Find a Christian store Find a Christian store

<< Go Back

Her Handyman Hero

By Lorraine Beatty

Order Now!

Chapter One
The house looked like a riverboat that had been dropped into the middle of a lush green yard.
Reid Blackthorn frowned, puzzling over what he was seeing. The old white Victorian was ringed on two levels with wraparound porches dripping with gingerbread and ornately turned posts and spindles. The stately tower perched on top of the roof resembled a steamboat wheelhouse. All it lacked was a large red paddle wheel to complete the picture. It wasn’t what he had expected to find when he came looking for the woman who had taken his niece.
He rubbed his forehead and inhaled a calming breath. Legally, Victoria Montgomery was his niece’s guardian, but he was prepared to change that if possible. His last disastrous undercover assignment for the DEA had made him realize he wanted more than chasing drug dealers. He was empty and burned-out. All he wanted now was a quiet, peaceful existence. His first move had been tracking down his younger brother in hopes of making amends for not honoring their mother’s dying wish. Reid had promised to take care of Eddie, but instead Reid had followed his need for justice and never looked back.
He’d found Eddie in a hospital dying from years of drug abuse and alcoholism, and his only wish was to see his little daughter. Reid went in search of the mother and child only to find out Judy Stevens had died several months ago and given guardianship to a friend. The Montgomery woman. What had alarmed Reid was the neighbors’ comments. According to Mrs. Fisher, the guardian was flighty, irresponsible and incapable of taking care of a five-year-old child.
Reid was the child’s only blood relative, and nothing would prevent him from making sure his niece met her father before he died. He glanced at the absurdly ornate home again, then at the small sign positioned to the right of the sidewalk. Camellia Tea Room—Closed. Whoever this flaky woman was, he would set her straight. His niece wasn’t going to be raised by some herbal-tea-drinking, small-town loon.
A car whizzed by on the tree-lined street, breaking his concentration. Time to act. He strode along the narrow walkway and up the wide wooden steps leading to the expansive porch. The old planks complained at his weight. The mid-October air was thick with the smell of fresh paint. He raised his hand to push the doorbell, but a flush of anxiety caused him to pause. Maybe this situation required a little more backup than his own determination. He was new at this praying business and had no idea what to say to the man upstairs. He closed his eyes and simply asked for help before pressing the doorbell.
“Help!”
The shout came from inside the old house. His instincts kicked in. He grasped the doorknob and pushed. “Is everything okay in there?”
“No. I need help. I’m in the sunroom at the back.”
Reid pushed through into the foyer, his gaze focused on the end of a wide hallway. He moved quickly past the graceful staircase, his boots thudding heavily on the wide-planked wood floors.
“Back here.”
The feminine voice drew him to a room off to the right. He stopped and looked in, his brows lifting slightly as he took in the situation. The lovely wide-eyed woman had painted herself into a corner. Literally. She’d failed to plan ahead and now found herself trapped in a corner, unable to escape without ruining the fresh paint.
The woman brushed a loose strand of fawn-colored hair from her face. “You sure got here in a hurry. Floyd said he’d send you over, but I was afraid I’d be here until the floor dried. You’re Reid, right?”
He hesitated before nodding. How did she know his name? No one knew him in this small Mississippi town.
“Can you get me out of here? I have to pick up my little girl from school soon.”
He nodded again. “But how?”
“I don’t know, but I have to get out of here and pick up Lily.”
The concern in her voice and the urgency in her deep blue eyes overshadowed his questions. He looked about, but didn’t see anything that might extricate her from her predicament. “Do you have any lumber around?”
She squinted at him and screwed her mouth to one corner in a way that made him want to smile. “What?”
He hastened to explain. “A piece of wood, a plank.”
“Maybe out by the garage.”
A quick trip out the back door revealed a small stack of lumber piled near the driveway. He hoisted a two-by-six and carried it back inside. Pulling up a kitchen chair, he then aimed the plank at the woman. She held up her hands.
“What are you doing?”
“Getting you out. Take the end of the board and place it at your feet.”
