I’ve added the Prologue for Do Overs to the Do Over page, under the Books section of the website, if you’d like to read it first. I’m adding the first chapter here. The book is written, but Chapter’s 2-18, need more work I think. It has to be edited after I finish, so it’s going to be maybe another two months or so.
Henri sat in his sister’s kitchen early Thursday morning. Three thirty in the morning early. He was due in to the construction site in about an hour. He’d been unable to sleep, so he’d gotten up, showered, and dressed, ready to start his day. It was anything to take his mind off of his troubles.
He’d grabbed his laptop, put on a pot of coffee, and so far all he’d done was stare out of the front window, into darkness, working to settle his mind and to keep a lid on his anger that no amount of talks with himself could dissolve.
Funny how things worked out, he thought, staring into the early morning darkness. This trip couldn’t have come at a better time. He’d needed a puzzle to solve, something to think about other than his problems, but mostly he’d needed distance.
He looked around his sister’s home, or the kitchen part of it at least. It was nice, and larger than he’d thought was needed for a single woman living alone. Counter and cabinets were against the wall, and an island for cooking stood between him and the cabinets. What wasn’t a surprise was the stuff that lay everywhere. He’d forgotten how untidy she could be. In a rush always and throwing whatever wherever was her way. A free spirit was what she’d been called growing up as she’d started doing whatever the hell her mind thought up to do. So very different from his path.
He’d fallen in line early, and mostly did what was expected of him. He had been no different from the others he’d grown up with. Like soldiers, they’d all fallen under the requirements of their families. Outside of his college and graduate school years, he’d grown into an outstanding family man, or so he thought. And just like that his anger was back, anger at his soon-to-be ex, but mostly anger with himself.
He could have, should have left his marriage sooner. He’d had his doubts throughout its entirety, but he’d chosen to ignore them, to push and plug on; too stubborn to quit, because that’s what he did, and all for nothing.
He sat back in his chair, blew out a breath, took a sip from his cup of coffee, working to put a lid on his anger again.
“Good morning, big brother,” Summer, his sister, said in greeting as she entered the kitchen, robe on, feet bare, hair in a tangle, and eyes barely open. “Couldn’t sleep?” she asked as she pulled a coffee cup for the cabinet.
She poured herself a cup, filling it to the brim—black, he noticed, watching her as she turned to face him, her back to the counter as if she needed it to hold her upright. His sister wasn’t an early riser.
“Got a lot on your mind, I bet,” she said.
“I do,” he said, watching her move towards the table.
“Mom called last night. Told me everything. So sorry about that,” she said, sliding into the seat across the table from him.
“God, it’s early,” she said, checking out the time on the oven behind her. “Didn’t you get in late last night?
Her brother was dressed. Of course he was: white dress shirt, black expensive slacks, his tie a combination of colors that spectacularly went with the rest of his ensemble. He was handsome, her brother; tall, head full of blond hair and he was sporting a beard and mustache combo these days. That was new, nothing huge but noticeable; gave him a roguish, urbane look, if one could combine those two characteristics. It was a good look for him, at any rate, not that he needed any help in the looks department.
“Yep,” he said.
“I don’t know how you do it . . . I’d be sick if it were me and someone had done what Karen did. God, what an awful woman, but this we knew. I’d probably have gotten the hell out of Dodge, too,” she said, and wished she’d kept her mouth shut. His expression was all anger now. “I talk too much, you know this, right? I’m sorry and after Mom made me promise not to talk about it at all, and here I am, chatting away. Sorry again.”
“I’m a big boy,” he said.
“I know, right, you are. Tough and smart, and fuck her, right?” Summer said.
“Yep,” Henri said, smiling a little at her comment.
“Parents. They’re worried about you, you know. But what’s new about that, right? This is a first for you though, huh? It’s usually me that everyone worries about. I’m sorry,” she said again, reaching for his hand.
He pulled it back, not up for sympathy from anyone just yet.
“Too soon to talk about it.”
“Yep,” he said.
“Fine. I got you. I’ll give you some time, a month, maybe two, and then it’s all about the I-told-you-so. Let’s be honest, you didn’t really love her anyway, not in your heart of hearts. You know this and I know this,” she said, meeting his eyes. “But even with that, and as much as I detested Karen, I didn’t want this for you.”
