Authors: Lauren Giordano
Love Under Construction . . .
Site contractor Kendall Adams is going broke and the guy who was her only hope of saving her company has just tumbled into the project. To avoid getting sued and maybe sweet-talk him into paying, she'll do . . . just about anything.
With no family to rescue him from the hospital, injured executive Harrison Traynor's choices are: 1) an indefinite stay or 2) risk being 'nursed' by the angry, amber-eyed beauty he's on the verge of bankrupting. But falling for Kendall was never in the blueprint.
Flings with sexy enemies don't usually lead to happily ever after. And the anti-prom queen
ends up with the football stud. Will Kendall risk her heart when loving Harry was never in the specs?
For the tenth time that afternoon, Kendall Adams peered out the window. Oblivious to the roar of earthmoving equipment just yards from the construction trailer, her gaze centered on the lone man trekking across the arid wasteland. In twelve months, the site would transform into the anchor store of an exclusive mall. Today, it more closely resembled the surface of the moon–endless acres of red clay broken only by gaping craters the size of city blocks.
"What's your plan, Kenny? With the Specialty guy?"
Startled, she discovered her foreman leaning against the doorjamb.
Beg for mercy?
The looming meeting
with Specialty Construction was life or death for Adams & Rey Contracting. As the Adams part of that equation, Kendall's fate lay in the hands of the Traynor brother crossing the site. "Guess I'll sweet-talk him."
When Jimmy's leathery face creased with a smile, she caught a flash of her daddy– the rare times he'd ever smiled. "No– seriously."
If things weren't dire, she would've laughed along with him. More likely to throw a punch than a kiss, the image of Kendall Renee Adams sweet-talkin' anyone was downright laughable. But with her bank account indicating they were about a month away from running out of money, she was willing to try anything.
"You sure Specialty got our pay applications?"
"Claire says she's called a hundred times." Kendall's stomach twisted. "Three months work out here . . . and Specialty hasn't paid a dime."
With Specialty responsible for the whole project, one of them damn Traynors was about to read her the riot act. A & R's piece was the sitework. And her piece was making a muck of things. Mechanical breakdowns, equipment theft . . . all normal headaches she had no problem taking ownership of. But Specialty deserved some heat as well. Dammit– if they'd just pay up, half her problems would go away. She'd still have plenty to keep her from sleeping at night, but her imminent financial ruin would temporarily slide to the backburner.
This business grew tougher each year. She hated the arguments, the threats, the tiresome hoops she jumped through just to get paid what they were owed. Barring a miracle or a last minute lottery win, Ken was prepared to throw herself on Traynor's mercy. Her daddy and Linc Traynor went way back. If she had to swallow her pride for the sake of her crew-
"Girl, you're gonna have ulcers by the time this is done." Jimmy scowled. "Everyone will survive if it ends, Kenny. It's not your job to take care of these boys."
Too much like a real father, talking with Jimmy would only lead to tears. "Can we discuss this later?" Worse than meeting Traynor would be the call to Ken, Sr. Explaining to her father why, after a scant three years under her leadership, Adams & Rey would be shutting down.
The news would probably kill the old man.
As bearer of the news it just might kill her, too.
Harrison Traynor strode toward the gaping hole in the earth, one hand raised to shield his eyes from the glare. The harsh smell of diesel lingered around the huge machine he cautiously approached. His hardhat weighed heavy in the afternoon sun.
The burly equipment operator paused mid-scoop when he caught sight of him. Jumping to the ground, a plume of dust rose around him. "Help ya?"
"I'm looking for Ken Adams." Competing with the idling equipment, he raised his voice. "I'm with Specialty Construction."
"Kenny's expecting you." He jerked his thumb toward the far side of the site. "We just moved the trailer down the road a piece. You'll have to walk."
Hoisting his briefcase, Harry began the long hike across the rock-strewn site. He faced a huge decision. Adams & Rey had been in business thirty years– nearly as long as Specialty. But talk around town suggested A & R was on shaky financial ground. Harry would determine whether the rumors were true.
