The customer is always right.
Greg Andrews looked around the interior of the derelict building and knew that was one of the stupidest sayings ever inflicted on the service profession. The customer’s got no clue would come a lot closer. He sighed, knowing that if the customer had the money, he’d likely take the job anyway. Although it made him want to hurl just thinking about the amount of work required to do the thing right, it could be an interesting project.
He would write up an estimate, present it, and see what happened.
Greg made rough notes on the yellowed paper hinged to his clipboard. He had pored over the owner’s meticulous drawings, understood what was expected, and appreciated the possibilities. Sure would be a lot easier, though, to just knock down the building and put up something new. Not that anyone besides him would consider the possibility. It hadn’t taken long to realize that people in Legend, Tennessee, weren’t much into new. A lot of them were into preservation.
Since moving himself and his business here a year and a half ago, Greg had done mostly renovation work. He could build new houses—loved building new houses—and had a guy on his crew who was as talented and fast as anybody in the business on new construction. They’d had to adapt, though. He’d hired some local help with different skills. Even changed his business name from Andrews Construction to Deluxe Home Improvements when he came here. Nobody in Legend knew or cared about the Andrews name. Deluxe, though—that was the way to go. People saw Deluxe in the phone book, or on the little signs he put in the yards of satisfied customers, and they were likely to call. Business was good. He had as much work as he and his employees could handle.
Walking to the middle of the large, empty room, he tried to imagine its transformation—and nearly broke his leg when part of the rotten floor gave way. Cursing fluently, he jerked his leg free and carefully moved back the way he’d come. He roughly tossed his long blond braid over his shoulder so it hung down his back.
Yeah, this is definitely looking good so far.
“You must be kidding,” Greg said, walking carefully around the hole he’d dropped his leg into earlier. “No way can this be rehabbed in a month. No possible way. Mike said you had a time frame in mind—but thirty days is plain crazy.”
“Fine,” said Chloe McClain. “I’ll get someone else.” She closed a small notebook and slid it into the back pocket of her snug jeans, then stuck the ballpoint behind her ear. The motion made the cascade of bell-shaped earrings tinkle softly. The sterling silver caught what little light came through the crud-encrusted windows. There was also a diamond stud up high in one ear.
Greg had never considered ears to be particularly sexy, but on Chloe McClain, it seemed everything was sexy. At least, everything he’d seen. Her blonde-and-dark-brown streaked hair was wavy and cropped close to her head, but it grew a bit long in the back, and curls caressed her delicate neck. Her eyes were big and brown and bright as a child’s. The long lashes and dusky eye shadow had him wondering what those big dark eyes would look like if Chloe were feeling passionate about something besides an ugly old building.
Her mouth was generous and shaped as perfectly as any he’d seen on lipstick commercials. Even her nose intrigued him. Short and straight, but turned up on the end. It made her look spunky, and he had an idea it wasn’t false advertising. Her body wasn’t runway model thin, but slender and pleasantly curvy. She looked even better once you started talking to her. Then her eyes began to snap, her head moved in emphasis to her words, the music started from her strange earrings, and that gorgeous mouth had you looking there more of the time than you probably should.
Good thing she was nuts, or he might be attracted to her.
“So… You’re Mike’s sister?” he asked. Mike McClain had worked for Greg a while now, but there were so many McClains in and around Legend, Greg couldn’t keep them straight.
“Cousin.” She rolled her eyes, turned on the heel of her beat-up sandal, and headed for the door, where she flicked off the lights. Greg looked up at the half dozen bulbs hanging from the ceiling, suspended by dangerous-looking wires. Pathetic. The whole place was pathetic. He sure didn’t want to get into a situation of trying to bring this dump up to code in thirty days, let alone do the project to her unreasonable expectations.
Chloe shut the door after them, and locked it.
Right. As if anybody in his right mind would actually want to go in there.
“Well. Thanks for the opportunity, Miz McClain. Sorry I can’t help you with this. Good luck finding somebody else.
“Uh-huh. Thanks. Well, I’ve got some contacts around. I’m sure there’s somebody who could take it on. I need to have the place ready to go on deadline, or else…” She let the sentence trail off.
“Or else?” Not that he cared. Just making conversation.
