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More Than Words, Book 2, Madison Falls Series

 

Chapter 1

“Ow! Damn it!”

Tracy King thought she was having a dream about standing under a cascading waterfall until a piece of wet plaster hit her on the head. When the second one hit her on the shoulder, reality intruded and she realized that her Hawaiian vacation was actually rain pouring in from a hole in her ceiling.

Her warm, tropical lagoon turned out to be a cold, wet mattress. Jumping out of bed to save herself from getting completely drenched, she glanced up to find a three foot gap over her head where her ceiling used to be. Tracy’s bed was a disaster and her favorite vintage patchwork quilt was soaked and covered in chunks of wet, rotted plaster. She took in the mess before her in total dismay.

That lasted only long enough for the anger to set in. “You’ve got to be freaking kidding me!” She’d told her landlady, Darlene Donaldson, about the yellowing stain spreading across the ceiling, but the miserly old lady thought nothing of it. She claimed that antiquated buildings had their quirks. This was more than flipping quirky!

First things first, she stripped the bed and set a bucket on the mattress. After that, she threw on some fresh PJs and grabbed her cell phone to call her best friend, Sophie. “At least the phone’s still dry,” she muttered as she paced her living room. She knew better than to call her landlady at midnight. Darlene wouldn’t answer even if Tracy tried. Her best bet was Sophie.

One ring in, Sophie answered, “Hullo?” in a near whisper. Well, damn it all over again. In her distress, Tracy had forgotten about the baby. She prayed she hadn’t woken him up.

“Sophie, I’m so sorry! You weren’t sleeping were you?” She lowered her voice just in case she was holding the baby.

Whispering, Sophie replied, “No, Brandon just finished his midnight feeding. Hold on and I’ll put him in his crib.” A few minutes later, Sophie spoke in a normal voice. “What’s wrong, Tracy? Are you okay?”

Okay was relative. “I’m fine but my ceiling’s toast. If it doesn’t stop raining, someone’s going to have to build an ark in my bedroom.”

“Oh, my God! What happened?”

“Remember that wet stain in the ceiling? Now it’s a hole. My bed is soaked and all of my bedding is covered in rain-drenched drywall. Can you still call it drywall if it’s all wet? The storm isn’t stopping so the bucket on the bed is filling up pretty quickly.” As a matter of fact, she was going to check on it right now. Almost full. Just fabulous.

“God, that’s terrible! Let me wake Reed and see what he can do to fix it.”

“I’m sorry! I didn’t know who else to call and you know Darlene won’t do anything. I feel so awful bothering you guys.”

Sophie huffed indignantly. “Bother me? Tracy, you’re my best friend. You’re supposed to bother me!” She paused a minute. “You know what I mean. Hold on and I’ll get Reed.”

Reed Sutton was Sophie’s husband and the manager of his family’s construction company. If anyone could help, it would be him. Tracy heard a muffled sound on the phone and some indistinguishable murmuring before the mouthpiece was uncovered.

“Tracy?” Reed’s deep voice sounded gruff from sleep.

“Reed? I’m so sorry but I sort of have a sunroof in my ceiling.” She explained the damage and the rain that was continuing to pour in.

“Okay, keep changing out the bucket. I’ll be over soon to see what I can do.”

“Oh, thank you!”

“Not a problem, see you soon.”

She hung up and went back to bailing out her bedroom.

The rain was coming down faster and other parts of the ceiling were now dripping. Quirky building, my ass! Every pot, pan, and bucket she could find were collecting water. Her dry pajamas were now damp from changing out the buckets. Thank God it’s summer! Then again, the later it got, the cooler the air became.

Tracy yelled at the ceiling in frustration. “I’m never going to get any sleep tonight! Stop raining!” Apparently, Mother Nature didn’t care what she wanted since the rain continued in a steady stream. She was getting nervous that the whole ceiling was going to fall down and squash her into submission. There was nothing left to do but keep up with damage control until Reed got there. Hurry, please!

* * * *

Twenty minutes later, the knock on the door was like having the bell rung at the end of a boxing round. Tracy was seriously getting her ass kicked and she needed help.

Opening the door quickly, she said, “Oh, thank you for coming over!” Her words drifted off at the end when she saw who was on the other side.

“Ben?”

Of course it would be Ben Carrington. That was just her luck tonight. Her brown hair had gone from wavy to damp and frizzy and her pink panther pajamas were stuck to her from playing musical buckets. Ben was Reed’s best friend, co-manager of Sutton Construction, and the oblivious man of her dreams.

He nodded. “Tracy.”

It was par for the course for Ben not to say much. Most of the time it drove her crazy, but tonight she was too flustered to care. She opened the door wider and let him in. He set his umbrella next to the door and turned to face her. Tracy tried not to swallow her tongue. Standing in front of her was over six feet of gorgeous, leanly muscled, rain-dampened man. His thick black hair was glossy from the rain and his white T-shirt clung to his broad chest and trim waist. Thank you, God! Not only was it damp, but the fabric was see-through in some areas. Best wet T-shirt contest, ever. He looked like the cover of one of her romance novels. Only better.

His sky-blue eyes were focused on her, waiting for instruction. It took her a minute to get her train of thought back on track. For a moment, she forgot that she had to do the talking.

“Where’s Reed? I thought he was coming over?”

Ben shrugged. “He’s home.” Okay, that explained everything.

Gesturing behind her, she asked, “Want to see my bed? I mean my ceiling? I mean … it’s this way.” Tracy was starting to babble so she thought it best to get to the point. “Follow me.” She turned around and headed towards her room so she didn’t get caught ogling all of that wet sexiness.