She gave him a skeptical frown, then did as he instructed. When the board rested on the small patch of unpainted floor, Reid pulled the chair into place and rested the plank on the seat, creating a sloping bridge. After checking to make sure the board was secure, he moved to the edge of the door and grasped the frame, extending his hand toward the woman. “Walk slowly up the board. I’ll help you.”
She shook her head. “I can’t. It’s too narrow. I’ll fall off and ruin the paint.”
“You’ll be fine. Go slowly and keep your balance. It’s only a few feet, then you can take my hand.” For a moment he thought she would refuse, but a glance at the clock spurred her on. She definitely seemed determined to not be late picking up her child.
She placed a tentative step on the wood, then another. Her confidence grew as she moved. He stretched out his hand as far as he could. When she grasped his fingers he shifted his weight, holding firmly until she was near the end, then he slipped his hands around her waist and lifted her off the board. She wrapped her arms around his neck. She was small and soft and warm in his arms, and she smelled of paint and oranges.
He looked into her eyes, the cobalt color capturing his full attention. He’d never seen that color before. Their gazes locked. The blue eyes bored into him, burning through his barriers as if she could look directly into his soul and see his deepest secrets. Fear jolted through his body. He set her down and stepped back, swallowing against the sudden tightness in his throat.
When he dared a look at her again, her eyes were wide with surprise. Had she felt the odd connection, too? He opened his mouth to speak, but she beat him to it.
“Thank you. You’re a real-life rescue hero. I can’t believe you got here so fast. I only called Floyd a few minutes before you showed up.”
“Well, I was actually—”
“I’m Tori Montgomery, by the way. I’ve got to rush off, but Floyd said you were looking for a job so I’m hoping you’ll be my new handyman. I’m afraid I’ve been driving poor Floyd crazy with all my small repairs. He’s completed the remodel I hired him to do, but there seem to be all kinds of little issues with an old house like this. I think I’ve worn out my welcome by calling him all the time. He suggested I hire a part-time handyman who can be available on short notice. He has too many big projects—paying projects—to keep running over here to fix my old house. I think it was his way of getting me off his back. Of course I can’t afford to pay much. This old house has cost me more than I ever imagined. It’s only six weeks until the opening, and there’s a long list of repairs that need to be done before then.”
Reid tried to sort through the flood of information she’d given him. She thought her contractor had sent him to be her handyman. The idea took root before he realized it. If he wanted to get the true picture of Tori Montgomery, see if she was the flake he’d been told she was, which right now seemed likely, he’d learn far more from being undercover than telling her outright who he was and what he wanted. He could also get to know his niece. What harm could it do to go along with the error? He was handy, he could help around the old house and maybe find some ammunition to help him secure custody of his brother’s child if necessary.
“What would you like me to do first?”
She picked up her keys and faced him. “Oh, great. So you’ll help me out?”
The hope in her eyes sent a twinge of remorse along his nerves. He was used to undercover positions, but this wasn’t a gang of thugs he was trying to infiltrate. This was a lovely young woman he was deceiving. “Sure.”
She smiled and the cobalt eyes took on a new life, full of sparkle and joy. “Then you can start by replacing the old cabinet door pulls and handles with the new ones. They’re on the counter. I’ll be back soon.”
She started past him, then stopped and looked into his eyes. The connection jolted him again. Odd.
“Thanks for the rescue. There are drinks in the fridge if you want one.”
Reid watched her walk away. The paint-stained cutoff jeans and the oversize shirt did nothing to detract from her feminine figure. The short ponytail bobbed as she moved like a friendly wave. Tori Montgomery wasn’t quite what he’d expected. But she was still a big question mark in the suitable-guardian category.
*