“It’s detest now, is it,” he said, offering up another small smile, even allowing her to place her hand over his this time. “Thanks. But she’s not the only reason I’m here.”
“Uh-oh? That sounds ominous,” she said, looking into the cup of coffee that she’d yet to take a sip from. It was too early for coffee, too early for anything but sleep, she thought. “Let me guess, you’re here to check in on me too. Dad or you have a problem with my work. You’re here to either take over and fix whatever needs fixing or make me fix it, right?” she asked, meeting his eyes.
“You’ve hired a superintendent to do your job, someone from the outside, that is attempting to steal from us,” he said.
“What? How do you know this?” she asked, meeting his gaze. “You just do,” she answered for him. “I had my reasons. I needed help and I was starting to have suspicions, too, recently,” she said to her brother’s look of derision.
“You should have said something then,” he said.
“I know, I know, and okay, I should have. I was checking into it. I was getting my ducks in a row. I was prepared to handle it, once I had proof.”
“And how long was that going to take?” he asked.
She shrugged her shoulders and yawned.
“I’m going to fire him this morning,” Henri said.
“Okay then, that sounds about right. I’ve been busy is all I can say in my defense. Performed my due diligence a little too late it seems,” she said, looking around her kitchen. “But all’s well that ends well, right? You’re here to take care of it and work it all out.”
He didn’t say anything to that and it was quiet between them for a few.
“Do you need anything else from me before you leave?” she asked.
“No. I don’t think so.”
“Good, ’cause I’m going back to bed, now that the cavalry has arrived. I’d say make yourself at home, but I can see that you already have.” She looked at his laptop on the table.
“My being here, doing this, is not a mark against you,” he said.
“I didn’t think it was. I know what I’m doing, just in over my head quicker than I thought . . . my business and all,” she said, meeting his eyes again.
“What business?” he asked.
“I’ll tell you later and I’m in no way hurt that you’re here to take over, so don’t worry,” she said, while reaching across the table to run her hand through his hair. She received the same look he’d given her as a kid when she touched him or teased. “Really, you don’t know how happy your being here makes me. Away from that Karen first and foremost is a good thing, but for other reasons too. Reasons that I’ll explain later, at the office, after I wake up for the second time. Much later.” She smiled then yawned again.
She looked down at her untouched coffee. “I won’t be needing this anymore.” She stood up. “See you at the office, later.” She moved to the sink to drop off her coffee cup.
He remained seated, following her figure as she cleared the door. He was glad to be here too, he thought again, finding unexpected comfort in being with his sister. Easy, breezy Summer, the nickname he given to her when they were much younger. It matched up perfectly with her personality. Nothing got her down for long, and she was a breath of fresh air to his beleaguered soul.
He checked his watch. He’d better get moving. He had a superintendent to fire and he was so looking forward to it. This Willis Wilson person would be an unwitting recipient and somewhat appropriate person to vent some of his anger upon. He gathered his laptop and keys, poured the remains of his coffee into the sink, and locked Summer’s front door behind him. He was ready to start the day, to move his life in a different direction, and to leave his past behind.
Clarke pulled her jeep into the parking lot in front of the construction office. A nondescript single-wide mobile home, it was the local office for Novak Construction in Austin, Texas, the privately-owned family business of her dear friend—and newly minted business partner—Summer Novak.
Field Superintendent had been Summer’s position before she’d gone and hired, without doing the requisite homework, one Willis Wilson. As it turned out, Mr. Wilson had a history, and not a very good one. That’s what Clarke’s background check had determined, much later than was good. But better late than never, she guessed.
As a private investigator, running background checks was one among the many things she did and the reason she was here today to meet with Summer. Willis Wilson had to go, the sooner the better.
Of course, Summer’s little car was nowhere to be found, which wasn’t that much of a surprise, Clarke thought, scanning the parking area as she drove closer to the office. Summer had always struggled with getting herself to things on time for as long as Clarke had known her. It was one of the reasons she’d wanted someone to fill in for her. Construction site work tended to commence early.
She didn’t see Willis’s truck either, amidst the other trucks and cars. Just a truck, but a really nice one. A big, black, and shiny mofo, complete with extended cab and a huge bed in the back. It had one of those self-adhesive signs on the side that read Novak Construction.
