“It’s the forensic document examiner,” I said, putting the call on speaker. “Hello?”
“This is Nisha Singh. About the certificate you sent me…”
“I had a quick look when it arrived yesterday and it’s…very unusual,” she said. Which definitely won understatement of the year. “At first, I thought it was a joke.”
Lars and I exchanged glances. “I know exactly what you mean.”
“I have other jobs ahead of yours, but I couldn’t resist taking a closer look,” she continued. “Whoever created the document appeared to have done a good job of simulating the effects of age on paper. I was curious to know how they did it. So I put it under the microscope then tried looking at it with different light sources, and ran some other tests.”
“It is fake, isn’t it?”
The woman took a deep breath and let it out slowly. “After a thorough examination, I’ve decided I’m unable to write a report on the document. I won’t be charging you for my time.”
“Wait,” I said. “Why?”
“While I cannot disprove the document’s authenticity, I also cannot confirm it given the details it contains.”
My mouth gaped. “You’re saying it’s real.”
“I’m saying I cannot help you, Miss Reid,” she said. “I’ve been in this business for almost thirty years and my reputation is important to me. Your property will be returned to you by messenger tomorrow morning. Goodbye.”
And the call ended.
* * *
My ass met the floor with a thump. Which hurt. As for Lars, who’d heard my end of the conversation, he just kept staring off at nothing. Half a can of beer later, I still didn’t know what to say. This was beyond unexpected. While my imagination might have been somewhat charmed by the idea of receiving missives from the future, this was something else entirely.
“We’ll find another expert,” Lars finally said.
“Because she’s clearly on drugs or something.”
“Really?” I asked. “She sounded pretty sober to me.”
“Then she’s lying.”
“Why would she do that?”
“I don’t know.” His laughter held a definite edge. “All I know is that it cannot be real. That’s impossible.”
“‘Sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.’”
His forehead furrowed. “What?”
“It’s a quote from Alice in Wonderland,” I said, climbing to my feet. “Did you know Lewis Carroll wrote books on mathematical logic?”
Even more furrows appeared. He’d be running out of forehead space soon.
“Never mind. Beer isn’t strong enough for this occasion.”
Hot on my heels, the man ranted on, “Be realistic, there’s no damn way it can be real. Otherwise, how the hell else would you explain it?”
A bottle of silver tequila, a bag of limes, some salt, and two shot glasses later, things felt much more under control. Or spiraling out of control. Sometimes it was hard to tell those two apart. I poured out the drinks and passed one to Lars.
“We’re doing shots?” he asked, sounding less than impressed.
“Yes.” I raised my glass. “To us.”
“That’s not funny.”
Oh, yeah. The citrus, salty goodness, and hit of alcohol made everything better. I leaned against the kitchen cupboard with a sigh of relief. Then I remembered the groceries still sitting on the dining table. Ice cream and frozen dinners didn’t do well in the heat.
“Fuck, fuck, fuck,” I said, by way of making conversation.
Lars watched in silence as I started unpacking and putting things away. Then he poured out another two shots of tequila. “I’m still not used to hearing you swear.”
“Your friend didn’t like it. He’d get this little line between his brows every time. But I don’t want to talk about him.” I sighed. “We may never be able to explain this.”
“And you’re okay with that?”
I shrugged and set the loaf of bread on the counter.
He picked up the knife to slice more lime. What was it about his hands that fascinated me so? Those thick calloused fingers and the muscles shifting in his arm as he moved. “I don’t accept that. There’s got to be an explanation. Something that makes sense.”
“Maybe we should talk to a psychic,” I said.
“I ask you to make sense and that’s your reply.”
I laughed. It was mostly not hysterical. Go me.
“Shut up for a minute and drink the tequila,” he said. “Please.”
I did as told. More alcohol was definitely the answer to this conundrum.
The big brooding male carried his beer to the dining room table and took a seat. He slumped his whole heart out. “Your cat is back.”
He nodded to the stray sitting in the open front doorway.
I grabbed a bowl and the milk. Then added some small pieces of leftover roast beef to another dish. A fine dinner. While she watched with intensity as I approached, she didn’t run away. She meowed as I set down the dishes.
Lars brushed his thumb back and forth over the smooth wooden tabletop. “I like fixing things.”
“That makes sense. It’s your job.”
“So I don’t like that this situation is so…”
“Yeah,” I agreed when he didn’t continue. This was a whole world of unwieldy.
“I don’t believe in aliens or ghosts or fairies or any of that shit.”
“Fair enough. It’s not like there’s any conclusive evidence that they exist.”
“Exactly,” he said. “And I wouldn’t betray a friend. That’s how I know it’s not real.”
“What you’re saying makes sense.”
“If you believe all that, then why the hell did you suggest a psychic?” He waved a hand around in an aggrieved fashion. Men. Such delicate creatures. So emotional.
