Authors: Jo Richardson
Published by Little Bird Publishing House
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Copyright 2015 Jo Richardson
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Chapter 1. Iris
One, two, three . . .
“Allison Rose Alden! It. Is. Time. To. Go.”
I swear, if I had a nickel for every time I was late to work because of this child . . .
“Um, I have nothing to wear, Mother!” Her voice booms from upstairs.
She has plenty to wear. It’s October for Christ’s sake. We just went school shopping last month
“I did your laundry yesterday.” I open the front door to give my daughter a hint. I’m not waiting for her.
“Good luck hitchhiking.”
I remember one more thing I meant to tell her this morning as I check to make sure I have everything. “And please stop using my tampons, Ally; I’m more than happy to pick some up for you but-”
I stand, shell-shocked, when I look up to see my path is blocked by a very tall, very dark-haired and bright-eyed, hard-body.
And he’s very blatantly chuckling. At me.
“Rough morning?” His brown eyes reflect amusement. His grin is wide. And cocky.
What is this strange man doing here, on my doorstep at zero dark thirty? And why is he laughing at me?
This is the last thing I need first thing in the morning when I haven’t even had my coffee yet.
I mean seriously, why does he have to smirk like that?
“I . . .” Where are my words?
Use your words, Iris.
“I’m Carter,” he says. “Blackwood.” He hooks a thumb over his shoulder, still grinning ear to ear. “I moved in a few days ago.” He looks like he recently walked off of a photo shoot for some sort of construction worker of the year award.
His words sink in and I don’t want to look.
But I do it anyway.
As I lean slowly to one side, I recall a conversation I had with my friend and realtor, Carl Burbanks, the other day. He told me all about how the new owner of Cindy and Sam’s old place got quite the deal and that it was his understanding that the gentleman planned to flip it for profit.
Cindy would cry if she knew. Sam would roll over in his grave.
It’s him, alright - the night owl home renovator that does not seem to know the meaning of the phrase
. And is also, apparently, a morning person.
I stand upright again.
“Iris,” I tell him, hesitantly.
He peeks around me, into the house. “Your husband home,
I put myself directly in his line of vision. This way, he has no choice but to pay attention to what I have to say next. I don’t want him to misunderstand me. “There is no husband,
” I give him the same touch of sarcasm he threw at me.
His brown eyes flicker with interest and I question myself for a moment.
Should I have let that tidbit slip?
For all I know he could be a mentally unstable human being who flips houses as a cover for murdering innocent single mothers.
He’s not a murderer, Iris.
Spangler, after all.
Note to self, stop binge watching Dexter on Netflix.
“Got a hammer I could borrow, then?” His eyebrows bounce and his smile is wider now, if that’s even possible. His teeth are ridiculously white. I mean, like, fake white.
There’s no way that’s a natural white. He must be paying thousands to keep his teeth that perfect. And who has eyelashes that thick?
I blink when I realize I’m gawking at the man. Then it strikes me that what he’s asked for is odd. If I wasn’t seriously wary before, I am now.
“You remodel homes and you don’t have a hammer?”
“How did you— ?” his brow pulls together, then he shakes his head as though he wants to forget whatever it is he thought. “Never mind. Mine broke.”
The splintered tool is held up for me to see he’s not lying and I narrow my eyes at it. I know for a fact there’s a hardware store within ten minutes of here. Everything is within ten minutes of Spangler.
“Can’t you just go buy a new one?”
He sets it down, gently, onto my entryway table, as though he plans to stay a while. He’s definitely not
staying a while. I don’t have that kind of time. Ally’s about to be late for school, therefore making me late for work and that’s simply not acceptable.
I’m still staring at the hammer when he answers. “I’d rather not.”
Then I point at my neighbor’s house. “What about—”
“They weren’t home.”
His grin is annoying. Way too annoying to be a murderer. And yes, I realize how nonsensical that sounds. I snarl. I don’t mean to. It’s a knee jerk reaction I have to pushy people. Especially pushy people who have an answer to everything. I have a choice to make here. I can, a) stand here arguing with him over it while debating whether or not he’s a murderer when in all actuality, if he was a murderer, he probably would have killed me already, or b) I could go get my damn hammer for him. Since battling him will do nothing but make me later than I already am, I opt out of an early morning, pre-caffeine argument and spin on my heels. I hurry toward the garage, and as I pass the stairs, I holler up to my daughter again.
She groans in dramatic pain and I shake my head. I cannot wait for this “phase” to be over.
“Got yourself a handful there, I take it,” my temporary neighbor jokes from behind me.
“None of your business,” I say under my breath.
His voice is closer than it should be, so I stop and turn. He’s following me.
Why is he following me?
I put a hand to his chest. And
It’s actually hard as a rock. I didn’t think that was a real thing.
I force my eyes away from his pecs and look up at him.
“You - stay here.” Just in case
Carter puts his hands up in defeat and stays put.
I finish my strut to the garage and open the door only wide enough for me to slip through without him seeing past me. I don’t need him making a tick list of all the things in here. Or judging my hoarder tendencies. They aren’t really my
hoarder tendencies, to clarify. My ex managed to pack all his things, but never managed to pick them up after the divorce. I somehow cannot bring myself to get rid of the boxes that litter my garage now.