* * * *

Ben was glad that he had a reputation for not talking because right now he was at a loss for words. When Tracy opened the door, he thought he was having the best dream of his life. She looked stunning with her dark brown hair damp and curling around her bare shoulders. He didn’t know why he wasn’t expecting to find her in pajamas. Considering it was the middle of the night, it made perfect sense. Even so, there was an intimacy in seeing Tracy ready for bed that had his wayward hormones on high alert.

It wasn’t as if she were wearing anything close to lingerie. Her purple boxer shorts and matching tank top had cartoon pink panthers all over them. They were still unbelievably sexy on her. With a quick glance down, he noticed that the shorts were awfully damned short and showed the majority of her tan, shapely legs.

That wasn’t the part that held the center of his attention though. His gaze got caught up on her tank top. The clingy cotton molded perfectly against her full breasts and put them on luscious display. By the look of it, the cold rain had given her a little chill. Don’t stare. For the love of everything holy, don’t stare. Ben kept repeating that to himself until Tracy asked if he wanted to see her bedroom. Hell, yes he did.

Unfortunately, Tracy hadn’t meant it the way he wanted, so he tamped down his libido and followed her back to inspect the damage. It was worse than he expected. A mop bucket in the middle of a bare queen-sized mattress was collecting rain from a huge gash in her ceiling. The ugly green shag carpet was soaked from the excess water the pots and pans couldn’t contain. Drywall chunks and flakes were everywhere.

“It’s a disaster isn’t it? What can we do?”

Walk out of here, come back to my place, get out of those damp clothes… “We have to stop further damage. Tarp’s in my truck.” He walked out of the room and back out in the rain to retrieve what he’d need from his pickup. Tracy was waiting by the door to let him back in. As soon as he crossed the threshold, she reached out to help him carry his supplies. She looked exhausted from battling with the leaky ceiling. If anything, Tracy needed a break. Brusquely, Ben told her, “I’ve got it.”

She snatched her hands away as if they’d been burned and Ben felt like an ass. He only meant that he didn’t want to trouble her. The best he could do for an apology was give her a forced smile and head back to the mess. “Where’s the access to your attic?”

She pointed to a trap door in the ceiling in the hallway. “You aren’t going up there, are you? You’ll fall through!”

“Tarp needs to block the rain.” He reached for the loop and pulled the stairs to the floor. “Hand me the tarp when I say.” Damn, he forgot to say please. “Please.” It was belated, but hopefully she wouldn’t think he was a complete caveman. He was used to giving orders to construction workers and Tracy was definitely not one of the guys.

As Ben ascended the stairs, he saw the problem immediately. Tracy had a hole in her ceiling because there was a hole in her roof. That was going to need patching immediately. Ben carefully crawled around the wooden rafters and called to her for the tarp. She walked halfway up holding it. After handing it off, Tracy stood mid-step carrying his staple gun. Ben deftly unfolded the tarp and stapled it to the beams surrounding the worst of it. It would be a decent stop-gap for now, but the roof would definitely need to be repaired, if not replaced.

He remembered hearing somewhere that this was one of the oldest buildings in Madison Falls. From the decrepit appearance of the attic, Ben believed it. He saw water pooling over what he estimated would be her living room. The ceiling in that room would be next if the rain didn’t stop soon.

When he finished in the attic, Ben checked her bedroom for more drips. The others weren’t as bad as the gaping hole, but the conditions weren’t livable. As a matter of fact, she was lucky not to have gotten hurt when the ceiling came down.

Ben rubbed a hand over the back of his neck before he faced Tracy and told her, “You can’t live here.”

Tracy’s shoulders drooped with the weight of her misery. “Where the hell am I supposed to live then?”

For once, words came out of his mouth that he hadn’t stopped to think through first. “Stay with me.”

She gaped at him. “What?”

Exactly! What? Ben had no idea how the invitation slipped out but it was too late to take it back now.

“I have an extra bedroom. I bought Sophie’s house.” She knows that already!

Tracy still looked flummoxed. “I know. I used to live there.”

He shrugged. “Good, then you know the way.”

She simply stood there, totally rooted to the spot. Okay, maybe he needed to add more to that. “Pack what you need for at least a week or so.”

Glancing around at the mess, she asked, “Seriously?”

“It’s not safe here.”

She raised her hands to her hair and then let them flop down at her sides. “I guess I could stay with Sophie and Reed, but they’re still newlyweds and they have the baby…”

Perfect. He was warming up to the idea now. “Okay then, pack. I’ll help you carry stuff.”

Tracy still seemed undecided. “But, it’s after one in the morning and I feel gross. I need a shower and I have to start baking in a few hours.” Tracy owned King’s Cake In A Cup, the bakery that, in Ben’s opinion, made the best cupcakes in the world. The shop was directly underneath her apartment.

“Pack. Open later so you can get some sleep.”

“But, I’ll lose business!”

“They’ll understand. Shower and pack.” Well, damn. He’d done it again. As before, he added belatedly, “Please.”

He left her there, staring at him as if he’d suggested they run off to Vegas and get married. Where the hell that thought came from, he hadn’t a clue, so he walked away and sat patiently in the dining room. It seemed to have the driest ceiling in the place.

Ben felt bad for her because this definitely wasn’t Tracy’s fault. That kind of damage had to have been building up for quite a while. He couldn’t believe her landlady hadn’t done any maintenance. Before long, the bakery would start taking on damage next if the leaks continued. Sutton Construction would be contacting Mrs. Donaldson in the morning, whether she wanted to pay for the repairs or not.

Ben had no idea what made him invite Tracy to stay at his house but he hoped she took him up on it. As soon as he heard the shower run, he smiled. Then he groaned. She was naked, wet, and probably covered in soapy bubbles and he was barely fifteen feet away from her. So much for patience. He shot out of the chair and paced the length of the room.

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