Someone had been sent here from Dallas, the headquarters, to put an end to Willis’s employment and maybe even Summer’s. Probably not Summer’s. Clarke was sure the inability to be fired had to be one of the many perks of being the CEO’s daughter. If the family couldn’t have permanent job security, then who could? she thought, parking beside the truck. She grabbed her purse and her laptop, and it was up the metal steps of the office, her heels clanging an early announcement of her arrival.
She opened the door and stepped inside, scanning for her friend. Nope, neither Summer nor Willis Wilson were present, just a fine-looking man standing behind the desk, staring at her. He was something to see, dressed professionally in a white shirt, tie and dark slacks that settled quite nicely around lean hips, with very strong-looking hands resting on those hips.
Blond, thick head of hair, cut somewhere in between short and medium length, added with a little bit of blond growth on the bottom of his chin—oh, and a little around the sides of his face, and above his lip. A really nice beard and mustache combination, not too thick, she thought, peering closer at it and him. She hated those lumberjack, long and hairy ones. She preferred his, and him, the sleek and polished, not-too-much-facial-hair type. It was sexy on him. An overall well-packaged male, whoever this was.
“What can I do for you?” Henri said, interrupting her perusal. His mouth had tightened a little there at the end, and his words sounded a little terse to her ears. He was staring into her eyes—and okay, those were nice too: a pretty blue, and intense, without a hint of welcome. Nope, his face remained one big mask of annoyance. She smiled anyway, letting it roll off her back. Being sent to clean up Willis’s mess would put anyone in a sour mood, she bet.
“I’m here for a meeting with Summer Novak,” she said, extending her hand. He shook it quickly and released it just as quickly.
“Summer is my sister,” he said.
“Oh, she didn’t tell me you’d be here. Henri, right? Is she not coming? I didn’t check my phone. I must have missed her text,” Clarke said, trying not to stare as he was even more gorgeous up close. He smelled great too. The clean scent of his cologne floated softly over her nostrils. Was he married? she wondered, ruffling through her brain, trying to remember if Summer had ever mentioned his marital state. She thought maybe . . .
“I wouldn’t know,” he said, bringing Clarke’s gaze to his again.
“Oh, okay, it’ll only take me a second to check,” she said, opening her purse to search.
“What business do you have with my sister?” he asked, watching her ruffle through her purse.
“I’m a private investigator, hired to run background checks on her most recent employee,” she said.
“Is that so,” he said, and that sounded like sarcasm. And had his eye color changed? His gaze seemed icy now, and she was back trying to remember if Summer had said anything more about him, anything that might explain his sour mood.
His phone rang, and he pulled it from his back pant pocket, keeping his gaze on her like she needed to be watched, like if he didn’t, she might steal something. What the hell was up with him? He turned his attention to the phone still ringing in his hand. He stood staring at it for a second as if deciding whether or not to answer it.
“What!” he said into it. Rather rudely, Clarke thought, watching him put it against his ear. He walked past her then, and out the door, allowing it to slam behind him. Talk about rude.
What the hell, she thought again, continuing to search for her cell, first to check for any incoming texts—there were none—and secondly to call Summer.
She put the phone to her ear, listening to it ring and ring, and roll over to voice mail. “What’s up with your brother? You didn’t tell me he was coming, did you? Call me?” she said, disconnecting in a hurry in case he returned. She posed the same question in a text in case Summer had her phone’s volume turned off.
Okay, now what? she thought, looking around the office, debating where to sit, ’cause there was no way she was leaving, not until she and Fine Rude Boy talked.
One of the first tasks Summer had assigned herself was to change the look of the office from what she called “Dull Man’s Dominion” to modern and funky, which meant the addition of red, blue, and neon green colors splashed on the tops of oddly-shaped furniture.
Boring with a hint of color was the way Clarke viewed her friend’s foray into office remodeling. It would take more than color to turn this place into something other than a rectangular box of an office, she mused, looking around the space again. The entry put you in the middle of the office. Two beanbaggy chairs, one red and one blue, the kind that belonged in a sixties movie, sat in front of a desk to the right.
Clarke usually avoided sitting them when at all possible, preferring to sit at the conference table with a red bean-shaped top located to the left of the door. She hadn’t known of Summer’s penchant for bean-shaped furniture until now, but whatever. The table seated six comfortably, and unlike the bags that sat in front of the desk, these actually had legs underneath them.
