Don't You Wanna Stay - Kait Nolan - E-Book

Don't You Wanna Stay E-Book

Kait Nolan

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Beschreibung

The Money Pit meets Fixer Upper in the next installment of the Men of the Misfit Inn series.

After a lifetime spent trying to prove he's not a screw up, contractor Wyatt Sullivan is ready to take his YouTube channel, DIWyatt, to the big time. But he needs more than the one-man flips that built his reputation. He needs something truly big to impress network execs enough to give him his own home improvement show.

After a messy, ugly divorce, publicist Deanna James can't afford another mistake. So when she wakes up from a night of too much wine to find out she's bought a historic monstrosity of a house in an online auction, she panics. If she’s going to sell it and not lose her shirt to her ex-husband, she’s going to need some serious help. But how will she afford it?

Wyatt's just the guy to ride to her rescue. He'll take on the job if she'll let him film the process. Deanna sweetens the deal with the added bonus of using her PR skills to raise the profile of DIWyatt enough to impress the suits. There's just one problem: They both have to move in.

As they battle home improvement hell and rising attraction, can they keep from giving the viewers more of a show than they ever intended?

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Don’t You Wanna Stay

Kait Nolan

For Erin Nicholas,

This is all your fault.

Kisses!

Kait

Contents

Invite

A Letter to Readers

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Epilogue

Sneak Peek Second Chance Summer

Sneak Peek Until We Meet Again

Other Books By Kait Nolan

About Kait

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A Letter to Readers

Dear Reader,

This book is set in the Deep South. As such, it contains a great deal of colorful, colloquial, and occasionally grammatically incorrect language. This is a deliberate choice on my part as an author to most accurately represent the region where I have lived my entire life. This book also contains swearing and pre-marital sex between the lead couple, as those things are part of the realistic lives of characters of this generation, and of many of my readers.

If any of these things are not your cup of tea, please consider that you may not be the right audience for this book. There are scores of other books out there that are written with you in mind. In fact, I’ve got a list of some of my favorite authors who write on the sweeter side on my website at https://kaitnolan.com/on-the-sweeter-side/

If you choose to stick with me, I hope you enjoy!

Happy reading!

Kait

Chapter 1

It was the cast-iron skillet that saved Deanna James from certain death.

In sheer instinct, she flung it up to block the projectile hurtling toward her head. The thing struck hard, sending reverberations down her arms, even as glass shattered and sprayed her with heavy glass shards and bright yellow crumbs.

“What the hell is wrong with you?” From inside the room, an unfamiliar voice dripped with shock and an accent that was more Motor City than Music City. “You asked for cornbread! That was freaking cornbread!”

“Jiffy Mix is not cornbread!” the country music diva shouted, then let out a noise that was…not musical.

At the banshee shriek, Deanna hunched in the doorway and dared a peek around her makeshift shield at the woman in the trailing silk robe, her glossy mahogany hair piled on top of her head in a cluster of fat rollers that spoke of the pageant queen she’d once been. Mercy Lee Bradshaw. Reigning princess of country music and current pain in Deanna’s ass. Mercy Lee’s nostrils flared and her cold blue eyes bored like lasers into the guy huddled behind a chair to the left of the doorway. This young man’s ignorance, and a call from Mercy Lee’s manager, Gavin Waters, were the reasons Deanna had fought her way through the ungodly and perpetual construction to downtown Nashville, after work on a Friday.

“Now, honey, be reasonable.” Gavin’s tone set Deanna’s teeth on edge. Clearly, he knew nothing about women, and he sure knew nothing about cornbread. That knowledge had prompted Deanna to grab her grandmama’s skillet on the way out the door a mere five minutes after she’d gotten home. Dealing with the hissy fits of entitled celebrities was not an eight-to-five job. Given what Mercy Lee paid the boutique PR firm, Deanna’s bosses had decided that pacification was now part of her job description.

“Reasonable? Reasonable? I gave them the recipe in advance. For cornbread. My granny’s cornbread. Real cornbread. Not this… this… sweet monstrosity.” She waved a manicured hand toward what remained of the cheap ceramic baking dish of Jiffy Mix cornbread at Deanna’s feet. “I’m not asking for $900 titanium straws like Beyonce or a booze slushie machine like Kanye. It’s a simple and easy request. No cornbread. No performance. How is that not reasonable, Gavin?”

Mercy Lee’s obsession with her grandmother’s cornbread wasn’t remotely the strangest celebrity rider Deanna had dealt with in her career. In truth, she had to agree with the woman on the fundamental point that Jiffy Mix was some sad Yankee’s interpretation of cornbread. But it wasn’t worth the publicity nightmare that was going to ensue if Mercy Lee didn’t walk out on stage as contracted, or if she trashed any more of the venue dressing room in her outrage. Containing that prospective PR furor was why Deanna was here.

“Okay, look. Everybody just calm down.” Stepping gingerly over the cornbread carnage, she lowered the skillet and brushed off the shrapnel. “You’re going to get your cornbread. I brought my own personal cast-iron skillet, and a runner should be here any minute with the rest of the ingredients. If somebody will point me to the kitchen, I will make it myself to ensure it’s done right. But I need you to finish getting ready to go on. It’s curtains up in half an hour.”

