At the sound of the female voice, all soft and southern syrup, Tennessee Keller froze. Dolly Breeze ran his front office and handled any visitors who dropped in without calling. But Dolly had cut out early—something about getting ready for a weekend craft fair—leaving Ten alone in the shop.
He really should've locked the barn door, but the horse already being gone and all that had him heading toward the front to see who'd decided a phone call wouldn't get them what they wanted.
It was a dog. Well, a woman and a dog and the red Jeep Wrangler they'd arrived in, but the big loping shepherd caught his eye before did the long legs striding toward him. Yeah, some sorry state he was in when a dog got his pulse racing, and a woman was more afterthought than anything.
"I'm looking for Tennessee Keller?"
That voice again. "You found him."
"Hi. I wanted to talk to you about some construction work I need done. Jessa Breeze and Hailey Ross both said you're the man I want." She came closer. So did the dog. She held out her hand. "I'm Kaylie Flynn."
"Ten Keller." He shook it quickly, smelled fields of sun-soaked flowers when she leaned in, then lowered his palm for the dog, waiting until he'd been sniffed and licked before scratching the spot of soft hair behind the stiff ears. "What's his name?"
"As in Mister?"
Strands of copper-blonde hair escaped her ponytail to blow in her face. She snatched them away and nodded, and he smelled the flowers again. "When I got him, he had this tiny scrunched up face. Mister Magoo was the first thing that came to mind."
"He's got more in him than German Shepherd."
"The shelter thought Rottweiler."
"Good looking dog."
"Thanks. I think so."
Good-looking owner, too, though he kept that P.S. to himself. She wore a white T-shirt caught loosely around her hips. Not Hanes or Fruit of the Loom, but something classy, rich, like the russet leather of her boots, buttery and worn to fit.
Her clothes said she wasn't from around here. They also said she wasn't looking to stand out. Interesting, and he finally said, "It's been awhile since I had one."
"My folks were big on animal rescue." And rain forest rescue and Arctic ice rescue and closing the hole in the ozone. "We usually had half a dozen at any time. Cats and dogs both. All shapes and sizes and temperaments."
She gave a groaning laugh, as if she couldn't decide between sympathy and pity and rolled the dice. "I hope you had a big house. And an even bigger yard."
He liked her laugh, the watermelon burst of it, liked the shape of her mouth, the width. It fit her face without taking it over. The bow of her lip pointed to the spatter of freckles dotting her nose, pale chestnut flung from a paint brush.
Motioning Kaylie Flynn out of the sun and into the barn, he perched on a drafting stool, offered her another, watched what her thighs did to the denim of her jeans when she sat. Magoo plopped to the cement floor between them, making sure the hand that had scratched his ears behaved.
"What kind of work are you looking to have done?" Ten asked, behaving. "And where?"
She tilted her head to the side. "Do you know the Coleman place? Used to be the Wise place? On the corner of Second Street where it crosses Chances Avenue?"
"Big Victorian. Blue. Lots of trees." It was one fine house. His crew had replaced the roof a few years back after hurricane force winds stripped half the shingles away. At the end of the job, he'd made the Wises an offer, but they'd stayed until Winton had died. Then May had gone to live with her sister in Dallas, selling it before he could bite. "You handling things for the Colemans now?"
"I bought it from them. Closed this morning. It's all mine."
She said it with relish, as if she'd landed herself the deal of the century. And knowing the albatross the property had become to Bob Coleman, she probably had. Ten just wished he'd known they'd decided to unload it. He'd really wanted that house.
It was solid, sturdy. Built to stand up to the elements. Built to be used. "I didn't know they were selling."
Her smile was sly. "I didn't give anyone else a chance to find out."
"Been keeping an eye on it, have you?"
"Like you wouldn't believe."
"Mind if I ask why?"
This time she wasn't quite as quick to answer, and the slyness slid from her smile. "It was the house I lived in from the time I was ten till I was eighteen."
Huh. Interesting. He guessed her age, then did a rough calculation backward through time. "Are you related to May and Winton? Or…were you one of their foster kids?"
The questions hung between them longer than he liked. And then her response, while not exactly an answer, told him exactly what he wanted to know.
"Does it matter? To you doing the renovations, I mean?"
"Not a bit." He reached for a pencil to have something to do with his hands. "That answers the where. Now give me an idea of the what."
"I need a couple of walls knocked out, and definitely new shutters. I'm sure I'll have a longer list once I go through all the rooms and decide how to use them, but the biggest thing will be the kitchen. Unless you can work magic with what's there, I'll need to have it completely redone."
He was stuck on knocking out walls. The house had stood intact for a hundred plus years; for some reason, he'd assumed she'd come to him knowing he'd appreciate its historic value. That he'd respect it. Not undermine it for the sake of convenience and the ego of interior design.
He rocked his pencil so the eraser end bounced off the drafting board, a gust of wind ruffling the blueprint held in place there by a two-by-four block. "You're looking to remodel rather than restore, then."
"Actually, I'm looking to renovate. I'll be living on the top two floors and using the first for my business. That requires a small commercial kitchen, and better traffic flow than the doorways allow for now." She paused, taking him in, her eyes a light green to go with her hair and broadcasting frustration. "I can explain more, or you can come by and take a look, or you can tell me I'm barking up the wrong tree and save us both the time."
He wanted to say he wasn't the man for the job, but knew he was. He wouldn't take shortcuts, or compromise the structure's integrity, or suggest additional destruction to pad his bill. He didn't want to do it, and so he would. "I can stop by tomorrow. Noon or so?"
"That would be great. I'm roughing it until the place is ready to be lived in, so I'll be there all day." She slid from the stool, reached into the tiny purse belted at her waist for a card. "Here's my cell number. If I don't hear you knock, you might need to call. Or you could just come in and yell," she added with a soft laugh. "The place is empty, so I shouldn't have any problem hearing you."
Her card mirrored his, a name and a number, though her ink was raised, her paper an upgrade, just like her T-shirt and boots. "The dog won't sound a warning?"
Bending, she mussed Magoo's ruff until he shuddered, pleasure rolling off of him along with a cloud of coarse black-and-tan hair. "I have a feeling this guy will be out making friends with the local wildlife. Or at least letting them know there's a new boss in town."
Ten took in her affection for the dog, took in the fall of her hair and the dancer's arch of her back as she bent. Took in the curve of her triceps that told him a lot about the body beneath her clothes. He bounced his pencil harder, pulled his gaze away, stared out the barn door at the trees standing sentry on either side of his road.
A lot of good they'd done him, allowing this woman and her dog to leave footprints all over, no warning or so much as a by-your-leave for the breach. He'd never indulged in the volatile mix of business with pleasure.
But what was he supposed to do now, her number and invitation in hand, the house he wanted belonging to her, and lust a monster complication growling at his feet?
He stood when she stood, and followed her to her Jeep. "Tomorrow, then. Noon sharp."