Hot Mess (Love is Messy Duet #1)(2)

By: Emily Goodwin

“I love you to the moon and back, sweet pea,” I whisper in her ear. She looks up at me, golden brown hair falling into her eyes.

“I love you too, Mama,” she says back and hugs me. “Can I stay home with you? Please, Mama?”

My heart breaks. “What about your friends? Don’t you want to see them?”

“Oh, yeah. Friends!” She perks up and climbs off the couch, jibber-jabbering away about her friend Olivia from school. That’s my saving grace about this whole thing. The girl is a social butterfly, though I don’t know where she gets it from. I’m not exactly what you’d call a “people person” most days.

I let Pluto out into our small fenced-in backyard while we go through the process of dressing for the cool spring weather, putting on shoes and loading backpacks and lunches into the car. The girls start fighting over who gets to hold the stuffed monkey that was discarded on the floor of the car and forgotten about for weeks. Well, until now.

“Take turns,” I say, putting the monkey in Paige’s hands. “When Paige gets to school, you can hold it,” I tell Grace, too tired to tell her kindergarteners shouldn’t be bickering like this over a plush monkey.

I glance at the clock, cringing when I see that we should have left ten minutes ago. Dammit. I snap Paige in her carseat and check Grace’s seatbelt. Then I fly back into the house, let the dog in, grab my shit, and slide into the driver’s seat.

“You smell like coffee,” Grace says after we’ve backed out of the driveway and made it two miles down the street.

Dammit. I look down, tears threatening to form, and see the caramel-colored stain on my blouse. I can’t go into work like this, and I don’t want this stain to set in and ruin the shirt. I don’t have a choice, seeing there isn’t time to turn around. How the hell did I forget to change? An even better question might be how the hell did I forget my shirt was sopping wet? Am I that much of a hot mess having some sort of food or beverage spilled on me is the norm? This is going to be a long day. Hell, it’s already been a long week. And it’s only fucking Monday.

“Mommy?” Grace asks, leaning forward in her booster seat. “Are you okay?”

“Yeah, honey,” I say and blink back tears. “I’m okay.” I flick my gaze to the rearview mirror and see both of my precious daughters.

And I really do feel okay.

“Long night?” Jillian asks me as I rush into the office.

“You could say that again.” I set my purse down at my desk and hesitate before taking my coat off. I had left a black cardigan in the car at least a month ago. It was a little wrinkled and smelled like the stale Cheerios it was piled on, but it was better than my stained blouse. I buttoned it up the top and hoped no one would notice I didn’t have a cami on underneath. “Paige has been having nightmares again.” I sink into the rolling chair and fire up my computer, looking up at Jillian, who’s perched on the edge of my desk.

Her hair is brushed to perfection, falling over her shoulders in a wave of blonde curls, and her makeup is flawless. She’s been at Black Ink Press almost as long as I have, and we’ve become good friends as we bonded over books.

“I was up late reading my last submission. The book is great, by the way, a little slow in pacing, but nothing I can’t fix. As soon as I laid down, Paige woke up screaming about the man in her doorway. I know they say it’s a phase, but this is starting to creep me out.”

I unzip my coat and brace for Jillian to say something. Books are her first passion, and fashion is a close second. She’s always put together and doesn’t hesitate to point out those who aren’t. But in the year since my life fell apart, she’s gone soft on me. I kind of hate her for it…as much as I love her for it.

“You need to get that place blessed. I swear Russ is sending voodoo vibes your way to make you want to leave.”

I shake my head. “I wouldn’t put it past him.” Who got the house after we split caused more grief than anything. Well, other than who got the kids. He fought tooth and nail for them at first, and swore he’d be in their lives as much as possible. He did great for the first six months, and then he started dating again.

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