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Felicity Evans jumped at the sound of the voice behind her, then made an irritated noise in her throat as the load she carried shifted. The precariously balanced boxes slid sideways, and as she fought to rebalance them, everything else she’d been carrying—her handbag, the suitcase dangling from her fingertips, the work boots tucked under her arm—tumbled to the ground. The boxes followed and Felicity’s shoulders slumped.
Really? Her rescue mission was going to start like this?
She slowly turned to face Danny Montgomery, former neighbor and nemesis. “I’ve got this,” she said darkly before shifting her attention back to her strewn belongings.
She let out a long breath, cursing herself for being so intent on her balancing act that she hadn’t realized that Danny had come up behind her on her dad’s snowy drive. There was no gate there, so he must have vaulted over the fence, just as he’d done too many times when she’d grown up in this house.
“Sorry about that.” Danny picked up the box closest to him, but instead of handing it to her, he held onto it. “Have you ever heard of making two trips?”
Felicity tucked her shortish blond hair behind her ears and counted to three. She’d save ten for later. “I live on the second floor of a renovated Victorian. No elevator. Two trips are not my normal mode of operation.”
“Ah.” He shifted his weight, still holding the box, making Felicity wonder what he planned to do with it. Despite the crisp first-day-of-February temperature, he was wearing a gray T-shirt with a Boise State logo and really, really worn-out jeans. Comfy watch-football-on-Sunday jeans. It was Monday.
“Sorry to hear about your dad,” Danny said, bringing her thoughts back to where they belonged, which was not on his clothing.
“Yes. It’s a bad time for this to happen, so close to his project deadline.”
“You’re back for a while?” He pointed at her suitcase with his chin. It was the same suitcase she’d packed several days ago when she’d flown home for a weekend wedding, but this time instead of wedding finery, she’d packed her work clothes—sturdy shoes, leather gloves, bandannas, long sleeve cotton shirts, loose jeans and a wide leather belt. She’d have to borrow a tool belt from her dad.
“Two weeks. After Dad got hurt yesterday, I managed to catch my flight to Seattle, then I packed the car, watered my plants, and started driving back to Idaho.” An eight-hour through-the-night drive and all she wanted now was a cup of coffee. Or to pass out on the sofa. Most of all she wanted Danny to leave her in peace.
“Can your plants survive for two weeks without water?”
“Cacti, Danny. I have cacti.”
“Sounds about right,” he murmured.
She waited for him to say “prickly,” but instead he gave her a mild look.
“Well, thanks for offering to help. I’ve got this.”
“Right.” He looked over his shoulder as the door to his mom’s house opened and the redhead that she’d seen him with on her December trip home stepped onto the snowy stoop.
“Be right there.”
Felicity raised her eyebrows. “Daniel?”
“I’m in trouble,” he said tuning his attention back to her.
“What’s new?” she asked.
What was new was this feeling that she didn’t like seeing Danny with the redheaded beauty who gave her a friendly wave. Felicity waved back, and the redhead smiled before disappearing into the house. Felicity turned her attention back to Danny, who showed no sign of leaving.
“I saw you two at the Holly Festival.”
“We were there,” he said, before shifting subjects. “I assume you’re going to take over your dad’s project?”
“Someone has to finish the drywall and all the other last-minute details.”
“Need help with that?”
The offer surprised her. “Like the last time you helped me? I think not.”
He frowned. “The last time I helped wasn’t my fault.”
“Are we remembering the same incident?”
“The backyard fence?”
“Yes,” she said, admiring his masterful look of bemused innocence. “You don’t remember anything unusual about that?”
“Something about you and a bucket of paint?”
She pointed her finger at him in silent acknowledgment. “Thanks for the offer. I’m good.”
“If you say so.” He spoke as if he knew something she didn’t, but she refused to bite. Too often she’d done that and too often she’d been burned. He handed her the box, which she managed to take without touching his fingers. “You’re sure about the help?” he asked.
Now he was just baiting her. “I’m positive about the help. Thank you for the offer. Now, shouldn’t you see what your friend wants?”
“Shouldn’t you see what Sandra wants?” she amended.
“I know what she wants,” he said in a way that sent a frisson of irritation through her.
Because you’re tired and you’ll have to go to work later today.
She forced the corners of her mouth up. “I’m not in peak fighting form, Danny. I need a nap. Maybe we can spar later.”
“Looking forward to it,” he said, sounding a touch too confident for Felicity’s liking. “See you later, Felix.”
She opened her mouth to protest the name, then closed it again. You’ll be thirty years old next month. You are not going to let him trigger you with something as petty as a nickname.
“See you, Daniel.”
He gave her a good-one smile, then vaulted over the fence with annoying grace. Couldn’t he have hung up a foot and plowed his face into the snow? But no. Danny the athlete landed on his feet and strode to his house without a backward glance.
Which was fine because she wasn’t looking either.
“It looks good, Daniel.” Sandra Norris rested her forearms on the table. “Fork Horn Brewery could be our first official resident if you have the place ready for them to begin renovations before the lease expires on their current digs.”
Which was huge because Fork Horn had already made a name for themselves before outgrowing the tiny property where they’d started on the outskirts of Boise. The company rep had laughingly told Danny that they weren’t a microbrewery—they were a mini-microbrewery.
“Thanks for doing the legwork,” Danny said. “Now all I have to do is the actual work.”
“Yes. That work bugaboo,” Sandra said with a grin. “Speaking of which, the representative from the brewery will be here on Thursday. I’ve set up an eleven o’clock meeting to go through the building and nail down any specifics he has in mind before you start the project. And I’ve had a few bites on the remaining space, so…yay!” Her green eyes sparkled.