The other buzz surrounding the legendary site contractor– that he slung a shotgun like a western movie cowboy– he hoped to avoid confirming. Passing busy crews on thundering equipment, he resisted the urge to blot his forehead on the sleeve of his now damp suit. Ahead, a lone construction worker left the trailer, starting toward him, his angry strides creating a swirling red haze.
He studied the man approaching. Adams was slighter in stature than legend suggested. Determined to set the right tone for what was sure to be an awkward meeting, Harry extended his hand. "Harrison Traynor. Are you Ken Adams?"
Though belligerent, the whiskey-soaked voice was suspiciously female. Harry might be a little slow on the uptake, but eventually, he could puzzle through just about anything. "I'm the CFO at Specialty. I was looking for-" He rechecked his file. "Ken Adams? The owner?"
"And I said you're lookin' at her."
Removing her sunglasses, the diminutive woman's eyes were an unusual shade of amber. Despite a vague whisper of familiarity, her expression suggested she'd enjoy nothing better than working him over with a tire iron. "Have we met?"
“I assumed I was meeting with . . . your father?" His question met with stony silence, Harry persevered. "Okay. I thought it best we meet in person regarding your progress."
She didn't blink. "You got a check for us, Traynor?"
Her hardhat covered what was clearly an even harder head. "I'm prepared to discuss an advance on your next draw . . . once we reach an understanding on our expectations."
"Advance? How about payin' us for all the work in place?" She waved expansively toward the nearest crater.
"Why don't we continue this conversation inside?" Nodding toward the trailer, Harry ignored the beads of sweat trickling down his spine, unsure whether it was heat or the proximity to the edge of a damned canyon. Though he'd avoided thinking about it, a glimpse at the height made his stomach tighten with familiar dread. The only path to the trailer ran along the rim of the cavernous hole. Despite knowing the path was wide enough to travel on, his stupid heartbeat accelerated anyway.
Her eyes shooting sparks, Ken stood her ground. "If you don't have the money you owe, there's nothing more to discuss."
"Miss Adams . . . we're concerned whether you'll complete the sitework on time. I've received calls from several suppliers saying you're overdue paying them." By the tight clench of her jaw, her silence spoke volumes. "You signed a contract with Specialty," Harry reminded. "The agreement includes an expectation of performance."
"That contract also included timely payment," she shot back.
Dropping his briefcase in the dirt, he tugged his jacket off.
Why the hell had he worn a suit?
Rolling up the sleeves of his formerly crisp cotton shirt, his temper eroded in the heat. They were twenty feet from air-conditioning. Why couldn't they go inside and cool off? Despite her immunity to the smothering humidity, twin spots of color rose in Ken's cheeks. For some reason, Harry was cheered by the tiny chink in her armor. "You still have a skeletal crew out here. Where are your men?"
"How the hell can I pay them when you're holding my money? How much more do you think I can float?"
Her rusty voice scraped Harry's edgy nerves. Dust clinging to him, he was hot and sweaty. And staring into that damn gaping hole in the ground was making him lightheaded. The longer they stood there, the more he fought visions of plunging over the side. He'd had just about enough of the annoying little wasp zinging around him with her irritating voice. At this point, her old man and his shotgun would be preferable.
"If you're experiencing financial problems, tell me now so we can help," he suggested, loosening the silk tie suddenly strangling him. "We can't afford you going bankrupt midway through this dig. The steel's already ordered and the concrete crew is waiting on you to finish."
Take that, Wasp
. Winning a chunk of the huge mall contract had been a coup for Specialty. Though his cousins might be the building experts, he alone was responsible for making sure Specialty remained profitable on the deal. Harry wasn't about to let anything go wrong.
Fury heating the gold flecks in her eyes, Ken took a step closer. "You think you've got trouble now, Prettyboy? Three months without any payment means I'm filing a lien Monday. If I shut this job down– you'll be dead in the water." She advanced on him. "And, just so we're perfectly clear– this job is two days
of schedule. So, you can shove that concrete crew up your ass-"
What the hell was she talking about? Harry's temper spiked. "We've paid you everything you're owed through the end of last month."