Nothing much on the walls to the left beyond the standard-issue whiteboards, filled with papers, plans, and permits on all but one.
Maybe she should move to the table and not give Fine Rude Boy any say in the matter. Or she could wait and see what the he wanted to do. She checked her phone again, sent a second text, and waited for either Summer to respond or him to return, whichever came first.
“What?” Henri said, shouting into the phone again, as his first inquiry had gone unanswered. It was his soon-to-be ex-wife on the other end, adding to his already foul mood. It wasn’t the first time she’d called since the hospital, just the first time he’d answered.
“Henri?” she said, tentative.
“Who else would it be?” he said tersely.
It was quiet for a few minutes.
“I’m sorry,” she said, starting to cry. “I didn’t mean for this to happen.” That should have been comforting, an appeasement of sorts. Instead it made him angrier, made him feel like an even bigger fool.
“But it did,” he said.
“Can we talk about it?”
“What’s there to talk about?”
“What we mean to each other.”
“What we meant to each other before this, you mean?” he said. Then it was more silence, with her crying into the phone. He sighed. “What choice did I have? What choice did you leave me?”
“We always have a choice. We can work this out.”
“You and I back then were . . . you know how we were. It hasn’t always been easy for us, you know that,” she said, sounding tired.
“You’re right. It has been tough, but even with that, I didn’t cheat. So there will be no talking, or trying to find a way to work through this, at least not for me. Cheating means you were only concerned with you. Why would I want that back?”
“It means we have problems too.”
“No excuses, whatever you think of, to try and justify what you did. I don’t care. I just want out.”
“What am I supposed to do now? I don’t have a job. I quit working ’cause you wanted a wife that stayed home,” she said, crying still.
“You should have thought about that before . . . and you wanted to stop working too, it wasn’t just me. And why am I doing this, arguing with you,” he said.
“I don’t want to argue either. I hurt you. I can see that. Give me a chance. Give us a chance. We can work this out. I know you love me as I love you.”
“I’ve hanging up now. I’m filing for divorce. My attorney is submitting the paperwork this morning. I suggest you find yourself a lawyer, or prepare to represent yourself, whatever. And Karen?” he said, wanting to make sure he had her attention.
“Yes?” she said.
“Don’t call me again,” he said, listening as she continued to cry.
“It’s not all my fault and you know it. So don’t blame your crap on me. You played a part in this, too.”
“Okay, let’s say I did . . .” He started into his defense, then thought better of it, and said instead, “You know what, it doesn’t matter. Just don’t call me again.” He disconnected.
He took a deep breath and stared off in the distance, trying to corral his emotions, willing himself calm. He had no idea how long he’d stood there, staring out over the parking lot, but eventually he became aware of the cars parked in the lot in front of him, one auto in particular—a black jeep—and he remembered there was someone waiting inside the office.
The inept private investigator his sister had hired to run background checks, the one Willis Wilson had gotten past. She was a perfect target for some of his leftover anger, he mused. He slid his phone into his pocket and headed back inside.
Clarke turned at the sound of the door slamming against its frame fifteen minutes later. He was back, and angrier than when he left, Clarke thought. His stride, the way he held himself: all signs of some serious anger. Oh, and he allowed the door to slam again, without looking back, like he meant to do it. He met her eyes, and yes, this was one seriously angry dude. She’d lived with her own anger long enough to recognize it when she saw it.
“Summer and I usually work at the table if you want to continue,” she said, pointing in the direction of the table and chairs. “Summer thought these were cute, which, as I’m sure you know, is hugely important to her.” She chuckled, hoping to lighten the mood.
“Here’s good for me,” he said, pointing to the chairs in front of the desk, moving around to take a seat in the nice standard chair sitting behind it.
Okay, this would be work, this talking to him ’cause that sounded a whole lot like snarky, she thought. “Of course, ’cause you’re the one that’s important here,” she said, pleased when his gaze snapped around to collide with hers.
She was no pushover, Henri thought, which was good. He wouldn’t feel one ounce of remorse afterward. He sat back in his chair and watched as she took a seat in that red ridiculous excuse for a chair in front of the desk. How had Summer thought them a good idea?
