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Mallory looked up from her exam of the blueprints of the house they were currently building.
“Watch out!” someone shouted.
She tripped over an electrical cord and fell hard on the unyielding concrete slab. The whole framework of a freestanding interior wall fell. It crashed within inches of her and spared her added pain.
“How the hell did that fall?” She eyed the workers. “Where’s the bracing for this wall?”
“Mallory, are you all right?” her construction foreman and one time boyfriend, Cort yelled, working his way through the framework of an exterior wall.
“Find out who removed the brace from this wall,” she ordered him.
“Your father’s here.” He nodded to the pickup truck parked near her jeep.
“Great,” she groaned when she saw him talking to one of the workers.
She tried to think how to fight the argument he’d bring up.
“So, you’ve had another mishap. How did it happen?”
She took a short, deep breath. His grim face conveyed all his thoughts. Every aged line with the set of his straight, tight lips warned her he was going to try to pull her off the job again.
“I don’t know, Dad. The wall had a brace and someone removed it.” She rolled up the blueprint and nervously tapped it against the side of her leg.
“This is the third accident in two weeks, Mallory. Maybe this isn’t where you should be.” He draped an arm over her shoulder and led her along through doorway gaps of wood until they were outside. “This is getting serious, cupcake. Let Cort handle this house and you can run the show on another.”
“This is my project. I’ve waited years for you to let me finally be the one in charge instead of him. I own half of this business and I have an equal say. I’m not your twelve year old little cupcake any more, I’m twenty-four.”
“I know you can handle the actual job and the problems. It’s this particular one that worries me with the threats, and the environmentalist group being involved.”
“I don't know why the law can’t do anything about those activists. If you ask me, Brady Harwood needs to spend a little time dealing with this situation himself.”
“The police have all the information,” a man said from behind her. “There’s no proof the environmental group is behind the problems here.”
Mallory turned to see the body attached to the sexy deep voice. He reached a hand passed her to her father. She picked up a hint of his cologne, a spicy musk, very appealing.
“Mr. Parker, another problem?” the man shaking her father’s hand asked.
“No problem. A small construction mistake by a worker, that’s all. It’s been taken care of. This is my daughter, Mallory. She’s in charge of your project.”
“Miss Parker.” He offered his hand and a smile. “I’m Brady Harwood.”
Mallory slid her fingers across his warm palm. He didn’t seem to care she stared too long, and she didn’t mind the time he took to rub a caress with his thumb over the back of her hand. Electrical shocks rode up her arm making the chambray shirt she wore feel even hotter than she’d thought earlier.
“A lot has been done. I’m impressed. If I’m not interrupting, maybe you could give me a tour, Miss Parker?” he asked.
“Yes. Of course.”
Mallory took her time going through the different planned rooms and reminding him what they were.
“I’m not sure I like where the laundry room is located,” he commented as they went through a kitchen area and another utility room before coming to where the laundry facilities would be.
“It’s exactly where it’s shown on the blueprint.” She started to unfurl the paper.
“Oh, I don’t doubt that. I guess I just didn’t pay much attention to the layout. My fiancé was pretty much in charge. Can it be changed?” He put his hand on the edge of the blueprint and leaned against her back to look over her shoulder.
A tremor turned up every hair follicle on her skin. She wondered if her deodorant and mouthwash were still working.
“Your architect could make the alteration.” She inhaled the intoxicating scent of his cologne. “If you’d like, I could call him and see what can be done.”
“No. That’s all right. I don’t want to get into a time consuming battle with him.”
“I could make an addition of a small stackable washer/dryer unit in this linen closet.” She flipped the page over and pointed to the hall in the second level.
“Near the master bedroom?” His finger followed the hall lines to the doorway.
“Too close? We could—” She held her breath as he moved closer.
“Not close enough for me.”
The heat of him swept around her.
“Sitting it right in the bedroom would be ideal,” he continued. “But that wouldn’t be so attractive. I like your idea. Do it.”
She nodded, afraid her voice might squeak.
He put a hand on the back of her shoulder. “To have such a quick fix makes me think you’ve already studied this plan.”
“Yes. Sort of a habit with me, to find what I think are flaws. I don’t mean that your design is bad. It’s little things like the washer and dryer I notice. It comes from living alone and doing for myself, I suppose. I just couldn’t imagine having to go that far to wash my clothes and then carry them back upstairs.”
“Precisely my problem with that laundry room. I suppose Jenna didn’t consider it because she’d have a maid.” He looked through the frame of where windows would give a view of the gulf. “Do you have any other suggestions for changes you’d make?”
“I do, but some would cost a considerable amount to make now that we’ve already framed the lower half of the house and are working on the second story.”
“I’d still like to hear them. How about over dinner tonight at my condo?”
“Any changes might be better for you to visualize from here, instead of on a piece of paper. Besides, don’t you think you should ask your fiancé first?” She tried not to let him catch her looking at him, but he seemed to be doing his own share of observing her.
“I’m sorry, did I not mention Jenna is my ex-fiancé? We’ve gone our separate ways. Seems I wasn’t as in love with her as much as I thought.”
“I’m sorry things didn’t work out for you,” she said as sincerely as possible without meaning it. “I suppose we could just discuss the changes I would make first and if any sound like they’d interest you, we could go over them here.”
“Then my place for dinner?”
“An early one. I do have to show up here at seven tomorrow morning.”
“? I could come pick you up, if you’d like.” He ran a hand over his blond, sun-bleached hair. The wavy locks obeyed his positioning of them.
“I can manage to drive myself, Mr. Harwood.”
“It’s Brady.” He held his cell phone out to her. “Put you number in and I’ll text you my address.”
She typed her name and the number of her cell into the boxes he had opened in his contact list, and then handed the cell back to him.
“I suppose I should go see about cleaning up my condo. No telling where I’ve left my dirty clothes scattered.” He chuckled. “I’ll see you later.”
She felt the sigh bubbling up her throat and swallowed.