Sitting in her car, Cat felt something sizzle down the center of her stomach—a frisson of emotion she wasn’t sure she wanted to label. Staring directly out her windshield, she squinted at the back entrance of McBoy’s Hardware Store, her eyes searching almost desperately ahead—Matt had requested she come through the loading dock at the back. When she’d thought to raise an eyebrow in question, he’d been gruff.
“We don’t actually repair cabinetry here, you know.”
Oh, yeah. Right.
“No, I know,” she’d rushed to say, feeling embarrassment creep over her skin.
“So I don’t really want customers seeing you drop off a busted door…”
“Sure. Of course.”
So now here she was, staring at the industrial vinyl siding of the mammoth building. On her passenger seat, wrapped in a towel to keep any prying eyes at bay, sat her kitchen doors. All morning at work, she’d wondered about this appointment, her thoughts at once anxious—that he’d take one look at the door and tell her it wasn’t going to work—and in the next, she found herself wanting, excited…why, she hadn’t a clue, really. There should be nothing of interest about this mission. It should hold little more enthusiasm than a trip to the postal office to buy stamps. And yet…she’d never lost track of the time of day, her eyes itching to glance at the clock every few minutes as her afternoon crawled by.
And now, at last, here she sat. And if she didn’t get moving soon…. With a flick of her wrist, Cat turned off her car. Probably it wasn’t best to keep Matt waiting. Especially as he hadn’t been exactly, well, thrilled with the whole arrangement to begin with. Nor had he been particularly subtle about his feelings on the matter. No need to piss him off any further.
Scurrying around the front of her car, she quickly reached for the passenger door, her long arms stretching across the street to grab her doors. Holding them carefully in her grasp, she knocked the door shut with her hip and turned back toward the building. In front of her were three large garage doors and two smaller man doors. Hesitating for a moment, Cat considered which entrance to use. Hoisting the swaddled doors higher, she felt her stomach tightened. This is what she hated about new things, new places.
Not knowing what the fuck to do.
And feeling so fucking conspicuous about it.
Rooted to the spot, she shook her head. “Okay, don’t be stupid. Just try a door. If you don’t find him, try the next.”
The jerk of her voice, the frustration at her own damn self, seemed to do the trick. No sooner had Cat started walking then she decided to try the man door situated on the side of the building. Weirdly, a sense of calm stole over her person. She’d made a decision and if it were the wrong one…well, it wasn’t like she was snooping or doing anything illegal. And really, if Matt had the gull to get irritated then perhaps he should have been more descriptive. These thoughts led her to the door, where, juggling the items in her arms, she cautiously turned the knob. It twisted easily in her hand.
Pushing the door open, Cat blinked as she crossed over the threshold. The ceiling was incredibly high, as were the windows marching alongside the building. It had the effect of casting a rather dim light over the large space, even accounting for the rows of fluorescent lights flooding down upon the cement flooring.
But at least Cat knew she was in the right spot. Standing almost directly in front of her was Matt. Seeing him gave Cat serious pause as her ears accustomed to the whirling, whining spin of—what was that thing in his hands? Squinting, Cat shrugged as she watched a veritable shower of wood shavings twirl and flyaway around him, flecks and shavings of it sprinkling his clothes, the muscles of his arms bunching as he ran a block of wood across the side of what she at least recognized as a saw of some kind.
Cat had found Matt…but it was obvious he had not yet realized she was in the building with him.
His head was bent down, his goggled eyes concentrating hard as he worked. Cat told herself that was why she paused at the foot of the door, her eyes watching his lithe, easy movements: after all, one wrong move, one surprised jerk and, well…
She told herself she stayed quiet, half-hidden in the shadows of the building, because she didn’t want to scare him, which could cause him to hurt himself. She was merely waiting until he shut off that deadly contraption…
But that was only part of the reason.
Her stomach clenched. She’d never thought to consider that a man might have sexy forearms. But golly.
In her other, rather rushed run-ins with Matt McBoy, Cat had done her best to look at him as infrequently as she possibly could—a defense mechanism to keep him from seeing how utterly mortified she’d been. If she couldn’t see his eyes then he couldn’t see into hers. She’d wanted to fade into the background, an unremembered, faceless customer. No distractions, no advertisements as to her complete stupidity with home repairs.
She shook her head amusedly. Well, now that they’d jumped over that little hurdle, because there could be no doubt in his mind about her now, she let her eyes drift over his broad shoulders openly. He was wearing flannel again, this one white-and-black, with loose-fitting jeans and a tattered baseball cap, the bill of which was ripped and stained from the sun and probably sweat.
To say he was dressed casually was an understatement, and yet…there was something so—watching him work that machine, watching those bulging forearms, the lines and veins straining and stretching, Cat swallowed thickly.
Her stomach clenched again.
It had been a while since she’d…well, since she’d so much as dated a man. That probably explained her sudden, unacceptable appreciation for the male body so ruggedly on display.
Her fingers curled sharply into the towel as she imagined—
“Uh, hello? Hey?”
At the question, Cat’s eyes jerked upward colliding with the questioning glint in the object of her current fantasy’s gaze. Suddenly, she noticed the silence. The whining hum of the saw in front of him had been shut off. Matt was no longer looking down at the wooden block on his work-table. He was looking straight at her!
