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"But Uncle Flynn, you promised."
Flynn McCauley shook his head, his eyes glued to the television, where the Mariners played out the top of the ninth inning. "Just let me see the highlights from last night's game. I promise I'll turn it back in a minute."
"But, but..." Colin tapered off, and Flynn watched the next few minutes in disbelief. He hadn't thought the Mariners could pull off the win. Damn, he owed Brody twenty bucks.
The frightening sound of a child's tears tore Flynn from the game. He stared at his nephew in shock. "Colin?"
Five-and-a-half-year-old Colin McCauley didn't cry when he skinned his knees, when he'd suffered a black eye from a wild pitch, or when his father had mistakenly thrown away his favorite T-shirt just last week, thinking the holey thing a rag. The kid was tougher than a lot of grown men Flynn knew, a mirror image of Mike in too many ways.
"Colin, what's wrong, dude?" Panicked when Colin continued to cry, Flynn hurried to change the channel. Then he offered him some of the soda Colin had been asking for earlier but wasn't allowed to have. Anything to dry up Colin's tears. "It's okay, buddy. Don't cry." He crossed the couch to hug him, concerned there might be something really wrong.
After a few moments, Colin stopped his tears and squirmed to get free so he could see the television. His grief dried up as if it had never been, not even a hiccup to indicate emotional trauma.
A remarkable recovery. "Are you, or are you not, upset about something?"
Colin took a long drag of soda and laughed at the screen. "Not now." He beamed, looking exactly like Mike-smug and annoying.
"Scammed by a kid. This is embarrassing."
"Ubie told me it would work, but I didn't believe him."
"Uncle Brody, right. Now why am I not surprised?" He had his best friend and business partner to thank for Colin's ability to lie with a straight face. "When did he teach you that?"
"At dinner last Sunday. Oh, watch this, Uncle Flynn. See how the monster eats the school? Awesome." Colin dissolved into boyish laughter.
Flynn sighed and sank into the couch. Babysitting duty wasn't so bad, or at least it hadn't been when the kid attended preschool. But if Colin was mastering Brody's tricks now, imagine what he'd be like at eight, ten... hell, as a teenager. Flynn resolved to have a firm talk with good old Ubie. No point in encouraging Colin to scam people if Flynn wasn't allowed to be in on the joke.
Flynn sat next to Colin, enjoying the cartoon despite himself. He rubbed the kid's head. Colin McCauley, future heartbreaker. He had good looks, a great sense of humor, and a quick mind, one that would keep them all on their toes for years to come. Mike had done pretty damn good with the kid, but Flynn liked to think he'd had a hand in Colin's greatness. At least the part of him that kicked ass at sports.
Just as the back door opened and heavy footsteps signaled Mike's return-thank God-the phone rang. And rang and rang.
"Flynn, answer the frigging phone, would you?" Mike yelled from the other room.
"What, are his hands broken?" Flynn asked the boy as he reached for the phone. "Can't he tell I'm busy watching you?"
Colin ignored him in favor of a cartoon sponge. Like father like son.
Into the phone, Flynn barked, "Yeah?"
"Um, hello?" A woman's voice. She sounded soft, sexy. Interesting.
Flynn straightened on the couch. "McCauley residence. How can I help you?"
Colin turned to look at him with interest. Flynn never used the good voice on anyone but customers or women.
"Is this Mike?"
"No, but I can get him for you."
"That would be great."
"Hold on." Flynn sought his brother and found him struggling with a tool belt and muddied boots in the kitchen. "Yo, Mike. Phone call."
"Take a message, Einstein. I'm busy here." Mike struggled with dirt-caked knots on his work boots, the scowl on his face enough to black out the sun.
Flynn flipped him the finger while he spoke to the angel on the phone again. "Sorry, but he's busy right now. Can I take a message?"
Silence, and then a long, drawn-out sigh. "Can you just tell him that we're having a problem with the sink? I hate to bother, but my roommate threatened to cut all my hair off if I don't get this fixed soon. The problem has been going on for a week."
"Ah, hold on." He covered the phone. To his brother, he asked, "Why is some hot-sounding chick asking you to fix her sink?"