“We’re back to that again?” I asked. “You know, I can support your beliefs without adhering to them. You have your way of thinking about things and I have mine. Guess I’m okay with not having all the answers. With seeking alternative points of view.”
He shook his head.
“How do you do that, frown and smile at the same time?”
“Your mouth is grumpy, but your eyes are amused.”
He just snorted.
I finished unpacking the groceries. “Aunt Susan always said that life was an adventure.”
Another grunt from him. He really was more animal than man sometimes.
“My point is, you’re still in control of yourself, Lars. You can walk out right now and never see me again. Never talk to me. Have absolutely nothing to do with me for the rest of your life,” I said. “And the universe or fate or whatever will not be able to stop you. That divorce certificate, fake or otherwise, doesn’t get to decide your future. Only you can do that.”
“I thought the whole point of fate was that it was predetermined.”
“Eh. I don’t believe that.”
He raised a brow. “No?”
“There is no fate but what we make.”
“Are you quoting Terminator?”
“I never claimed to be deep, just to have fantastic taste.” I opened the fridge and stared with wonder at the unusually well-stocked shelves. It was the little things in life that made me happy. I put on some music and started swaying. “We need snacks.”
Lars watched, amused. “Can I help?”
“Just sit there and look pretty. You’ve already worked your butt off today. Want another beer?”
I passed him a can and thought more deep thoughts about food. As you do after a few drinks. Out of the fridge and pantry came prosciutto, cheese, crackers, those cute little tomatoes, green grapes, and hummus. All of it was then artfully arranged on a pretty old cut glass dish. An excellent charcuterie board. At least, that’s what I told myself. And what better accompaniment than more tequila?
Once everything was on the table, I passed him his shot glass and lime. “We’re making a party of it, huh?” he asked.
“It’s not every day you find out you probably really are divorced.”
“My folks would be so disappointed,” he said, before downing the booze. “They’ve been happily married since the dawn of time.”
“Wow. What’s that like?”
He shrugged. “It’s just home.”
“Nice,” I said. “I find it interesting that I was the petitioner. But it doesn’t necessarily explain anything. Maybe I gave up. Maybe you were long gone. Who knows?”
“Thing is, we’re opposites.”
“Aren’t those supposed to attract?”
I scrunched up my nose. “Not sure if I entirely believe that. I mean, for example, what did you want to be when you grew up?”
“Rich.” And that was all he said.
“There you go.”
“Why?” he asked. “What did you want to be?”
“A princess in a fairy tale with a happy ending. But like one with great style. No pastel dresses.”
He just blinked.
“The way I figure it, you left me for another woman.”
His brows drew together. “You calling me a cheater?”
“All right. Fine, not that. How about we were fundamentally incompatible?”
“In what way?”
“Didn’t we just discuss this?” I asked.
“I’m still not convinced.”
“Um. We fought about money.”
“This is about me giving you shit the other day, isn’t it?” he asked. “About spending any money we found on fancy shoes. I already apologized for that. I learn from my mistakes. It won’t happen again.”
“What if in this hypothetical future we reached an agreement regarding what we each contribute to household expenses and what we do with the rest is our own business?”
“Sounds good,” he said.
“Okay. How about…religious differences?”
“Mom used to drag me to Sunday school, but that was a long time ago.”
I cut a piece of cheese and put it on a cracker. “I’m sort of an atheist. Probably. Haven’t really made up my mind.”
“So unless you suddenly decide to run off and join a cult, I’m not really seeing religious differences as being a big deal.”
“No,” I agreed. “What about children?”
“As in, do I want them?” He thought it over for a moment before nodding. “Yeah. You?”
“One or two would be okay.”
He tapped out a beat against the tabletop with his fingers. “This one couple I know is always arguing about family. Where they’re going to spend the holidays. Every year it’s a big fucking drama. She doesn’t get along with his mom and he doesn’t like her dad and then there’s the drunk uncle who got handsy at Thanksgiving.”
“Ugh. That would be awful. But your folks sound nice. Let’s go there.”
He gave me an amused smile. There was even a tipsy twinkle in his eye. Lord knows, I had a buzz going on. But tequila had definitely loosened Lars’s tongue.
“Mine suck,” I said. “Just take my word for it.”
“What else could it be?”
He pointed a finger at me. The rude man. “When we go out you’re always flirting with the waiter or bartender. It’s disrespectful and it drives me nuts.”
“That’s weirdly specific.”
He let his head fall back so he could stare at the ceiling. “Jane used to do that.”
“Yes,” he grumbled. “It’s why we broke up.”
“That’s sad. I’ll be sure to observe the boundary between friendly and flirty, so you don’t feel dismissed and or uncomfortable.”
He downed some more beer. “Thanks.”
Over on the doormat, the cat had finished her meal and was busy giving herself a bath.
“You spend too much time on your phone,” he said.
“A large part of that is my job so I’m afraid you’re going to have to suck it up. I will, however, do my best to minimize screen time whenever possible. Though I use it to read books too. You’re really going to have to suck this one up.”