He watched her open her purse and remove her laptop. She placed it on her thighs, or it was more she tried to place it on her thighs. It slid down into her lap. He watched her place it on her knees again, the top of them, and watched as it slipped back into her lap. It was those high-heeled boots on her feet, that were the source of her problem; good for showing off the shapeliness of her legs. And yeah, he’d noticed, as he’d noticed how pretty she was. She wore her hair short, loosely curling around and framing a very pretty brown heart-shaped face and if he wasn’t so angry, he’d have taken pity on her. Instead, he sat back and watched as the laptop slid down into her lap for the second time.
She looked up then, hoping he would see her dilemma and offer to move to the table. He did not, just continued to sit there behind his desk, staring at her like she was some sort of alien being.
“I’m not sure how much Summer has told you about me,” she said.
“Nothing,” he said.
“Okay then. She asked me to run a background check for someone she’d hired recently,” she said, meeting his eyes, trying to come off as professional in this crazy-assed chair. It was good for fun, but hard to look anything other than silly sitting in it.
“I had to fire the superintendent this morning. Was he an example of the kind of background checks you run?” he asked, and there was no doubting his sarcasm this time.
“Excuse me?” she said, meeting his eyes, totally caught off-guard by the question and the attitude behind it.
“The way I see it, you or your company owes us for all that Willis Wilson has stolen. All of the damage he’s done so far,” he said.
“You’re kidding me, right?” she said, her eyes locked with his still, her temper on the rise.
“Does it sound like I’m kidding?” he asked.
She smiled. Not a complete smile, just a thinning of her mouth into a straight line. She closed her laptop and slid it back into her purse.
“You know what? I’m going to give you a pass today, ’cause I don’t know you, and you don’t know me and I can see that something has you upset. I’m going to ignore your anger and your snarky attitude, ’cause your sister is a good friend of mine and she would not want me to be ugly to the big brother she thinks so highly of. You can thank me later for that little bit of grace I’m extending to you.” She stood up.
“And,” she said, pausing to give that word time to sink in, “any work I’ve done for your sister was done as a favor. While I could use the work, I’m done putting up with asshole men in my life. I’ll come back when your sister returns.”
“I’m her replacement, come to make sure the fuck-ups end,” he said. He was nowhere near ready to give in yet, and was irritated that she wasn’t taking the bait. He was so spoiling for a fight.
Clarke just stared at him, not sure what to do with what he’d just said. She looked away and then it was back to face him again. “Did you just call me a fuck-up?” she asked, taking a step closer to the desk, then moving around it until she stood beside him, her temper having pushed her. She was not at all sure what she would do now that she was here, but she was refusing to back down.
The old Clarke had been such an even-tempered person, but that Clarke had gotten the short end of the marriage stick, and left in her place was the more aggressive, contesting-all-evil Clarke, who stood staring down at him now.
He stood up then. God, what she wouldn’t give to be even an inch taller, she thought. She came to the top of his chest, and that was with her heels. Hard to be intimidating to anyone but little kids and babies.
The door opened, and they both turned to look.
“Hey, what’s going on?” Summer asked, entering the office, her smile slipping a little as she moved her gaze between the two of them. “Clarke, so sorry. I got your text too late. You’ve met my brother Henri, I see. He arrived last night, a surprise. He was up at three thirty this morning, ready for work. Who does that? And you know I’m not an early riser. Anyway, it put me off schedule, and I forgot about anything other than getting back to sleep after that. Plus, you know me, scatterbrain on a good day.” And what the hell had she walked into, she wondered.
Lots of anger radiated off the both of them, a lit match was all that was needed and this place would go up in flames at the heat between them, she thought. Luckily she’d arrived, apparently just in the nick of time, too. Not that she was worried. Henri wouldn’t hurt her friend, or at least the old Henri wouldn’t have. Who knew what this new, hurt, angry Henri would do. Clarke was the same: not as newly divorced, but the same angry-at-the-world or at those carrying the male chromosome.
“Clarke and I have known each other since high school,” Summer said, looking at her brother as she reached them and tried to squeeze herself between the two of them It was enough, as both of them took a step backward.
Summer was the same height, was the same tall, had the same blond coloring, the same pretty as her brother, Clarke noted.
