Hot Mess (Love is Messy Duet #1)

By: Emily Goodwin

Chapter 1





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Someday, I’ll get my shit together. Today, however, is not that day. I bring my coffee to my lips and whirl around, tripping over the dog. The mug hits my teeth, and hot coffee sloshes down the front of my ivory blouse.

“Really, Pluto? You have to lay in the middle of the kitchen during rush hour?” I glare at the little mutt who looks at me, and then at his empty bowl. “I didn’t forget to feed you,” I say and grab a towel from the kitchen counter. It’s damp from drying last night’s dishes, but it’ll work. I rub the front of my shirt, swearing under my breath. I’m going to have to change, and I’m already running late.

I take a sip of my coffee and fly to the pantry. “Son of a bitch,” I say when I stick my hand into the big bag of dog food. I only feel crumbs.

“Mom, you said a bad word,” Grace points out, little feet slapping on the cold tile as she comes up behind me.

I let out a breath. “That’s a mommy word. Only mommies can say those words.” I grab the dog food bag and look at my six-year-old. “Did you feed Pluto last night?”

“I did,” she says proudly.

“How much did you feed him?”

She shrugs and looks away, a move she mastered years ago. “I don’t know.”

“You fed him all of it,” I say with a shake of my head, closing my eyes in a long blink. I had it mentally planned out to give him the last of his food this morning and pick up a bag on the way home from work. “He’s on a diet, remember? We have to only give him one scoop in the evening.”

“But he was hungry!” Grace says, and her shoulders sag. “I’m sorry.”

“It’s okay, baby,” I say and smile. She’s as sweet as she is sassy. “Thank you for helping last night. You take good care of your puppy.”

That brings a smile to her face. “Can you do my hair?” she asks, holding out a brush.

“Yes, let me find something for Pluto first. Did you brush your teeth?”

She nods and pulls out a bar stool, climbing up to wait for me. I get three-day-old chicken and rice from the fridge and stick it in the microwave. While the food is heating up, I fly over to Grace, taking another drink of coffee as I walk. I set the mug down and pick up her brush, running it through her brunette locks.

“Your hair is getting so long,” I tell her, carefully brushing through her tangled curls. “And so pretty.”

The compliment makes her sit up a little straighter, and I can tell without looking that she’s smiling. “I want a bun like you,” she says and I internally cringe. My own dark blonde hair — a shade or two lighter than hers — is up in the usual messy bun. I’m not talking the cute and stylish kind. I’m talking the if-I-put-on-a-hoodie-I’ll-look-like-a-drug-dealer kind of messy bun. But hey, at least my hair is clean.

“What about a braid?” I ask and lean back, looking into the living room for my three-year-old. Paige is curled up on the couch watching cartoons. A wave of sadness and guilt hits me when I see her. Like her mother and older sister, she’s naturally not a morning person. Yet she’s up, dressed and fed before seven a.m. so I can drop her off at daycare before work.

“Okay,” Grace says to the braid. I turn my attention back to her, heart aching. I worked part-time when Grace was little and did the majority of my work from home. She didn’t have to go to daycare or get up early. I spent my mornings and afternoons with her, playing and snuggling, living out the life I always imagined.

And then I got divorced, and everything changed.

I carefully braid Grace’s hair and then grab the leftovers from the microwave, taking them to Pluto’s dish.

“I’ll get you dog food tonight,” I promise him. “But don’t act like you don’t prefer this.”

He gets up and trots over to his bowl, scarfing down breakfast. I pat him on the head, glad I got to keep him. Russell, my ex, and I adopted him for Grace’s birthday three years ago.

“Okay, girls,” I say. “Coats and shoes, please!”

Grace hops off the stool and goes to the hall tree by the back door. Paige needs a little more coaxing and asks me to sit and snuggle her for a minute. I can’t resist. I sit on the couch, turning off the TV, and pull her into my arms.

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