Tori Montgomery slid behind the wheel of her small sedan and inserted the key. It was a good thing Reid had shown up when he did, or she’d have been stuck in that corner for hours watching paint dry. How humiliating. She could have called her friend Shelley and had her bring Lily home, but she liked picking up her little girl from school. It was one of the happiest parts of her day, seeing the big smile on the sweet face as she climbed into the car. Besides, she was determined to be the perfect mother, and a mother should pick up her child from school, not expect a friend to fill in for her.
Her gaze drifted to the sunroom extending out from the back of the historic home. Reid wasn’t anything like she’d expected. Floyd had referred to him as a young man. But this guy looked to be midthirties. Then again, Floyd was in his sixties, so he’d likely consider anyone under forty young.
There was something unsettling about her new handyman. He’d plucked her from the board as if she weighed nothing, making her aware of the strength in his arms and the broad, sturdy shoulders. He’d smelled so good she’d wanted to nuzzle closer to his neck and inhale the musky scent. He didn’t smell like any of the other workers who had filled her house these last few months. Instead of the laid-back, jovial attitude she’d come to expect, Reid was controlled, distant and observant.
He didn’t look like them, either. His six-foot frame was sturdy and strong, and perfectly proportioned, like a model from an outdoor catalogue. His black-coffee-colored hair had a mind of its own, waving over his ears and falling across his forehead.
But it wasn’t his physical appeal that had rattled her. She’d looked into his eyes and been drawn in, looking beyond the rich brown color with the thick lashes to the darkness beyond. He was a man with secrets and deep pain, but he was also searching. She’d felt a quiver of connection in that moment he’d held her. An odd recognition. Something in common. But before she could explore it, he’d set her down and stepped away. The dark eyes shielded anything he was feeling, leaving her with a need to know what he was hiding. He’d assumed an air of control and command that sent a twinge of concern along her nerves.
Now she was being ridiculous.
Jerking her thoughts back into focus, she started the engine and pulled out of the drive. What did it matter how the man looked or if he had secrets? She needed a handyman to stay on top of all the glitches that popped up in her 150-year-old home, and as long as he could do that she was satisfied.
Surprisingly, Tori arrived at the school in record time. Her thoughts had been distracted by the handyman. Inside she took the left hallway to the kindergarten rooms. Her friend Shelley was also Lily’s teacher. She was hoping to find a few moments after class to talk to her before she headed home. Shelley’s little girl, Emily, was Lily’s best friend, and having them live next door had proved a real blessing. The girls spent hours together. It was really very sweet to watch them. Having a new friend close by had made Lily’s adjustment to moving to Dover easier. Tori thanked the Lord daily for all he’d provided in her new role as guardian and mother.
It was a role she’d accepted at the request of her dying friend, but one she feared she was totally inadequate to handle. She’d never pictured herself as a mother. Never pictured herself as much at all. As the baby girl of the five Montgomery siblings, she’d been spoiled and pampered, but she’d never found her calling. Nothing seemed to hold her attention for long. She’d attempt a new job, a new skill and master it quickly. Then the boredom would set in and she’d go in search of something new to stimulate her mind. Three degrees, six jobs, dozens of crafts and three broken engagements later, she wasn’t any closer to finding her place in the world.
That wasn’t exactly true. Being Lily’s mom had given her more satisfaction, more joy and delight than she’d ever known. It had also filled her with a fear of failure that kept her up nights. What if she made a mistake? What if she wasn’t as good a mother as Lily’s mom would have been?
Tori stopped at the last door on the right. Her daughter’s room.
Daughter. It was still odd to think of the child that way. Peeking in, she saw Lily and Emily at the craft table in the back, putting away the crayons. Shelley spotted her and came forward.
“Hey. How’s it going with the old house?” She glanced at the paint stains on Tori’s faded cutoffs. “Been wielding a paintbrush, huh?”
Tori chuckled. “Yes, and I made a mess of it. Would you believe I actually painted myself into a corner? I was afraid I’d be late picking Lily up.”
Shelley slid a stack of books into the shelves behind her. “I could have brought her home with me.”
“I know, but it’s my job. I shouldn’t pass it off on someone else.”