Mike groaned. "Hell. That's probably one of the tenants next door."
"Mom and Dad have new renters already? Since when?"
"Been four months now. You aren't that observant, are you? Didn't get the family looks or brains, apparently." Mike's sneer set Flynn's teeth on edge. Arrogant bastard. His brother glanced at the phone and sighed. "Tell her I'll be right over."
Flynn passed the message, then hung up. "I don't remember Mom telling us about renting the house again. All I knew is they had some renovations done since the last bunch trashed the garage. I thought the cars I'd seen in the drive belonged to her fix-it crew."
"Well, in case it's escaped your notice, the garage has been fixed for a while now. She rented the place out to three women who moved in around the middle of February. I think you and Brody were doing that job in the San Juans then. They aren't bad neighbors. Keep to themselves, really quiet, and I think one of them has been working on the flower beds in the front, because they've really taken off this year."
Trust Mike not to come to the heart of the matter. "Any of them hot?"
"And this is why Mom didn't mention them."
Flynn frowned. "Don't be a dick. Just because you refuse to, and I quote, ‘open your heart to love again' doesn't mean the rest of us aren't interested."
Mike finally stepped out of his god-awful boots. The things were like boats that had been dipped in muck and rolled over in stink. "First of all, don't quote Mom to me at five o'clock on a Friday after I've spent all..." he glanced around and seeing the kitchen clear, continued, "...fucking day working on Jane Risby's kitchen cabinets. The woman changes her mind about what she wants at the drop of a hat, and I'm tired. Second, just because I'm not willing to marry and procreate again doesn't mean I'm against getting laid. But you don't piss where you eat, and my neighbors are way too close to deal with in the event a date goes south."
"Hmm, good point. So answer the question already."
Mike rolled his eyes. "The truth? Every one of them is hot. Not cute, or attractive, but one you'd want to bring home and keep around until breakfast the next morning. And the morning after that. So don't even think about hitting on them. I meant it when I said I don't want the fallout of pissed-off neighbors. Find someone else to bone while I find a clean pair of shoes."
"Mike, don't be an ass if you can help it." He ignored the dark look his brother shot him. "Come on, let me take care of this for you. A clogged sink is right up my alley. Hello, plumber here? I swear I won't hit on any of them." Today.
Mike narrowed his eyes but was either too tired to argue or he believed Flynn's crap. "Okay. But as soon as you're done, you come right back here. Leave them alone. I mean it."
"Yeah, yeah. Why don't you go nag your kid? I think he's drinking in the living room."
Flynn left just as he heard his anal-retentive brother yelling at Colin to take his drink back into the kitchen where it belonged. Satisfied he'd at least had a bit of revenge on his nephew, he grabbed a toolbox from his truck and walked next door.
Mike hadn't been kidding about the flowers. Seattle's rich brown dirt made for some killer growth, especially during the summer. Roses, lavender, and poppies scattered the front flower beds like a carpet of color. The grass looked freshly mowed, and the walkway had been swept free of debris. A nice change from the last couple who'd spent more time smoking and letting their bratty kids dig up the yard than tending to anything. The aging Craftsman looked as good now as the pictures he'd seen of it newly built. The slate-blue wooden siding looked fresh against the white columns and rails on the covered porch. A rocking chair sat next to pots of cheery geraniums, and a few pairs of women's sneakers sat by the front door.
He rang the doorbell and waited, wondering what the women who wore the shoes looked like, out of curiosity, not desperation. He had a few female friends he could see when he felt the need for companionship. Nice women he could be casual with, and a few he now stayed away from because the last times he'd visited they'd hinted at wanting something more serious. Casual hookups in bars didn't appeal to him. The threat of disease or waking up next to a woman dimmer than a busted lightbulb made him shudder. If his mother would just stop bugging him about settling down, about how she'd had three children by his age and blah blah blah responsibilities...
"Hello?" Dark brown eyes peered at him through the crack in the door.
"Hi. You just called my brother, Mike. I'm Flynn, here to save your sink." He held up his toolbox.