Danny leaned back in his chair, pleased at how things were falling into place. When he’d first considering buying the abandoned warehouse on the river, it had been little more than a whimsical notion brought on by good memories. He and his friends had had some amazing times there, doing all the stuff kids did when they sneaked into an old building with bikes and skateboards. But even though he and his college buddy/business partner had sold their startup for a considerable sum prior to him moving back to Holly a year ago, he couldn’t justify purchasing a building for old times’ sake.
He could, however, justify buying one as an investment.
His first visit to the warehouse had been through the window, just as it’d been when he’d been a kid. The frame behind the brick exterior was steel, so the building was stable. The concrete floor was cracked and uneven in places, but concrete could be patched and leveled. He was no foundation expert, but he knew one, so on his next trip to the warehouse, accompanied by a representative of the company selling the building, he’d brought along his college roommate who was now a civil engineer.
While touring the building, his friend had pointed out the problems with the foundation as if they were dire issues that would make selling difficult, then later, after parting ways with the company representative, he’d told Danny that the foundation had a few potential problems, but was currently in good shape. If he invested in some preventative maintenance, he’d save himself money and heartache down the road.
After a few weeks of inspections, negotiations, offers and counteroffers, Danny became the proud owner of a former skateboarding paradise. He hired Sandra from the nearby town of Everly, Idaho, to be his property manager, and she’d set to work looking for clients. If Fork Horn Brewery leased half of the footage, the rest of the warehouse could be divided up into smaller spaces, which should go quickly with the brewery as the anchor.
Sandra gathered up the papers she’d been going over with him and stowed them in her carryall. “Nice way to start the week.” Her expression clouded. “Especially after this weekend.”
“What happened this weekend? Wait…the date with Muff?”
She let out a breath and nodded.
“It didn’t go well?”
She laid her hands back on the table, leaning forward as she said, “How good can a date be when it puts an innocent old man in the hospital with a broken leg?”
Danny sat up straighter as he put two and two together. “No. What?”
She nodded as she sat back in her chair. “You know what a goof Bonzo is.”
Her teenage Labrador retriever was a bit of a handful.
“Matt and I were walking in the park, Bonzo got loose, and when I called him back, he skidded into this older man from behind, knocked him down and broke his leg.”
Danny closed his eyes.
“What?” Sandra demanded.
“I think that guy is my neighbor.”
“And the woman I waved at?”
She jumped to her feet. “I have to apologize.”
Danny pushed back his chair and stood. “She just drove in from Seattle. She’s exhausted. Not the best time.” His mouth tightened on one side. “Trust me, she’s better after she’s had some sleep.”
Sandra’s eyebrows shot up, and Danny gave her what he hoped was a reassuring smile. “I’m kidding.” A little bit, anyway. “We grew up together. I know her very, very well. She won’t blame you for what a big pup did.”
He was certain of that, just as he was certain that if he’d been on the scene, she might have taken a shot at blaming him. It was how things were between them. Had always been between them.
Sandra stared down at his mom’s new kitchen floor for a moment, then raised her gaze, her expression thoughtful. “When I visited Pete in the hospital yesterday to apologize, he said it was an accident. My insurance is covering his bills.”
“There you go. You’ve apologized to Pete. You don’t need to deal with his relatives immediately, too. Especially the ones who need some sleep.”
“Pete’s other daughter runs the animal shelter, right?”
“Forever Home. Right. So if anyone understands that it isn’t your fault, it would be the Evans family.”
Sandra let out a sigh. “All right. I’ll hold off on the familial apologies. But I’m still sending over a big basket of snack stuff when Pete gets discharged.”
“Good plan.” Danny’s head came up at the sound of an engine starting nearby. He craned his neck and saw a flash of red through the living room window as Felicity’s sports car pulled out onto the street. Was she heading to the hospital? Or to the worksite?
“I have another appointment,” Sandra said, and he was glad to see that she looked a bit more convinced that things would be okay with the Evans family. “I’ll be in touch.”
He walked with her to the door. “Great job with Fork Horn.”
“There’s a lot of work to do before we sign.”
“I’m aware,” he said with a half-smile. Years of the elements blowing through the many broken windowpanes had taken its toll. “Apex Industrial is coming on Thursday to give me an estimate on the clearing and cleaning. The window guys start replacing the broken panes on Friday. The foundation guys will start work in two weeks.”
“The windows, clearing, and cleaning are the important things right now,” she said. “Fork Horn loves the footage, the price, and the location on the river, but I have a feeling they would keel over if they saw the current state of the building.” One corner of her mouth quirked up. “As in they would use it as leverage to reduce the price or conditions of the lease.”
“I’ll let you know what I hear from Apex. They sounded certain that they could get the job done before the foundation guys started.” Since the foundation was still stable, he was able to have the windows fixed first, which worked with everyone’s schedule.
“Excellent. As soon as I hear from you, I’ll contact Fork Horn to schedule a walk-through.” She gave him a smile and headed down the steps to the freshly shoveled walk.
Danny stayed at the door, waving as she pulled away from the curb, then shifted his focus next door to the empty spot in the driveway where the red Audi TT had recently been parked.
He was certain from the way Felicity had cavalierly dismissed his offer of help that she had no idea of what she was up against finishing her dad’s project. Maybe Pete had been too loopy from the drugs to tell her.
This is none of your business.
Except that he liked Pete Evans and he owed him.
He pulled in a resigned breath. He liked Felicity, too. He wasn’t certain when the shift had occurred, but somewhere between egg wars and bike tire flattening, he’d started to see her differently. Reading the signs, then and now, he had to conclude that she had not experienced a similar epiphany.
But she was going to need help with her dad’s project. That was a given.
How long was it going to take her to figure that out?
End of Excerpt