“Now you know that’s not how it would be. You’re just trying to make a perfect life for Lily, but that’s not possible. No one has that. Stop worrying and enjoy your little girl.”
“She’s not mine. She’s Judy’s little girl.” For the last year and a half Tori had been living in California with her friend, providing care and support as she battled cancer. With no family, Judy had asked Tori to be Lily’s guardian and raise her the way she would have if she’d lived.
“Wrong. You’re her mother now.” Shelley grinned. “So how did you get out of the corner?”
“Oh. I was rescued by my handyman.”
“You have a handyman now?”
“I hope so. Floyd fired me.” She hastened to explain. “There’s always something around the place that needs to be fixed or repaired, and I’ve been calling Floyd to send someone over. But he can’t keep pulling guys off other jobs, and he’s going to start charging me for each call, so he suggested a guy who could work part-time and be on call for all my repairs.”
“Can you afford it?”
“No, but I don’t have a choice. If I’m going to have the bed-and-breakfast open for Thanksgiving week, I have to get all these repairs taken care of. Having someone on call would be a huge help. I already have four guests lined up. Everything has to be ready.”
A little body pushed past Shelley and lunged at Tori.
“Aunt Tori.”
A rush of softness coursed through Tori’s body as she bent down to hug her little girl. “Did you have a fun day?”
The dark curls shimmered as she nodded enthusiastically. “We made paper flowers. But we can’t show you yet. It’s for a surprise.”
“That sounds like fun. I can’t wait.”
Lily looked up at her teacher. “Can Emily come to our house and play when we get home?”
Shelley touched Lily’s head lightly. “Sorry, kiddo. Emily has a dentist appointment today, but she can come over for a while later.”
Lily pouted. “But I’ll miss her.”
Tori hugged the girl. “You got a new book in the mail today. You can read it until Emily gets home.”
“Yay! A book.”
“We’d better go. I want to see how the handyman did, and maybe I can get him to take a look at the pocket door that’s jammed.”
“So about this handyman,” Shelley prompted. “Old, young?”
“Oh, he’s thirtyish, tall, dark, serious. I’ll let you know more if he works out.”
“Are you working on the flood committee this weekend?”
Tori nodded. “You?” Torrential rains last week had caused the Pearl River to overflow its banks, leaving serious damage to the west side of town. It had flooded several homes in an upscale neighborhood with four feet of water, but it was the homes farther downriver that had borne the brunt of destruction. The residents there had no insurance, no means of repairing or replacing their homes. Peace Community Church, along with other organizations in town, had formed committees to help pull out damaged walls and floors and rebuild the homes. Sadly, there were enough homes in need on that side of town to keep everyone busy for many weeks. Some had turned their attention to collecting furniture, clothing and household goods for them, as well.
“I did, but I’m not sure how much help I’ll be. I’ve never cleaned out a flooded home before.”
“Me neither, but my brother Linc said be sure and wear a mask because the stench is awful.”
Shelley grimaced. “I suppose it is nasty work. But I can help.”
“Are you sure?” Tori smiled as an image of the fastidious Shelley covered in grime formed in her mind. “I can’t wait to see that—Miss Spotless guts a house. I hope you have an appropriate outfit.”
Her friend feigned insult. “I’ve got game. You wait and see.”
Tori chuckled. “I’m going to take pictures. I know several people who won’t believe it without proof.”
They said goodbye and Tori took Lily’s hand as they left the building, her thoughts still with the victims of the flood. She counted her blessings each time she thought about the people who had been forced from their homes. It put her problems into perspective. She faced a multitude of obstacles in getting her new B and B up and running, but it was nothing compared to losing everything.
On the ride home Lily regaled Tori with stories from school, funny things she and Emily had done, and speculated on the book waiting for her at home.
Tori was relieved to see that Reid’s dark blue truck was still parked at the curb when she pulled into the drive. The thought did cross her mind that she’d left a stranger in her house without a second thought. Then again, Floyd had sent him so he must be trustworthy and qualified.
Lily scurried ahead through the gate in the picket fence into the backyard. “Where’s my book?”