“Fair enough.” He gave me a brief smile.
“What else? Oh, I’ve got one.” I dipped a little tomato in the hummus. “Household duties. You never do your share. You’re always forgetting to take the garbage out.”
“I’m on garbage duty? Okay. I’ll set an alarm so I don’t forget,” he said. “What are you doing when I’m taking out the trash and whatnot?”
“Ah. Loading and unloading the dishwasher. I can’t handle the chaotic style some people have, just shoving things in wherever. It’s not okay. There’s a system and it must be observed.”
“Fair enough. I’ll take the laundry. Then you won’t have to go down into the spooky basement or murder room or whatever you called it.”
“That’s very considerate of you. But will you separate the colors?”
“If it’s important to you then yes.”
“And you’d want to live here.”
He picked up a couple of grapes. “It’s your house so that’s up to you. What about cooking?”
“I like to cook.”
“That’s great because I like to eat. Why don’t I do the grocery shopping and the yard and car maintenance?” he asked. “That way mechanics won’t rip you off anymore.”
“I like to shop, too.”
“So we share the grocery shopping. Do it together or whatever.”
“Okay. Well, this is surprising,” I said, once I finished my mouthful. “I honestly thought it wouldn’t be that hard to identify the source of our relationship going boom. But here we are, a functioning fictional couple.”
“You finished that?” he asked, pointing at my can of beer. “You want another?”
“Of course, you know it’s still all bullshit.”
“I know.” I laughed. “But you have to admit our communication skills right now are stellar. Being pragmatic and problem solving everyday aspects of a relationship apparently works. Who could have guessed?”
“Easy when there’s no sex or emotions.”
“True.” I accepted the can and took a sip. “Thank you. But I made a decision a long time ago that I was never getting married. And that’s how I know on an intellectual level that the divorce certificate will never come to fruition. Though it continues to make for an intriguing mystery.”
“You’re never getting married?”
“That’s right. I’m not against relationships, obviously. But taking vows is a big no for me.”
“I always figured I’d be ready around forty, in five years’ time,” he said. “Give my brother and me a chance to establish the business.”
“If you’re with the right person then, of course.”
“What if you meet someone sooner?”
“It’s a matter of priorities.”
“Ouch. I hope whoever you settle on to be your life partner is understanding.” I wrinkled my nose. “I’m still sticking with never.”
Lars said nothing, just scratched at the stubble on his jawline. He had rough edges. An air of unkempt. While the Ex was as dapper as could be. He wore his handsome face like a mask to hide his narcissistic insides. It took me so long to see. There’s nothing quite like disappointing yourself. Of course, the Ex had never minded that I had no wish to be married. It suited him perfectly since he’d never been open to getting serious with me in the first place. Yet again, I’d been the girl they played with then put aside. Some men were the worst. And now I had this weird divorce certificate confirming I was right to distrust love and marriage all along. What a kicker.
“It had to be sex,” said Lars, out of nowhere.
“Sex?” Something about that word coming out of his mouth stalled my brain. Probably just the alcohol. “Wait. What?”
“We broke up due to sex. It’s the only thing left I can think of.”
“Right,” I drawled. It did make sense. “I mean, it was probably fine to start off with. It usually is in most relationships. It’s fun and new and thrilling. But then over time…”
For a moment he gazed at me, then said, “Guess we’ll never know.”
Excerpted from End of Story by Kylie Scott. Copyright © 2023 by Kylie Scott. Published by arrangement with Harlequin Books S.A.
New York Times bestselling sensation Kylie Scott’s sexy, smart and unconventional opposites-attract love story looks at what happens when fate refuses to give up on what’s meant to be…
When Susie Bowen inherits a charming fixer-upper from her aunt, she’s excited to start living her best HGTV life. But when she opens the door to find that her contractor is none other than her ex’s best friend, Lars—the same man who witnessed their humiliating public breakup six months ago—she isn’t exactly eager to have anyone around whose alliance is with the enemy. But beggars can’t be choosers, and the sooner the repairs are done, the sooner she can get back to embracing singledom.
Things go from awkward to unbelievable when Lars discovers a divorce certificate hidden in a wall and dated ten years in the future—with both their names on it. It couldn’t possibly be real…could it? As Susie and Lars work to unravel the document’s origins, the impossibility of a spark between them suddenly doesn’t seem so far-fetched. But would a relationship between them be doomed before it’s even begun?
Fantasy Magical Realism [Graydon House, On Sale: February 14, 2023, Paperback / e-Book, ISBN: 9781525804793 / eISBN: 9780369722157]
Kylie Scott is a New York Times and USA Today best-selling author. She was voted Australian Romance Writer of the year, 2013 & 2014, by the Australian Romance Writer’s Association and her books have been translated into eleven different languages. She is a long time fan of romance, rock music, and B-grade horror films. Based in Queensland, Australia with her two children and husband, she reads, writes and never dithers around on the internet.
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