"You're a damn liar, Traynor."
Despite her belligerent stance, her words didn't match his records. "I have the proof right here." More alarming than her accusation was the catch he heard in Ken's voice. Hell– she was choosing
to go all female on him? "Can we
move this to the trailer?" He lifted his briefcase, hoping she'd accept his not-so-subtle hint. "I'm willing to review your contract and each pay application," he offered. "Line by line if that's what it takes."
"I can't imagine your daddy would be proud of what you boys are doing to us."
That did it. Upset or not, the she-troll was
out of line. "If my father was alive, he'd be
proud of how we conduct business, Miss Adams. And Linc is still active on the board of directors," he pointed out, his voice chilling over the insult. "If it wasn't for him cutting you a break, we would've had this conversation last month."
Kendall shoved fisted hands in her pockets.
Great job, Ken– insult his dead father
. Would she ever learn to control her mouth? Her daddy was right. Trouble seemed to follow her like a starving dog. Until meeting Harrison, she'd hoped to reason with him. Despite Jimmy's misgivings, she could be persuasive. Sometimes.
But thirty seconds into their conversation Ken realized she'd rather grab Traynor in a chokehold than play nice. He was rich and arrogant. Gorgeous. And way better dressed than she could ever hope to be. A volatile combination when she was staring at a mountain of unpaid bills, a lazy, narcissist partner her father had foisted on her, a crew who expected money for their long hours and two demanding pets with high expectations.
"Alright. Let's go." How could she make him understand there'd been an error? Specialty owed her serious money. The bigger question was whether she could convince Harrison of the truth before she was forced out of business.
Despair swamping her, she trudged back to the trailer, uncaring whether he followed. Halfway there, the yellow caution tape fluttering in the breeze caught her gaze, reminding her of problem number seventy-eight she'd yet to address. The damned fence had been designed to withstand a Category 4 storm. Yet somehow, several bolts had managed to loosen up overnight.
"Yo– Traynor." She spun around to warn him. "Careful near the guardrail. I noticed today-"
Surprised to find him dogging her heels, the grim determination in his eyes was coupled with– apprehension? When she stopped abruptly, he nearly plowed into her. Forced to sidestep around her, he moved the wrong way.
"Be careful." Reaching for him at the same moment he tripped, Ken sucked in a horrified breath as he stepped dangerously close to the loose rail. Her eyes snapped the terrifying images as the tassel on his expensive loafer snagged on the barbed wire and he lurched into the fence. "No-" Her heart contracting with fear, she watched the rail give way under his weight. Witnessed the briefcase leave his hand and become airborne. Lunged to pull him back as the fencing collapsed and he plunged into the yawning hole of the mall's underground parking garage.
A terrifying lifetime passed during his plunge to the bottom. Her scream mingled with his shout of fear moments before the fencing crashed down upon him. Only her tortured breathing broke the desolate sound of absolute silence.
Minutes felt like hours as Kendall's heart catapulted from her chest.
Now. Now. Now
. She needed to get down there. The more people who gathered at the edge, the more helpless she grew. Everyone was just
there. "Jimmy– where's the ambulance?" Before he could respond, she slipped into the harness, cursing her trembling fingers. "I'm not waiting."
"Kenny . . . you can't-"
As close to fainting as she'd ever been, Kendall skirted around her foreman, clipping herself to the rig line. "I have to help him."
Scaling down the side of the crater, she forced herself to move methodically, resisting the urge to freefall to the bottom. Thoughts flooded her panicked brain. Her company was nearly bankrupt. What if she'd killed the guy with the money to save her?
How could she think about money at a time like this?
"Lord– if you're listening, I'm sorry. Please let him be all right."
Unclipping from the line, she hurried on legs that wanted to fold beneath her. Dread coursing through her, she approached him. A groan caught in her throat when she viewed the damage to a body that until five minutes earlier had been damn near perfect. Harrison's left arm lay at an awkward angle.
. Spots of blood leeched through his cotton shirt in several places.