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"There would have to be another downpour before that lazy contractor got here," Laurel fumed. She tied her raincoat's hood over her red hair and climbed the ladder. Laurel shook her fist at an offending eaves spout, which, rather than draining as it should, was spewing water into her favorite bed of hostas.
Laurel had learned to do a lot of things since she'd been the owner of Oaklawn, but this was the first time she'd tackled a leak in the middle of a thunderstorm. The raincoat provided some protection from the torrent as she took a hammer out of one of her pockets, stuck some nails in her mouth and leaned toward a metal strap that had broken and caused the gutter to separate.
She scowled at several miniature ponds in her land-scaping. With all of these delays, how could she possibly beautify Oaklawn in time for Debbie's August wedding just three months from now?
Believing she was alone, Laurel almost fell off the ladder when a loud knock sounded at the nearby door. Recovering her balance, she peered through the screened back porch. Protected by a large umbrella, a man stood at thedoor.
"It's high time you got here," Laurel shouted above a roll of thunder. "I've been waiting two days for you to come and do what should have been done weeks ago."
"I beg your pardon," the man said.
"And so you should," Laurel answered crossly. "My hostas are about ruined. Come and fix this leak."
He left the doorstep and walked languidly toward her. She didn't recognize him, but the contractor who'd renovated her home employed a lot of people. She'd seen many different workers during the renovation. As this man approached, Laurel backed down the ladder. She extended the hammer and nails to him, irritated that a workman would appear on her doorstep empty-handed.
A smile seemed to lurk at the corners of his mouth, but his vivid blue eyes were unfathomable. He laid aside the umbrella, took the hammer and nails and obediently climbed the ladder. "It isn't funny!" Laurel said angrily. "I spent more money than I can afford on this project, and this is the fourth time I've had to have one of your workers redo something."
The workman winced when a spurt of water splashed his face and drenched the front of his shirt.
Laurel bit her lips to stifle further comments, since her conscience hurt a little because the man was getting soaked. Maybe she should have delayed the repair until the rain was over, but she couldn't afford to replace the plants. Besides, why would he come to work on a day like this dressed only in a cotton shirt and dress trousers? And without any tools? She knew reliable workers were hard to find, but this was ridiculous!
With a few deft movements, the man squeezed the guttering together, pounded three nails in the brace that held the guttering to the building, and the leak was fixed. Still atop the ladder, he turned and said, "Is the work satisfactory now, ma'am?"
His long, thick black hair, dusted with gray, was plastered to his head. Compelling blue eyes gleamed from his square, tanned face. He wasn't a particularly handsome man, but his clinging wet clothes revealed a tall, rugged, perfectly proportioned body. Why did she have the feeling he was laughing at her?
Laurel realized she'd been staring at the man when he prodded, "If the work suits you, I'd like to find a drier place. I'm reminded of my dad's expression about people who didn't know enough to come in out of the rain."
Annoyed because of his suspected levity, Laurel answered tartly, "As long as the water is going down the gutter, it's okay. I'm sorry you got wet, but you should know better than to come to work on a day like this without a raincoat. Come inside, there's something else I want you to do."
Micah Davidson stepped down and handed the hammer to Laurel. He shouldered the ladder and set it on the porch, then picked up his umbrella and joined her. His humor at the situation was tempered by the fact that he was drenched.
"Ma'am," he said, "let me introduce myself -"
"This way," Laurel said, and motioned imperiously. He followed her into the broad entryway of the palatial mansion. She untied the hood, shrugged out of her raincoat and hung it on the rack by the door.
Micah's eyes widened appreciably. The woman's red hair, with tints of reddish gold, clung to her head in short curls. She had alabaster skin and a petite body, giving her an appearance of fragile beauty. Judging by the way she'd been bossing him around, she certainly wasn't frail. Her green eyes flashed like neon lights when she was angry, and he thought humorously that, with her red hair and green eyes, her head would make a good Christmas tree ornament. He still had no idea who she was.
Laurel placed her right foot on the bottom step of the curved, hanging stairway in the central hall. The board wiggled back and forth beneath her sturdy white shoes.
"That board hasn't been nailed down, and it's an accident waiting to happen. My daughter tripped on it last week."
Micah's lips twitched as he said, "I'll have to borrow your hammer again. And maybe a nail or two."
"Just a minute!" Laurel said, suspicion dawning in her mind. "Why'd you come to work without any tools? Aren't you from Bowman's Contractors?"
Because of a sudden flash of embarrassment, Laurel's temper flared again, and she said, "Why didn't you say so?"
"I tried to, ma'am."
"Oh, stop calling me ma'am. My name is Laurel Cooper. Who are you anyway?"
"What's your business here?"
Excerpted from Listen To Your Heart by Irene Brand Copyright © 2004 by Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.. Excerpted by permission.
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Posted August 15, 2011
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