She took off her coat and dropped her purse on the couch. “I think we really need to talk.”
“I think so, too.” Jake pointed to a stack of papers by each plate. “I printed us out some lists.”
“Wash up first. Then I’ll tell you what it’s all about.”
Hannah made her way to the bathroom wondering if Jake had found yet another way to distract her from her purpose. When she came back, the plates were loaded with food. Her stomach grumbled but she pursed her lips, ready to stick to her guns.
“Sounds like someone’s hungry.”
“I skipped lunch.” She took her seat. He touched her hand on his way around the table and she bit her lip. She wouldn’t let him sweet talk her again, but if she was honest with herself, she craved his closeness. All the talk this afternoon about heading out to Colorado and leaving Jake behind had made her sad. What she had with him was special; she didn’t want to lose it.
“What’s the paperwork about?”
“Chores,” Jake said. “I listed every one I could think of around here. We both work full time, so it makes sense that we should divide them between us.”
“Really?” Hannah blinked, surprised. “I didn’t think you felt that way.”
“It’s not the way my folks do it. But it’s been pointed out to me that there’s more than one way to get things done. Why don’t we start by marking the ones we don’t mind doing. Then we’ll compare lists and divide up what’s left. We can shift things around until it’s fair.”
Hannah wasn’t sure why tears pricked her eyes again. She’d cried plenty at the clinic and she hadn’t thought she had any tears left. Blinking them back determinedly, she ran down the list and checked the chores that bothered her least. Vacuuming. Changing the sheets. Cooking. She loathed grocery shopping so she left that one blank. The same with scrubbing the toilets. But there were many things on the list that she really didn’t mind doing—not if Jake was pitching in, too.
“Want some wine?” She hadn’t notice him get up and grab the bottle.
“Better not,” she said.
“This looks good.” She indicated the meal before them. She stabbed a forkful of sausage and brought it to her mouth.
He grinned. “Breakfast for dinner is my favorite meal. Mom always made it when Dad was out of town, which wasn’t often. That made it even more special.”
Hannah pictured the four blond Matheson boys around the table with their mother and smiled, misting over again. What were they like when they were little? Sweet? Mischievous? She’d never heard one of them bad-talk Lisa. She must have been one hell of a mother. Must still be.
“You all right?” Jake said.
“Yeah. I’m emotional today,” Hannah said. “I was thinking about what you looked like when you were little.”
He cast her a curious glance. “I’ve got a picture. Want to see it?”
Hannah nodded. Jake was only gone a minute. He pounded up the stairs to his bedroom then back down again a few moments later and handed her a photograph in a silver frame. The Matheson family. It was a professional photograph and they were grouped together in a typical arrangement. Holt and Lisa in the center, the boys around them. Jake looked to be six or seven, his hair several shades fairer than it was now. Ned and Luke were slightly shorter than him and Rob was only about four, a tow-headed boy with his finger in his mouth.
“You all are adorable,” she said. “Your parents must have been so proud.” And indeed, they did look proud—and happy. Holt stood ramrod straight but he was smiling and his arm was around Lisa. His other hand rested on Jake’s shoulder. She imagined Jake felt the weight of Holt’s expectations every day of his life.
“Don’t be fooled,” Jake drawled. “If I recall correctly, Ned and Luke had a fistfight just moments before this was taken.”
“Still, you look sweet.”
He took the photograph back. “Family is everything, you know.”
“I guess.” She sounded dubious, even to herself. She cared for her parents and they cared for her, but they’d been wrapped up in their own troubles for so many years she didn’t spend much time with them. Maybe she should change that.
When they finished eating, they swapped their lists and haggled over the remainder of the chores. To her surprise, Jake didn’t balk at all at taking on the grocery shopping as long as she planned her lists ahead of time. “I’m not running back to the store because you forgot milk.” And she acquiesced to mopping the floors. “But you better start taking your shoes off when you come in the house.”
They decided to take turns with the toilets, and the rest of the chores sorted out easily. Jake hung the lists on the refrigerator door and decreed that the penalty for non-compliance was a kiss.
“None of the chores will get done,” Hannah protested.
Jake thought again. “Sex?”
“Whoever doesn’t do their chores gets a chore assigned to them by the other one,” Hannah countered.
“That’s not half as fun.”
“So now we know how we’ll get through the next semester.” Hannah became serious. “What about when I go to Colorado?”
“Don’t you worry about Colorado. We’ll figure that out when we get to it.”
Long after Hannah fell asleep that night, Jake lay awake. These past few days had been the best of his life. He woke to a beautiful, naked woman in his bed, talked and cuddled with her, ate a quick breakfast and left to get to his work, then came back after ten to twelve hours to find a delicious dinner on the table and a fiancée who was even more delicious when they climbed back into the sack.
He could tell Hannah appreciated the way he’d set up a system to split the chores, and he was thankful he’d thought to do it before his father’s harebrained plan to turn her into a clone of his mother had done too much damage. In fact, he was damn lucky she’d stuck around this long after the way Holt and Ned had treated her. He meant to show her he could change—that he could grow right along with her as she went to school and pursued a new career. He’d set up a meeting with the Mortimers for Friday night. Evan had already expressed interest in a joint venture. Jake hoped he could interest him in something long-term. When Jake had asked him on the phone how the house-hunting was going, he was secretly pleased when Evan sighed.