Room to Breathe - Liz Talley


Daphne Witt had always done everything by the book. She took dry-clean-only clothing to the dry cleaner. She always washed the dishes before she went to bed. Her limit on wine was two glasses. No more. She even rinsed out her peanut butter jar for recycling . . . and that was a huge pain in the rump.

So the very idea that she was standing in her recently gutted bathroom lusting after the twenty-five-year-old man measuring the space for the soaker tub she’d bought on clearance was mind-boggling.

But she couldn’t seem to stop imagining how his defined abs would feel beneath her fingertips or the way the sweat sheening his neck might taste on her tongue.

It was raunchy, disturbing, and honestly, a bit of a relief.

Because when her then-husband, Rex, had pulled out of their driveway two years ago, loaded down with his worldly possessions, that part of herself—the one that got all gooey when Rex wrapped his arms around her and kissed her nape while she scrubbed the lasagna pan—had withered up dry as bird droppings on hot pavement. And her desire, libido, or whatever drove a woman to wear a lace thong that disappeared into kingdom come hadn’t shown back up until, well, now.

And danged if it hadn’t shown up like a Cat 5 hurricane.

“I think the tub you bought will fit fine,” Clay said, the metal tape measure snapping into place, sounding louder than normal in the hollowed new addition that was open to the October heat. He turned toward her with a congratulatory smile. “Nice find on that tub, by the way.”

Clay Caldwell was almost young enough to be her son. In fact, he’d taken her daughter, Ellery, out a few times in high school. So Daphne shouldn’t be admiring the way he filled out his Dickies work pants. Checking out a guy who was about fifteen years her junior was wrong.

Way wrong.

Still, it wasn’t like she was doing anything more than admiring a handsome, very fit man. No harm in that, right? After all, Clay seemed to be asking for it, parading around without a shirt, rubbing his hand over those washboard abs, and cracking smiles like a frat boy popping beers.

Wait? Was this sexism?

He was asking for it.

“Mrs. Witt?” Clay poked her arm.


Mrs. Witt. Old lady Witt. Washed-up Mrs. Witt. Bringer of the juice boxes and name tags at Bible school Mrs. Witt.

“Sorry. Why don’t you call me Daphne?” she said, pulling her attention from her ridiculous thoughts back to the very real present. Clay was her contractor. Period.

He shrugged his sun-kissed shoulders. Shoulders that invited touching. Damn it. Focus. “Sure, but it feels weird calling you Daphne.”

“I’m not collecting social security . . . yet,” Daphne joked, trying not to be offended. Of course he didn’t want to call her Daphne. He’d always known her as Mrs. Witt, and as a good ol’ southern boy, he’d call her Mrs. Witt until she turned up her toes, no doubt.

“You’re funny, Daphne. Of course you don’t look like you’re even close to social security checks. You look my age. In fact, you should know you were all the guys’ favorite MILF when we were in high school.” His dark-blue eyes twinkled and then widened. “Oh crap. Ignore that. So inappropriate.”

She knew what a MILF was, of course, but she’d never thought she’d ever been one. Okay, so she had always been the youngest in the mom crowd, but she’d never worn tight clothes or put out any “boom chicka wow wow” vibes when she volunteered in the PTA.

What did a woman say to being told she was someone that younger guys wanted to . . . uh, do? “I don’t even know what to say to that, Clay. Uh, thank you?”

Clay laughed. “Sorry. I mean, it’s true. You were always the prettiest mom, but, yeah, inappropriate to mention. I’m trying hard as hell to be professional here. My brother’s always riding my ass about that. But, hey, I don’t want you thinking you’re out to pasture or anything. You’re still pretty . . . um, pretty.”

Was Clay flirting with her? No. He was just being sweet. Tossing her a bone. Besides, even if he were flirting, Daphne wouldn’t know. She’d gotten married at the end of her junior year of high school and never learned “single gal at the bar” skills. She wouldn’t recognize an innuendo if it slapped her in the face. Daphne had married the boy who sat next to her in kindergarten