"Oh. Hold on." She closed the door and he heard her undo the chain. The door opened. "Come on in."
He made sure to wipe his feet on the mat before entering and took in the cheery feel of the foyer. The hardwoods looked clean and polished, comfortable furniture in the open living area neat and decorated like something out of a magazine. Bold splashes of color mixed with eclectic pieces, not at all the traditional style of his mother's place or his stark bachelor pad. Yet the room also felt lived in. Books and magazines scattered the coffee table, and plants thrived in the ledge of the bay window. A cool breeze blew through the window screens in the living room. The light scent of flowers and something delicious mingled, making him hungry and more than a little intrigued about the occupants of the house.
The woman in front of him lived up to Mike's description, and then some. To Flynn's discomfort, she reminded him of Lea, Mike's deceased wife. Short, curvy, and pretty with that same touch of innocence that had always made Flynn want to protect. She had dark hair and deep brown eyes, high cheekbones and full lips. From behind, she and Lea might as well have been twins.
"Name's Flynn McCauley," he said once they reached the kitchen. He put down his tools and held out a hand.
She took it with a smile and a firm grip, surprising him. Not as shy as the softness of her voice would have him believe. "Abby Dunn. Nice to meet you. We've seen Mike a few times, but with us being so busy, we haven't been too neighborly, I'm afraid."
He glanced around. "We?"
"Oh, my roommates Maddie and Vanessa. They should be home soon."
He nodded. She tucked a long strand of dark hair behind her ear, and he noticed the differences between her and Lea. Her eyes had a bit more slant, looking more exotic and less girl-next-door. Her hair was straighter as well, not as wavy as Lea's had been.
Realizing he'd been staring, he apologized. "Sorry. You look a lot like someone I used to know."
She nodded, no longer smiling. "Your brother's wife. Your mother mentioned the resemblance. When Mike first saw me, he looked like he'd seen a ghost. I might have kept my distance because of that too."
"Please don't. It's been years. And Mike would have said something if it bothered him." At least, he thought he would have. "I'm just glad to see my parents renting to people who take care of the place."
She scrunched her nose. "Yeah. When we moved in, there was a faint reek of smoke. Your mother didn't seem happy about that." Abby grinned. "Gave us half off our first month's rent too. I like her. Don't tell her, but she's a soft touch."
Flynn chuckled. "You got that right." He looked at the counter to see a stack of detergents and items normally kept under a sink. On the floor, a few soaked towels absorbed water. "Oh boy. The sink problem."
She nodded. "But I think the water leak is my fault. I knew not to use the sink, but the dishwasher was full, and I forgot. Normally it just clogs up, but today water dripped from underneath." She opened the cabinet under the sink and showed him. "Do you think you can fix this?"
"Better than Mike could. I'm the plumber."
"Good. You're exactly who we need."
"Just let me get under there and I'll have it fixed for you in no time. If you have something else to do, go ahead. Or you can wait and watch if you want."
She bit her lower lip. Lea never used to do that. "If you wouldn't mind, I was right in the middle of something. I'll be down the hall if you need anything."
"Okay." He got to work, grateful the clog would be easy enough to handle. The broken valve, not so much unless he had a spare part in his box. Which he did. Humming under his breath, he lost himself in his work. Once finished, he heard a raised female voice screaming in anger. Odd, because he hadn't heard anyone enter the house.
He slid out from under the sink, curious when he heard Abby try to placate the woman. But she wouldn't stop yelling. Hoping he wouldn't have to break up a catfight, though secretly enthusiastic about the idea, he moved to investigate.
"Oh my God, Abby! Right there, in the office I visit ten times a day. He had the nerve to drag my hand over his crotch!" Maddie paced back and forth, still in shock about this disastrous turn of events. "I was supposed to be offered a huge job, a step toward a junior partnership, not an opportunity to fuck the boss!"
Abby's eyes were as round as quarters. "I thought you said Fred was gay."
"I thought he was. He's neat, he has a tendency to lisp, and he calls everyone, men and women, sthweetheart. It's all a front so no one feels threatened by him."
"Until he puts your hand over his penis during a business lunch." Abby nodded.