Tori stopped on the walk when she saw the handyman sitting on the porch steps. He looked relaxed and at home. She started to smile, but his gaze latched on to hers and she caught her breath. He was studying her, sizing her up. She could sense his probing intellect reading her.
She sucked in a breath and shook off the sensation. She was being silly. The man had a commanding presence to go along with his chiseled features. His jaw had been cut with a straight edge, his nose even and strong over a generous mouth. The air of intensity and mystery about him was both intriguing and unsettling.
She stopped at the steps. Lily was already there staring. “Lily, this is Mr. Reid. He’s going to be helping around here for a while.”
“Are you going to fix things? `Cause we have lots of things that are broken.”
Reid glanced at Tori, and the look in his eyes startled her. His mouth softened; his dark probing eyes warmed as he looked at her little girl. “Then I’ll do my best to fix them all.”
Lily flashed her brightest smile. “Good, `cause we have bee bees to get ready for.”
Tori smiled and rested her hands on her daughter’s shoulders. “She means bed-and-breakfast guests. B and B. I want to have the house ready by the middle of next month. Will you be available during that time?”
He looked at Lily. “I think I can work it out.”
“Aunt Tori, where’s my new book?”
“On the kitchen table.”
The girl bounded up the stairs and hurried inside.
Reid met her gaze with raised brows. “Aunt Tori?”
His tone and gaze suggested there was more behind his question than mere curiosity.
“Lily is my ward. I became her guardian when her mother died. Aunt Tori just sort of happened.” She faced her handyman and sensed his probing gaze again. He was gauging, trying to figure her out, and making a mental list of her good and bad points. She looked away, flushed and uncomfortable. When she glanced back, the probing look was gone and his gaze was unreadable.
Or was she merely being overly sensitive? It was happening more and more since she’d brought Lily back to her hometown. She questioned her decisions, second-guessed every move and read something negative in others’ comments and expressions too often.
He stood. “I finished attaching the hardware. Is there anything else?”
She had a long list, but for some reason she wasn’t ready to hand him another project. She took her phone from her purse. “If you’ll give me your number I’ll call you when I need you.”
He took the phone from her hand and their fingers brushed, drawing their gazes together. Had he done that on purpose? He punched in his number. “Call anytime.”
“We haven’t discussed your pay.”
“There’ll be time for that later.”
“Where are you staying?”
“The Dixiana Motor Lodge. Not far.”
Reid nodded and stepped past her, leaving a waft of his tantalizing aftershave in the air. She watched him as he walked away, his slow, easy gait in keeping with his controlled demeanor and his economy of words. She’d never met anyone who stirred so many questions. Nor someone who had caused her nervous system to quake so unexpectedly. A sudden shiver chased up her spine. Had she done the right thing in hiring him?
In the kitchen of the main house, Tori saw the gleaming new cabinet hardware Reid had installed. He’d even placed the old handles in a small box. At least he was considerate.
Picking up the box, she started toward the table where she’d been collecting items to take to the attic later. She glanced at the sunroom and blinked. The unfinished patch in the corner was painted. The evidence of her faux pas was gone. Had the handyman done that? How had he managed? More importantly, how thoughtful of him to have finished it. She’d have to thank him. His credentials shifted her opinion up a notch. He’d completed the task she’d requested neatly and had even gone the extra mile on the floor. Maybe she’d found the right man after all. She needed someone she could depend on if the house was going to open on time.
Floyd had come through again. He’d sent her a skilled worker to take on all the minor repairs. It was an added bonus that he was easy on the eyes. Which didn’t matter a wit. Handsome men were a dime a dozen. All she was interested in were his skills.
Despite that, she still wondered about the odd sense of connection that had passed through them earlier. Her imagination. That’s all it was. She’d merely been reacting to being rescued like a damsel in distress.
She was no damsel, and she didn’t need to be rescued. But she did need a man who could fix things.

Order Now!

<< Go Back


Developed by Camna, LLC

This is a service provided by ACFW, but does not in any way endorse any publisher, author, or work herein.