“Clarke moved here after her divorce, same as you,” Summer said, winking at him now, continuing with the cheerful.
“I fired the superintendent, whom I assumed she checked out,” he said, pointing to Clarke now. “If that’s an example of her work, then we are better off without her.”
“Don’t worry. I’m leaving,” Clarke said, staring at him. Henri shot her a quick glance, a dismissive one, which only fueled her anger. It was a good thing she was leaving or else she’d do something stupid, like punch him in the mouth.
“Wilson stopped in on a day that was going to hell in a hand basket for me. I was running late as I always do. He helped me get through it so I hired him on the spot. Not my best decision, but I needed help. This is not Clarke’s fault. I asked her to check him out, but only after the fact. We were meeting today to discuss her findings. Unfortunately I overslept, ’cause again I was up at three thirty in the morning with someone,” Summer said, pointing at Henri.
She turned to face Clarke again. “It’s not your fault, Clarke. You were a bit unlucky in running into my brother this morning, that’s all. His attorney is filing his divorce papers with the court this morning, serving his soon-to-be ex-wife too, that’s what our mother told me, and the reason he’s so angry. He and my future ex-sister-in-law were expecting a baby. The whole family’s been expecting this baby, excited for months—the first grandchild and all—and anyways, he walks into the hospital thinking he’s going to get a new son, and he does, but this one’s a dark brown color, and neither he nor my soon-to-be ex-sister-in-law are brown. Both Caucasians, so you can imagine his surprise.”
“Not another word from you, Summer,” Henri said.
His mouth was a thin line now, Clarke thought, watching him. She was surprised that any words had gotten past his teeth, so tightly locked together. Were those sparks shooting from his eyes? she wondered, watching them focus on his sister now.
“It’s okay,” Summer said, waving him away. “So maybe we can cut him a little slack. You’ve been there, not like that, but through another version of cheating. It’s all the same hurt, does the same damage, whatever the circumstances,” she said, gazing into her friend’s eyes.
Turning back to Henri, Summer said, “Why don’t we all have a seat and talk this out, like adults?” She was playing the role of peacekeeper until she looked down at Clarke’s boots. “Where did you get those? Oh gosh. They’re beautiful!” she squealed, clapping her hands together.
“What?” Clarke asked, nonplussed.
“You always find the most perfect shoes. It makes me crazy. I have so much trouble finding them and you . . . Oh gosh, I adore those. Don’t you, Henri? Aren’t they perfect?” she said, looking at her brother now. “Even you have to admit how cute those boots are. Come on, everyone, let’s have a seat.” She put her arm through Clarke’s and moved her back around to the other side of the desk.
“Henri wanted out of town, you can understand why, right, the baby and all that divorce business? But he found out about Willis Wilson too, before we did. I don’t know how, but he’s pretty smart, so I’m not at all surprised,” Summer said, in full-out chatty mode now. “He’s also here to check on me, not that it’s sneaky or anything. Think you could forgive his rudeness this morning? He’s not usually this way. Actually, he’s a very nice guy.” She looked over her shoulder at her brother again as she tried to lead Clarke over to the conference table.
“He owes me an apology. Divorce or not,” Clarke said, unmovable from her spot, back in front of the desk now. “He either gives me one or I am out.”
“Out works for me,” Henri said, staring back at her, not sure why he wanted to provoke this one, but he did.
“Just going to stick with playing the dick, huh?” Clarke said, staring back at him. “Fine then.” She meant it.
“Hey, how about we grab some lunch instead? I don’t want you to leave angry,” Summer said, moving toward her friend again.
“It’s not you that I have a problem with,” Clarke said, turning to face her. “I’m not in the best of moods now anyway, you can see that.” Her voice softened as she met her friend’s gaze. “I have a full schedule today, too.”
“Sure, later, but please accept my apology on behalf of my brother. He’s wrong, he just doesn’t know it yet,” Summer said.
“Thanks,” Clarke said, refusing to look in Henri’s direction again. She turned on her heel and marched over to the door.
Angry, not so much anymore, Henri thought, feeling it dissolve with every loud footfall from Clarke, moving her short and shapely body out of his view. Yeah, he’d noticed it, in spite of his anger. Very pretty, he thought again. The slam of the door was the period in her exit. She was gone. He blew out a breath and turned to face his sister.