"No, after the lunch. The gourmet meal was to soften me up, play his cards. Dangle the carrot before me and tease me about giving Diane the promotion." Maddie threw her purse against the wall and shrieked. "The man has money coming out his perfectly groomed ass. He can have anyone he wants. Why would he do this to me?"
"Maybe because he can," Abby said softly.
Ignoring her, Maddie ranted. "I can't believe this. I had my whole future mapped out. More responsibilities, a major account of my own, then a junior partnership before I'd branch out and start my own design boutique. And now..."
"Now what, exactly? You didn't say what happened after he put your hand over his...you know."
"I squeezed. Hard."
"Tell me about it, it was instinctive. I wanted him to let me go, and he did," she said with some small satisfaction. "Then I dumped his coffee in his lap, told him to kiss my ass, and stalked out of there. I immediately turned in my resignation and told them to expect a call from an attorney."
"You're going to hire a lawyer?"
"No." She felt miserable. "My savings aren't for an attorney, they're for my future. Realistically, by the time I go through with a lawsuit, I'll be broke. The case will have turned into a he saidshe said match, and with his money, he'll buy the jury."
"There won't be a jury, just a hearing-"
"Exactly. Not even a jury." She wanted to cry. So angry. Men. "He dicks me over, Ben dicks me over. What the hell is going on with my life?"
Abby stood up and crossed the room to her. "I'm so sorry. So did he say anything after you stormed out?"
"I have no idea. I didn't wait around for the fallout. That ass!"
"Don't worry, you'll get through this." Abby patted her shoulder. "So on top of everything with your boss, what happened with Ben?"
Maddie kicked off her heels, imagining kicking them at Ben's head. "We broke up. He was getting too clingy, so I told him to man up or man out-as in, get out."
"Are you serious? What did he do when you issued that ultimatum?"
"He got out, or rather, he told me to get out. Told me it wasn't manning up to want his girlfriend to spend time with him. Oh, like my career doesn't matter because I'm an interior designer? Like being a doctor is so much more important." She saw Abby's wince and snapped, "He's a foot doctor, not a neurosurgeon. Give me a break."
Abby squeezed her shoulder. "I'm sorry, sweetie. I know you liked Ben."
"It's all right. He was wearing on me. They all do." She walked away from Abby and paced back and forth across the room. "Men. Nothing but a bunch of self-absorbed assholes who can't think beyond their dicks."
"Ah, Maddie, you might want to-"
"And really, Fred Hampton? Designer to the stars? Please. Forcing my hand over his lap was a stupid thing to do. His package did not impress. At. All."
"Come on. You write a lot worse than that."
"Uh, yeah, but you see, there's someone-"
"All my hard work, for what?" Maddie was on a tear. "I spent ten fucking years working to get to that place. Sure I learned. I interned, paid my way through school, suffered through the chrome years and the faux fur trends, which just won't go away. But this insult! In this day and age, with so much bullshit about being PC and sexual harassment has no place in the workplace, and my boss just made me feel him up in his own office during business hours. The perv! I feel like a total-"
She looked up to see a huge, green-eyed hunk filling out a white T-shirt and jeans like he'd stepped out of a Man of the Month calendar. One of them. A man. The enemy.
Abby cleared her throat. "Maddie, this is Flynn McCauley, Mike's brother. He was just fixing our kitchen sink."
Mortified but not willing to let him see it, Maddie gave him a disdainful once-over, ignoring the surge of her libido. "How nice to meet you. And would you like me to feel you up as well?"
He raised a brow and gave her the same thorough examination, lingering not on her breasts or ass, the way most men did, but on her face. Sure, why should this one be typical when it took all kind of XY degrees of perversion to make the world go 'round?
Annoyed all over again, she tossed her head, grateful her hair stayed out of her eyes, though God knew she had the frizz from hell going on, and stomped out of the room with a low, "And fuck you too." She took the stairs two at a time and slammed the door of her bedroom behind her. After locking the door and turning on the radio to mask any other noise, she lay down on her bed and let the tears fall. Could her life get any worse?
"Oh man, I'm really sorry." Abby apologized for the fourth time in as many seconds.