The country diva folded her arms. “I’m not going on until I’ve had my cornbread.”

Deanna struggled to keep her temper level. She didn’t get paid enough for this shit. “I understand your frustration. But you and I both know, it’s going to take longer than thirty minutes to preheat the oven, cook the bacon, and get the cornbread baked.”

“Then I go on late. That’s the deal. You know how I feel about this, Deanna.”

Yeah. She did. It was why she had Suellen Bradshaw’s cornbread recipe committed to memory.

Mr. I-Thought-Jiffy-Mix-Was-Cornbread spoke up. “Now hold on. I’ve got a sold-out show out there. They’re all waiting on you.”

Gavin opened his mouth, but Deanna held up a hand to forestall whatever he was about to say. “What is your name?”

“Tony Moretti.”

“Tony, where is Nina?” The venue manager had to be MIA. No way would this have happened on her watch.

“Out with the stomach flu. She left me in charge.” And after Mercy Lee got finished, the wet-behind-the-ears rookie would probably be lucky to still have a job.

Not my problem.

“Okay look, Tony, here’s what we’re gonna do. You’re going to take me to the kitchen. Meanwhile, you’re gonna find someone to go on before Mercy Lee as a surprise warm-up act to buy us some time.”

“Where am I gonna find somebody this close to showtime?” Tony demanded.

“This is Nashville. You can’t throw a rock without hitting an aspiring musician. If you don’t have someone readily available, I’m sure Gavin can help you come up with some options. He has a stable full of artists at his disposal.” Deanna very deliberately did not think about one particular member of that stable. It wasn’t her business anymore.

“I’m on it.” Gavin already had his phone out, furiously texting someone.

Tony cast a glance at Mercy Lee that said everything they were all thinking―with probably considerably more profanity―but he wisely kept his opinion to himself. “Sorry for the misunderstanding.”

Mercy Lee just sniffed.

Sending up silent prayers that the situation wouldn’t devolve, Deanna followed Tony through the bowels of the building.

Once they were well out of earshot, he glanced at her. “Are they all that crazy?”

“If you think this qualifies as crazy, you’re in the wrong business. Talent and fame often come with entitlement, eccentricities, and bad attitudes.” And sometimes those things came even in the absence of talent or fame, as Deanna well knew.

“I’m just in it for the music.”

“So says everyone in the beginning.”

By the time they made it to the commercial kitchen, usually manned by whatever personal chef or caterer was attached to the talent, the runner had arrived with the ingredients Deanna had ordered. She paid the kid and got to work, sending Tony back to deal with finding interim entertainment and cleaning up the mess from Mercy Lee’s Jiffy Mix protest.

Once the oven was preheating to 450 and the bacon was sizzling on a low flame, she set to measuring and mixing the remaining ingredients. After the chaos of traffic and the shitstorm she’d walked into upstairs, the empty kitchen was a welcome break. It had been a helluva week, and she’d been looking forward to a quiet night at home with a bath, a glass of wine, and some HGTV while she added to her never-ending Pinterest boards. Instead, here she was, babysitting yet another entitled celebrity.

Fishing out the bacon, she swirled the hot grease around the perimeter of the skillet to coat the edges and added the requisite amount straight into the buttermilk batter. Once it was stirred in, she poured the batter into the skillet, satisfied with the pop and sizzle that would make a proper crust, and slid the whole thing into the oven. Nothing left to do but wait.

She could’ve headed back upstairs to check on the status of the warm-up act, but that would require she have further interaction with the circus, and she’d had enough already. Instead, she grabbed the bacon and munched as she slipped out her phone to see if she’d managed to head off the damage. When none of her alerts for Mercy Lee’s social media referenced the Jiffy Mix incident, she opened Instagram for a little bit of dreaming.

Almost her entire feed was made up of old houses in need of saving. If there was an account that curated them, Deanna followed it. The houses were all over the country, in all kinds of styles and various shades of disrepair. Many were in foreclosure. Plenty were under threat of being torn down. The idea of being able to one day buy one of these historic gems and bring it back to life was her dream. New construction simply didn’t have this kind of history and personality. She wanted to own a piece of that. Maybe because she wanted to rewrite her own history.

A picture caught her eye. The shot was terrible. Too dark and the angle was a little funky, with part of the house obscured by the message Save This House photoshopped across the image. But Deanna opened it anyway, trying to get a better glimpse of the antebellum house set at the end of an avenue of old-growth trees. It was white―or had been, in some long-ago incarnation. A quartet of columns marched across the front, giving presence to what looked like a square box of a house with a second-story gallery. There was no way to tell how far back it went. She swiped through the other two pictures―one of some body of water visible from the house, and one of what might once have been a truly magnificent stairway inside that now had paint peeling in strips from every tread.

She scrolled down to the description.

Save this antebellum beauty in Hamilton, TN.

A frisson of excitement shivered down Deanna’s spine. Hamilton was one of the bedroom communities of Nashville. Maybe she’d actually get a chance to see this one. She favorited it to look at later.