And judging by the incredulity of his voice just now, that had not been the first time he’d tried to speak to her.
For the second time in as many minutes, Cat was grateful for the dim lightening in the building. Clearing her throat, because Matt was still staring at her, with one eyebrow raised now, she sputtered: “Yes, hi.” Advancing toward him, Cat prayed her face had slowly lessened its pink hue. She smiled brilliantly. “I’m not sure if you remember me. I was in over the weekend and your grandmother—”
“I remember you.” The way he said it made an idiot of her statement.
And really, it had been a stupid thing to say. Of course he’d remember her. He was fixing her damn door. It wasn’t a normal everyday activity for him. He’d been more than clear on that front.
Clearing her throat again, Cat tried to laugh. It wasn’t a terrible attempt. “Right, of course. I’m sorry. I didn’t want to interrupt you earlier—”
He smirked. “Yeah?”
“Well, yes, at least at first.” Why did she feel the need to explain herself? Cat would do absolutely anything to shut her mouth, and yet she couldn’t seem to stop herself. If she could just rationalize her oogling…She flicked her hair behind her shoulder. “And then, well, you caught me. I was daydreaming.”
He looked shocked.
“I, um, well, maybe daydreaming isn’t the right word,” she corrected, hoping her voice sounded casual. She shrugged. “Long day at the office. You know how it is, sometimes you just can’t shut it off.”
His lips twitched again. Dammit, he wasn’t buying it. Still, he didn’t say anything. He didn’t even bother to agree with her statement, which somehow made it all the more obvious. Instead, he nodded toward the wrapped doors in her hands.
“What? Oh! Yes.” Marching up to him, she held out her hands. “I also brought the broken piece,” she told him as he took the doors off her hands. “I wasn’t sure—you know, if you’d want it. I’m sure you don’t, but just in case…”
Snapping her mouth shut, Cat smiled tightly. She really needed to get the babbling under control. A rush of resentment coursed through her body. She was usually better than this. Clamping her lips together, she watched him set the bundle down on a workbench, slowly unwrapping them from the confines of her peach-colored towel. Silently, she came up to stand beside him as he inspected the piece, turning it this way and that, his fingers running down the curves.
He did this for a few moments, but an eternity of nerves eddied their way up Cat’s arms, closing around her throat.
“So?” Bouncing on the balls of her feet, she despised the pleading note in the question. “What do you think? Can you fix it? Do you think?”
Slowly, he set the cupboard door back down on the counter. Then his eyes shifted to take in the pinched features of her face.
“As I said, I’ll give it a try.”
She supposed she’d have to accept that.
“Okay.” She ran her tongue over her lips. “But you’ll do it?”
He sighed. “Yeah.”
She nodded impatiently. “How much will it cost?”
He shrugged. “Well, this is a basic walnut veneer plywood door, so the material shouldn’t be very hard to come by—or very expensive, for that matter. The fact that your landlord then painted the wood white will actually work in our favor.”
Hearing him say it like that, another jolt of feeling zipped down Cat’s stomach. There was something so scandalous in it all. They were puling one over on her landlord. Though Cat was usually fastidious about her moral compass, for some reason, the thought gave her a kick.
Besides, her landlord was kind of a jerk anyway. So whatever.
And in the grand scheme of things, it was the least of criminal mastermind activities.
“I’ll price them out and get back to you back tomorrow. Okay?”
She nodded, avoiding those brown eyes so close to her own. It felt somehow obvious, when she looked at him, what she was thinking. “Sure, no problem. And you?”
“What’s the cost for labor?”
Bringing one hand up to the back of his neck, those long tapered fingers rubbed at the muscles distractedly. “Well, how about we wait and see what the finished product looks like first.”
“Okay. But I am going to pay you.”
He shrugged. “No one’s fighting you on that.”
She nodded slowly. “No discounts, either.”
His brows furrowed. “Right. Okay.”
“I’ll pay the going rate.”
He frowned. “I told you, I’m not a professional.”
“And you also told me no one was fighting me on payments.”
That stopped him momentarily. Then, with a weary shake of his head, he took a step back from the workbench. “Fine. That’s up to you.”
She bit back a smile. “Good.”
He inclined his head toward the doors. “I should have it done by the end of the week.”
“Really? That’s fast.”
“It’s an easy design.”
Cat nodded again. She realized they’d reached the end of their conversation and she was assuaged with two diverging feelings: regret because that meant it was time for her to leave, and pure and utter relief that she could escape before she said yet another stupid thing.
She had a sinking feeling she’d replay her conversation with this man over and over again until the early hours of the morning, her groans of mortification the only company she’d have as she berated herself…
Taking a meaningfully step backward, she half raised her hand. “Okay. Well,” she nodded toward the table saw again. “I suppose I should let you get back to it.” She took another step backward, trying to ignore the small voice hoping he’d call her back, ask her to stay…
But he didn’t. “Sounds good. I’ll call you tomorrow to talk about the material.” And with that, he lowered the goggles back of his eyes again and, without bothering to watch her actually leave, turned back to what he’d been doing before she arrived.
“Right.” With a whispered word, she shifted, her feet beating a hasty, almost clumsy, retreat in her desire to leave as quickly as possible.