"Hey, don't worry about it. Sounds like your friend had the mother of all bad days." Flynn still had a hard time catching his breath.
Had Mike said the women were hot? He was out of his celibate mind. Abby had cute down to a science, and that resemblance to Lea which kind of freaked him out. But Maddie? She of the long legs, killer rack, and sultry face? Sultry, a word he'd never used to describe a woman. But damn, it fit. She wasn't pretty or cute, but with full lips, that flush on her cheeks, and those direct, man-hating eyes so dark they looked like never-ending night, the woman had a knockout punch he still hadn't recovered from.
"Maddie can be a little dramatic, but she had cause." Abby picked up her friend's purse and shoes and put them on the desk next to her computer.
It suddenly struck Flynn that in all the time he'd been standing there listening to Maddie, he hadn't noticed that the women had turned his mother's idea of a sitting room into an office. French doors off the smaller room gave it a bigger feel, and the hardwoods had been covered with a Persian rug in dark red accents. Dark red, reminding him of Maddie's hair. Man, he had a thing for redheads. All that temper... he could only imagine what she'd be like in bed.
"Sorry. Hey, you want me to go down to her boss's office and pound some sense into him?"
She blinked. "Probably not a good idea unless you want a lawsuit. Fred Hampton has a lot of money."
He shrugged. "That's okay. I know a lot of people who'd back me up. Heck, my nephew would alibi me with no problem. I'll go kick this Fred guy's ass, and we'll all pretend I was here fixing your sink while Colin watched me the whole time. Kid has the face of angel but can lie like a champ." Was it bad he sounded like he was bragging? Though the thought of beating the shit out of Maddie's boss had real appeal. Who the hell treated a woman like that but real scum?
"Nice offer. I'll pass it on to Maddie when she's in a better mood. Now, about the sink, how much do I owe you for parts or labor or whatever?"
He shook his head. "Your landlord should have handled this when the problem first happened." He made a mental note to talk to his mom and dad after he chewed out Mike.
"It's not their fault. I kind of dragged my feet to get it fixed. Vanessa usually handles the house issues, but she's been busy at work lately."
"Please tell me she doesn't work with Maddie." He liked saying her name. Short for Madison? Madeleine? He'd have to find out.
Abby snorted. "No way. Vanessa is an accountant. Very cut and dry. The woman means business when it comes to numbers. You need a good person to do your taxes, you should call her."
"I would if I didn't make my little brother, I mean, if my little brother hadn't already offered to take care of them for me."
She laughed and walked with him to the kitchen to grab his tools. "I have two sisters. They can be a handful. At least mine live on the East Coast."
"Lucky you." Cameron was such a snot. Thought he knew everything when it came to financial planning. From what little Flynn knew, his brother did, but it didn't help Cam's already huge ego to point that out. "If you need anything else, let me know." He fished a business card out of his back pocket.
"You really are a plumber." Her surprise disgruntled him, and she must have seen it, because she blushed. "I know you said you were, but I thought that might have been a little brotherly competition. As in, you're better at plumbing than he is. And besides, you don't look anything like our old neighborhood plumber. He was an older man with a big belly and that problem men get with their pants when they bend over."
It took him a minute. "Ah. Crack, the nonaddictive kind. The pants too low for you?"
She shuddered. "Way too low." So much for thinking the woman was shy. "But yours seem okay. Forgive me for making generalizations."
She walked him to the front door.
"No problem. But if you want, I could wear my pants really low for you the next time your sink clogs."
She winked. "Sounds good to me."
She shut the door behind him, and he heard her faint chuckle. He decided he liked Abby Dunn. Her roommate, on the other hand... That redhead he had no intention of leaving alone. Now that he thought about it, his mother wasn't exactly being neighborly by not inviting her new tenants over for a summer barbecue. He'd have to rectify that, but not until he had a few words with Mike. What had he been thinking to leave a houseful of women like that all alone? God knew what Vanessa looked like. Flynn had a sudden image of the three roommates scrapping around in a ring throwing Jell-O at one another, Maddie leading the match, and hustled back to his brother to yell at him.