
“Works for me,” he said. “C’mon.”
We started by going up the narrow stairs to the second floor, which had three bedrooms and a bathroom. The place was old, a farmhouse built at least a hundred years ago, and wasn’t anything fancy—just comfortable and homey. Colorful rag rugs covered wooden floors, and two of the bedrooms obviously belonged to his daughters. The third held a guest bed.
I figured it said something positive about him that he hadn’t boxed up their things or redecorated when they moved out.
Guess nobody is all bad.
The homey vibe continued downstairs, despite the display of weaponry in the living room. The dining room held a china cabinet full of things that must’ve been Heather’s. Pictures covered the walls and there were even some plants, although they weren’t looking particularly healthy at the moment.
I wondered if his daughter had been the one to take care of them?
The plants weren’t the only things suffering from neglect. Dust had settled on most of the surfaces, water spots covered the faucets, and the kitchen garbage seemed to be full of paper plates and old carryout containers. A few unwashed glasses sat in the sink … no other evidence that any cooking had taken place in the past month.
“I take it you eat out a lot?”
“Busy life. Bedroom is back here.”
Don’t be a dork, I told myself. You’ve cleaned hundreds of strangers’ rooms over the years and it’s no big deal.
“I need to get my supplies,” I said, chickening out. I’d look at his bedroom later, after I got the rest of the house whipped into shape. Thankfully it shouldn’t be that hard a job—there might be a lot of dust, but the place wasn’t filthy. I got the impression he didn’t spend much time there at all, which had to limit the mess.
“You need help carrying anything?” he asked, trailing me to the door.
“Nope. In fact, it will be easier for me if you go away for a couple hours.”
He studied me speculatively, and I rolled my eyes.
“What do you think I’m going to do—steal your guns? I don’t even like guns. It’s going to be noisy and dusty and you’ll be in my way.”
Hayes gave a startled snort, and I realized he was holding back a laugh. Okay. That was better than him menacing me.
“I’ll be out in the shop,” he said. “Come find me if you have any questions.”
“Sure thing,” I replied, taking another quick look around.
The sooner I got this done the better.
Nearly three hours later I’d scrubbed, dusted, wiped, and washed the entire house. Not deep cleaning—no windows—but the surfaces were dirt-free and sanitized, the carpets were vacuumed, and the dust bunnies had been executed for crimes against humanity.
Now all that remained was the back addition where he slept, which I’d saved for last. Why? I have no idea. I guess it just felt too intimate, and I didn’t want to get any closer to him than I needed to. This was crazy, because I’d cleaned bedrooms through the years and never felt more than mild curiosity about their residents.
Get over yourself.
Walking into his room was like entering a different world. It was all new construction, so that was a big contrast right there, but the place was sparse and barren, too. Modern furniture, and not much of it. A dresser and an entertainment center with a giant flatscreen on it. Mirrored panels covering big double closet doors. A slider opened out the back, hung with heavy, dark curtains that weren’t quite black but weren’t quite anything else, either.
And the bed? Wowza.
Reese Hayes had a bed big enough for six people, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he’d had that many in here a time or two. The image of him lying back on it, naked and beckoning took my breath away for an instant. Down, hormones! Silky black sheets covered it, another modern touch deeply out of sync with the rest of the house. It felt like some sort of dark den, which I supposed it was. He’d obviously erased any hints that his wife had ever slept in here.
“Now that’s depressing,” I muttered softly to myself.
I jumped, adrenaline spiking as I whirled to find the man himself watching me. He leaned against the door frame, his big arms crossed, which flexed the muscles in a way that sent a thrill down my spine.
“Don’t sneak up on me like that!”
Hayes cocked a brow, and I realized I’d yelled at him.
“Sorry,” I said quickly, remembering how he’d responded to Jessica’s blowup. I didn’t have any reason to believe he’d be dangerous, at least not under these circumstances. That didn’t mean I should feel comfy and safe around him, though.
“I didn’t mean to scare you,” he said quietly. “But what did you mean by that comment?”
Love that deer-in-the-headlights feeling. I tried to think, come up with some kind of safe lie, but the truth came out instead and it was horrible.