“As you can see, the additions will require the most work, while the rest is predominantly cosmetic. Of course, the camp is forty years old, so there could be unforeseen issues, but we’re optimistic that the job will go smoothly once we get started.”
“That’s the first rookie comment I’ve heard you make,” he said. “No construction job, especially one on anything this old, goes smoothly.”
Carrie appeared to be fighting for patience. “I prefer to be optimistic.”
He wondered if she was this contrary with everyone or just him.
“So what’s your stake in this?” he asked.
“Excuse me?” she said, stepping through a cobweb that would have sent men bigger than Noah squealing from the room.
Dodging the silk threads, he tested the sturdiness of a wall to find it detached at the bottom. Not a good sign.
“Why a women’s shelter? Why not a kids’ camp or something?”
“The area needs a shelter,” she said, stopping near the entrance. “There are women being abused who have nowhere to go.”
Noah didn’t realize that domestic violence had become an issue in his hometown.
“Really?” he said. “In Ardent Springs?”
“Do you think men only beat their wives in big cities?” she asked, the color high in her cheeks. “It happens everywhere, and it’s happening here.”
Holding up his hands in surrender, he said, “No need to get so testy. Any man who hits a woman deserves to have his head knocked off. I’m with you. I just didn’t realize we had that kind of a problem around here.”
To his surprise, Carrie relaxed. “You don’t believe in hitting a woman?”
What kind of a question was that? “Hell no, I’d never hit a woman. What kind of a guy do you think I am?”
“Women fall for men all the time who say that. A few months later, they’re putting ice on a black eye.”
This chick had clearly met some serious assholes before Patch.
“Real men don’t beat women. Period.”
“Even if the woman deserves it?” she asked, as if testing him.
“Never,” he said. “Not even if she swings first.”
Satisfied with his answer, Carrie smiled and her entire face changed. In an instant, Noah understood why Patch had been so determined to have her. Blue eyes brightened like polished diamonds, and a tiny dimple appeared in her left cheek. A man could search his whole life and never find such raw beauty and innocence staring back at him. Just looking at her made him feel lighter. More human.
“You should smile like that more often,” he said, leaning against the wall, aware that a goofy grin slit his face.
“I smile at my daughter all the time,” she said, her voice softer.
“Then that’s one lucky little girl.” He nearly asked if he could buy her lunch before he remembered who he was with. Noah shook his head to clear it as he rose off the wall. “Is that the whole tour then?”
Carrie’s smile vanished, as if she too had come back to reality.
“Yes, we’ve gone over everything. The work starts tomorrow, and your crew will arrive by eight.” All business once again, she held out the blueprints. “You can review these overnight if you’d like.”
Taking the cardboard cylinder, he said, “I’ll do that, thanks.” An awkward silence fell between them, and Noah couldn’t believe one smile had reduced him to a nervous schoolboy. “My cell number is in the paperwork back at the office. You can send it to the crew and make sure Mike has it in case he needs me.”
“Of course. And I’ll text you the names of the men you’ll be working with so you know who to expect in the morning.”
Good thing one of them was thinking straight.
“I appreciate that.” Pushing the door open, he let Carrie exit first and caught a whiff of strawberry shampoo. His body reacted as if he’d never smelled a fruit before.
Thankfully, Carrie proceeded to her car without looking back, and Noah crossed to his bike, at which point he realized there was nowhere to put the blueprints.
Tapping on her passenger window, he held up the plans with raised brows. Carrie lowered the window.
“Did we forget something?”
Noah admitted his problem. “I can’t get these home on the bike. Can you bring them over when you get home from work?”
“Oh.” She looked down at her seat as if unsure how to answer. “I guess so.”
“I appreciate it.” He slid the cylinder through the window and stepped back. “I’ll see you later, then.”
Carrie nodded as the window went up. Seconds later, she disappeared down the gravel drive.
“Get your shit together, dickhead,” he said to himself as he reached for his helmet. Seeing Carrie Farmer as anything more than a coworker, neighbor, and his friend’s widow was out of the question. One pretty smile didn’t change anything. Noah never made the same mistake twice, and this wasn’t the time to start.
Fun Fact #1 – When I decided to set a series in middle Tennessee, I had no idea I’d soon become a resident. Back in the mid-90s, I moved to Nashville, and stayed for three years. In the two decades since, I always knew I wanted to move back, but had no idea when or if it might happen. So when Lorelei Pratchett walked into my head in early 2014, I didn’t realize that plopping her into one of my favorite parts of the country would lead to plopping myself back there as well.
Fan Fact #2 – Noah Winchester started out as a Methodist minister. Hard to believe, I’m sure, but I thought that Carrie’s hero was a minister. And I did my best to make it so, writing half a book before realizing how wrong I was. After a brief but embarrassing freak out, the new and improved version of Noah walked onto the scene, and I’ve never been so happy to meet a character in my life.
Fun Fact #3 – As a visual person, I create a Pinterest board for all of my books. If you’re ever curious about where they live, what they wear, or what they look like to me, simply hop over to my Pinterest boards and check it out. No worries if what I imagined isn’t what you saw while reading the book. That’s the wonderful thing about books. You get to bring them to life in your mind, and there’s no wrong way to do that.