“Okay,” Keane said, pulling Willa inside before turning to Sass. “I’m sure you have to go back to work now.”
Sass smiled. “Yes, with you. We’re not done with our morning meeting. We were just getting to the why you’ve been ignoring phone calls, texts, and emails, but I’m guessing the reason just showed up.”
Keane pointed down the hall. “I’ll be there in a minute.”
“Oh, don’t postpone a meeting for my sake,” Willa said hurriedly. “You’re busy. I’m just going to go—”
Keane grabbed her hand. “Wait. It’ll only take me a minute to kill Sass—”
“If I had a dime for every time he said that,” Sass quipped.
Keane didn’t take his eyes off Willa. “Please?” he added quietly and was relieved when she nodded. He then turned to Sass. She was still smiling at him, the kind of smile that said she was getting a lot of mileage out of this. Reluctantly letting go of Willa, he nodded at Sass to follow him.
“Don’t start,” he warned as they moved down the hall, hopefully out of hearing range. “I know damn well that if it’d been an emergency, you’d have let me know. You were snooping just now because I’m never late. I don’t pay you to snoop, Sass, so get your ass to work.”
She kept grinning.
“Don’t pay you to grin at me either.”
“Well, honestly,” a woman said. “That’s no way to talk to the people you care about.”
Keane glanced over into what would eventually be the dining room but at the moment was a blueprint room. Meaning there were several pairs of sawhorses set up with large planks of plywood as makeshift tables. Covering these tables were the blueprints of the building.
The woman was standing amongst the sawhorses, glaring at him.
He blew out a sigh. “Mom, it’s called sarcasm. That’s how we show we care.”
“Well, it’s hurtful,” she said. “I taught you better than that.”
No, actually, what she’d taught him was to show no feelings at all. He looked at Sass, who’d clearly let his mom in.
Sass smiled. “Meet the emergency.”
Keane turned back to his mom. She’d not stopped by any of his jobs for a long time, and in fact, they’d talked just last month, so . . . “What’s wrong?”
His mom straightened and came toward him. If she noticed his bare feet or the fact that he was still carrying a cat carrier because Sass hadn’t taken it from him, she gave no indication.
“I wanted to tell you that we’re all done with the rental,” she said. “Which I assume you know because you deposited money into our account. We don’t want money from you, Keane. That wasn’t part of the deal.”
His parents had both retired two years ago. And because they’d assumed they were the smartest people they knew, they refused his advice for years regarding getting a financial planner. So when they’d invested their funds with a “friend who knows what he’s doing” and that friend took off with all their money, they hadn’t wanted to admit it.
In fact, Keane had only found all this out when he’d inadvertently learned from a mutual acquaintance that they’d gotten an eviction notice. They’d finally admitted that they were broke and because of that might soon be homeless, but they still refused to take money from him.
So he’d been forced to let them “work” for him instead. He’d put them up in an apartment building he owned in South Beach. In return they insisted on helping him renovate the place in lieu of paying rent. Just until they got on their feet.
It’d been a serious pain in his ass because he and his mom had butted heads on every single renovation the building had required.
But at least they weren’t in the streets. “You could have just called me,” he said.
His mother nodded. “I did. Your admin said you weren’t taking calls and suggested I stop by.”
Sass slid him a . . . well, sassy look. He returned the volley with a “you’re fired” look but she just smiled at him serenely.
She knew as well as he did that she was the glue. His glue. It would be comforting if he didn’t want to strangle her more than half the time.
“Anyway . . .” His mother made a big show of holding out a set of keys. “Wanted to give these back to you.”
He didn’t take them. “Mom, you can stay there. You don’t have to go.”
“But we’re done with the work.”
“Stay there,” he repeated. He didn’t want them out on the streets. He didn’t want to have to worry about them. “It’s no big deal.”
“No big deal?” she asked, looking as if he’d just suggested she murdered kittens for a living. “You giving us a handout is no big deal? Well, I’m glad to know we mean so little to you then.”
“You know that’s not what I meant.”
“I’ll have you know we have plenty of other options,” she said stiffly. “Your sisters, for one. Janine wants us in her house with her. With her child, so that we could be a part of their lives. Rachel would have us as well.”
Okay, so he stood corrected. She absolutely could make this more difficult. And he knew firsthand that his sisters were just making noise with the offer to host them. Janine’s husband would probably run for the hills if that happened. James was a decent enough guy but he was smart enough to have hard limits, and living with the elder Winterses was definitely a hard limit.
“By all means,” Keane said. “If that’s what would make you happy. But the offer to stay in my apartment building stands.”
Her lips tightened.
And because he wasn’t a complete asshole, he sighed. “Listen, I really could use someone to manage the place, to keep up with the building and the renters’ needs.”
She stared at him for a beat, clearly torn between choking on her own pride or calling his bluff calling hers. Finally she snatched the keys back from his held-out palm and shoved them in her pocket.
“We’ll keep a careful accounting of our work, crediting it back for rent,” she said.
“Mom, I trust you.”
“Expect monthly reports,” she said.
The equivalent of a hug and kiss and an “I love you, son.”