“Or else I can’t do the exhibition I’ve committed to.” She pushed some round-lensed dark glasses onto her nose, and caught her lower lip between her teeth. Frown lines marred that perfect brow, below the fall of wispy dark-and-light bangs.
Exhibition. Whatever. He needed to move on down the street. “So what kind of exhibition is that?” He hadn’t meant to ask.
“Nothing. I need to go.”
A sultry breeze came down the street, making the bells in her earlobes play again. She turned without another word and walked away from him into the breeze. Greg shivered. Some brush-off. Why he cared, he wasn’t sure.
He enjoyed watching her from behind until she turned the corner, and was gone.
Oh well. Cute, but not my type. Dating a cousin of Mike’s would surely be more than he wanted to deal with, anyway. Might get awkward when it ended. Greg’s relationships generally ended dramatically. Yelling and name-calling were sometimes part of it, and he sure didn’t need Mike to be in that picture. It was complicated being a single man in Legend, Tennessee.
“You what?” Mike McClain was clearly incredulous the next day when he heard about it.
Greg dumped the old grounds from yesterday’s coffee, and jerked a new filter out of the plastic bag on the open shelf. “Turned her down.”
“You can’t do that!” Mike was in his usual spot in the Deluxe Home Improvements office. He slid way down on the worn green Naugahyde couch with his long legs crossed in front of him, and his head resting on the plastic paneled wall. At least he had been in that position until Greg told him about Chloe. Now Mike sat ramrod straight, his eyes bulging a little.
“Of course I can turn down a job. Don’t get weird on me, Mike. This is my business, and if you’re gonna try to tell me what to do, we could have a problem.” His free hand fisted as he finished pouring water into the reservoir, concentrating on slowing his breathing so he wouldn’t say something more. He didn’t appreciate being second-guessed. Especially by the help. Of course, Mike was a friend, too, but Greg couldn’t let any of his guys forget who was boss.
“Greg, that’s plain stupid. You can’t turn her down. She’s Martin’s sister.”
“So?” Martin McClain owned a real estate business. He was also an occasional fishing and card-playing buddy.
“What’s the big deal?”
“Chloe is Martin’s sister. Martin gives us referrals all the time. Remember the job at Charles and Dorothy’s? The library redo? Martin’s the one who suggested you to them. That was a cherry job, Greg, and they could have hired somebody from out of town. They have the money to do it. But we got it, and I did fantastic with it, if I must say so—”
“Yeah, yeah. The place looked just the way she wanted. You did great, Mike. I told you so then.”
Mike had also ended up getting his estranged wife and daughter back in the bargain, so he really didn’t need to make such a big deal of throwing this into Greg’s face. Mike was this perfect family man now, acting more like a newlywed than a guy with a two and a half year old daughter ought to, in Greg’s opinion.
“Greg! Listen to what I’m saying!” The McClains have done you some major favors since you came to town. You’ve had great referrals. This job of Chloe’s may be a hassle, but you better rethink it. Not only is she a McClain, but this show of hers is big. She’s made a name for herself with her paintings of the mountains, and lately she’s doing some other kind of art… I forget, but Betsy’s all excited about it.”
Exasperated, Mike ran a hand through his hair. “Chloe had a chance to do a show at a gallery in Knoxville, but decided she wanted to bring Legend into the spotlight with her. That’s why she needs her own gallery ASAP. The timeline on this thing is set in stone. She’s promised to do it in Legend and bring in some big tourism money because of the artsy people who’ll be here for it. You let Chloe down, you’re letting down the entire McClain clan, which is not a good idea. More than that, you’re letting down the whole town of Legend. You know Legend can use this kind of opportunity. It could even translate into more business for you in the long run.”
Mike stood up, obviously too agitated to remain still. “You do this job and do it right, and it’ll reflect great on you for years.” Mike put his hand on the doorknob, shook his head and frowned. “You let Chloe down when she’s got her big chance and is sharing it with her hometown, and I think you might want to think about relocating.”
“People here would be that ugly about it?”
“People would be that disappointed. One thing you need to remember about Legend—we pull together. If you’re not gonna pull with us, you’d just as well pull out.” Mike left, closing the door a little louder than necessary.
End of Excerpt. Get your copy of Chloe and Greg’s story here: