and disconnected while Nick stared at the receiver, realizing the only female truly in his life at the moment was Suzette.
Fred let out an excited yip and startled Steph. “What’s up with you?” The doorbell rang, answering her question. Curious, Steph peeked out the window. No car in the driveway or in front. She shrugged and strode to the door, expecting a neighbor child soliciting for their school’s fundraiser. She swung it open and faltered. “Hi.” His broad grin caught her by surprise. “Just dropped by to see how you’re fairing.” As always, her pulse skipped up her arm, and she pushed open the screen. “Would you like to come in?” He strode in without a second thought, and she ushered him into the living room. Steph eyed him a second. “You’re not here with a subpoena, are you?” “No subpoena.” He gave her a wink. “Martin’s late, and I have to run some errands so I need to let Suzette out for a run before she tears up the house.” She motioned for him to sit, and he settled into the easy chair. Today he looked amazing. He wore a sport coat—plaid in shades of brown—with khaki pants, dressier than usual, and she couldn’t take her eyes off him. “You’re not forgetting a meeting with someone, are you?” A faint flush appeared on his cheeks. “Not today. I checked my calendar.” He folded his hands between his knees, and Fred took it as an invitation to sniff his fingers. Nick let him, then unfolded his hands to pet Fred. “If he’s bothering you, he’ll stop if I tell him.” “He’s fine.” He continued stroking Fred’s coat. The dog appeared in ecstasy. “Suzette should be this calm.” “She would with obedience training.” She studied his face, dark eyes, almost bitter chocolate, canopied by a sweep of dark brows and hair the color of cordovan leather. When his gaze caught hers, her pulse skipped. Nick tilted his head. “She needs it.” He released a lengthy breath. “I doubt if Martin would bother.” She rolled her eyes, agreeing. “I came to look at the fence and see what we could do.” He gave Fred’s head another tousle and rose. “But Fred hasn’t dug since that day. Hopefully, I won’t have any more conflicts with your brother.” He grinned and motioned toward the backyard. “Let’s take a look anyway.” Agreeing was easier. She enjoyed his company. Steph led him to the kitchen, then through the sliding door to the patio, hoping whatever he came up with wouldn’t cost a fortune. Nick headed to the fence. It looked different than when she’d met him two weeks earlier. The stubbled earth now sprouted colorful tulips and golden daffodils along the chain links. Since that day her life had colored as brightly. Nick probed the ground with a piece of tree limb he’d found in the yard. “Bricks or concrete might do it. Let me see what I can do.” He eyed his brother’s yard, then strode along the fence to the back. Steph assumed he was looking for places Fred had dug, but she knew her dog. Suzette had stirred up Fred that day just as Nick had affected her. The admission made her nervous. She gazed at Nick’s broad shoulders as he ambled along the fence. His dark hair picked up a sheen from the sunlight, and she pictured his dark brows arching above his glinting eyes. The man lifted her up like no one had in years. Doug’s death had weighted her with guilt. What could she have done to cause him to take his own life? What could she have done to save him? Those questions had darkened her life for too long. Today she felt buoyant. Hopeful. Even though Nick could easily walk out of her life tomorrow, he’d helped her make strides. She knew now that if she could convince herself she had nothing to do with Doug’s death, she could find happiness again. “How about a high brick wall?” Nick turned with a laugh just as Fred started barking. Steph spun around. The dog scampered across the yard, chasing a squirrel who dashed