Call me sentimental. Or maybe I’m a glutton for punishment.
When I flick on the light, I sigh deep and heavy. I have no idea where I put the hammer last. Hell, I don’t remember the last time I
the hammer. I step down the three deep stairs into my overcrowded garage and walk around. I glance inside boxes as I pass them to see if I can figure out which one might have some freaking tools. The first is full of papers that look like they date back to the nineteen eighties. The second and third host an array of knick-knacks my ex has collected over the years. Football memorabilia, college player bobble heads, things like that. And then, I see it, finally. The box, that is. And only because it’s clearly marked. It’s in a bin on the highest peak of the tallest shelf.
I check the time on my watch. It’s getting ridiculously late, now, so I throw myself into overdrive.
don’t have time for this.
I grab the ladder from its corner. It’s not in the best of shape. I’m pretty sure we bought this thing right after we were married and that was a good seventeen or eighteen years ago. As I open it up and prop it against the wall, I’m not so sure this is a good idea but I find myself climbing up the rickety steps, regardless. At the top, I struggle to open the box and keep my balance at the same time but finally find a hammer buried inside. I grumble all the way down the ladder and leave it be, which might have been a good decision except that I trip over the corner leg and stub my toe.”
Ohmygod that hurt that hurt that hurt.
“Ow.” I curse the ladder. I curse my toe. I curse the hammer and the man who came to my house asking for it all the way back to the steps leading back into the house. I limp the first two but on the third, I misjudge my footing and slip off the step. I try to regain my balance but I can’t. The hammer goes soaring and my eyes widen. My scream sounds like a wild banshee as I fly backwards. I frantically attempt to decipher the best way to land that will cause me the least amount of pain when suddenly . . . I’m not falling anymore.
The hammer clangs against the concrete floor as I’m jerked forward and for a moment I think someone is helping me up from behind. It’s not until I’m pressed firmly against a warm, solid, body, which smells like saw dust, do I realize I’ve been pulled, not pushed. He holds my wrist tightly while my arm wraps itself around his waist to hold on. When my senses return, I look up.
Perfect, dark chocolate irises stare back at me.
Soooo not a murderer
“Gotcha.” The corners of his luscious mouth lift just slightly. Enough to make me lose my breath.
“Yes.” I’m mesmerized with the sound of his voice. “You do.”
He stands me up straight and holds me there. The sides of his eyes crinkle as his body vibrates with laughter. I’m about to ask him what in the hell he thinks is so funny when I notice where we’re standing.
“What happened to you staying where you were?” I place a hand on my hip after I push away from him.
“It’s a good thing I didn’t,” he says with an even bigger smirk on his face.
I want to slap it right off of him.
“Do you always double book yourself? That can’t be healthy on any level.”
I’m confused by his question until I see my day timer in his free hand. It’s enough to snap me back into reality.
“What are you doing with my day timer?”
I pick the hammer up off of the floor, then snatch my book out of his hands and stalk back toward the foyer. As I tuck the tool under my arm, I flip through the pages of my calendar. God only knows what he read while I was looking for that
Please tell me he did not read my reminder to pick up the tampons this afternoon.
“It was sitting there. Open. And I was bored.”
Bored? My life is anything but boring
. I spin on him, fuming. I think my eye is twitching and I blink to try and control the horrid tick.
He shrugs then laughs again. “Yeah.”
And it’s like he’s finding humor in the fact that while my day has already started out on a chaotic note, he has all the time in the world
to sit and read my personal notes.
“In my defense, I didn’t realize it was a day timer at first, I mean this thing looks more like a journal.”
“So you wouldn’t have picked it up if it was my day timer, but because it was a journal, all bets are off?”
“Like I said, it was sitting there. Open. I thought that was an invitation. For bored people.”
It’s clear now, he’s not a murderer. He’s simply an ass. I open my mouth, trying to find the words I need to tell him he can take his pompous attitude and shove this hammer right up his derriere when . . .
Allison makes her way down the stairs, her book bag in hand. Her hair is perfect and as per usual, a scowl is spread across her face. “We’re going to be late and you’re holding social hour? Seriously?”
This child. I love this child. I close my eyes. I breathe in deep. Then let it go.
“Carter’s fine.” He’s not laughing anymore. At least I’ve got that going for me, but the way he presses his lips together tells me that he still finds humor in my pain.
I’ve never been one to give anyone the satisfaction of knowing they got one over on me though. So instead of telling him off, I smile and pull the hammer out from under my arm to hand over to him.
“Have a nice day.”
His eyes zero in on mine for what feels like eternity before taking the thing. When he twists his mouth I’m drawn to his lips. They’re soft . . . full . . . beautiful. I hate them.
“Thanks.” He nods to my daughter as he strides past the stairway. He picks up his broken hammer and heads out the front door, one hand dangling the broken one, the other hooking mine over his shoulder. The way his jeans hang from his hips show enough, but not nearly enough.
I bite my lip.
My head snaps to my daughter, who’s still standing at the foot of the stairs. “Gross!” She hurries out the front door to wait for me by the car.
“Excuse me?” I pull the door closed behind me and lock up before hurrying off myself.
“Seriously,” she says, “I don’t need to witness you ogling the new neighbor guy.”
“I wasn’t ogling anybody.” I have such a smart ass of a daughter. Lucky me.