Her phone began to ring. She tensed, expecting Gavin again, but saw her mother’s name flash across the screen, even as muffled strains of music sounded from the distant stage. Obviously Tony and Gavin had sorted something out, and she had further reprieve from the crazy.

“Hey, Mom.”

“Hi, baby. What are you up to tonight?”

“Putting out fires. The usual. I’m hoping to head home in a little while to get some chill time in. I was just looking at photos of this really cool old house outside Nashville.”

“You and your old houses.” Deanna could practically hear her mother shaking her head. “You know those things are just money pits. You’re not in a position to do something that foolish.” She didn’t actually say since your divorce, but the words hung between them, nonetheless.

Deanna deflated. “I know, I know. I’ve used up my quota of foolish.” Like she really needed that reminder of the years she’d wasted on Blake. But she understood that her parents only wanted the best for her, and the best included not making impulsive decisions. She’d more than learned her lesson on that score.

Wanting to shift the conversation away from her, she asked, “How did Dad’s doctor’s appointment go?”

“Oh, fine. His cholesterol is down. He’s hoping that means he doesn’t ever have to eat oatmeal again.”

They continued to chat about safer topics until the timer went off, signaling the cornbread was done.

“Listen, Mom, I’ve gotta go. Give Dad my love, okay?”

“Will do. Talk soon.”

Removing the pan of perfectly baked buttermilk cornbread, Deanna hunted up a knife and plate, slicing and arranging the whole thing to Mercy Lee’s exacting standards. Then she carried the plate of steaming cornbread and the fresh package of sweet cream butter up to the dressing room.

Mercy Lee pounced as soon as Deanna came through the door, shoving a hunk of cornbread into her mouth and moaning. “This. This is cornbread.” With barely more than a glance at Deanna, she yanked the plate out of her hands and carried it over to a table to slather on butter. Hearing male voices coming down the hall, and knowing she wouldn’t get a proper thank you, Deanna brushed her hands off. “Okay, well, are you good to go now? Because it sounds like your warm-up act is finished.” The music had stopped a couple of minutes ago.

Mercy Lee nodded, continuing to shovel in cornbread and guzzling water.

Celebrities were weird.

“I’m gonna go then. You have a good night.” Deanna turned and walked straight into an all-too-familiar chest.

Her body recognized the hands that came up to catch her arms before she even dragged her eyes to his face. Blake Fucking Lucas. Her cheating bastard of an ex-husband.

“Whoa. Hey there, darlin’.” Blake grinned that single-dimpled smile that had melted her heart and her panties back in college.

Setting her jaw, Deanna ignored Blake and looked to Gavin, who was right behind him. “Really?”

“You said you wanted someone available immediately.”

She highly doubted there hadn’t been other alternatives. “Fine. Whatever. The crisis has been averted and Mercy Lee is ready to go on. I’m going.”

“Oh now, don’t be running off so fast,” Blake wheedled.

Deanna glanced down to where his hands were still curled around her upper arms. “If you don’t take your hands off me right now, I’m going to take them off at the wrists.”

He let her go, lifting his hands in the universal sign of no threat.

She wished she had the skillet in her hand. Then again, the fact that she still wanted to bash him over the head with it almost two years after their divorce probably meant it was a good thing she wasn’t armed. Shoving past both men, she stalked down the hall, yanking her phone out to send a text to the one person who could rectify her suddenly foul mood.

Deanna: Close-encounter of the asshat variety. I need detox.

Bennet: I’ll bring the wine.

“This place is a dump.”

Wyatt Sullivan smiled at his companion’s assertion and continued to pick his way through the piles of old newspapers, boxes of jars, and other detritus filling the rooms of the 1980s split-level. “Ah, but it’s a dump with potential”.

“The potential for a CDC lockdown, maybe. What is that smell?” Simon demanded.

“My guess is a mouse nest somewhere. But look.” Moving to a corner, Wyatt shifted a pile of wilting boxes and used a pocketknife to pry up the moldy shag carpet. Beneath were dull oak floors. “These can be refinished. I’m betting they run through the entire first floor.” Letting the carpet drop, he straightened. “You have to learn to look past the surface to the bones beneath.”

“I know, I know. Fixtures and paint can be changed. This isn’t my first rodeo with you. But why is it you always seem to go for the really horrible places?”

“Because I can see what most people can’t. This place belonged to somebody’s relative. Obviously, they were a hoarder. Whoever inherited the house doesn’t want to deal with the mess, so they’re willing to make a hell of a deal to get the property off their hands as is. If the bones are good, that means bigger profit on the flip.”

“I get all that. But dude—you live on site while you flip. How can you even consider doing that in a place like this? Obviously there’s mold.” Simon tugged his T-shirt up over his nose, as if that would help.

“I can couch surf for a bit until we strip all that out. I admit it’s not always ideal, but that’s how I maximize profit and minimize cost. I’m not wasting thousands on maintaining my own residence, where l’d have to commute who knows how long across Nashville to the job site every day. That saves time, and time is money, too. It works for me.” Though he had been considering investing in a small camper that he could tow behind his truck and park on site. Maybe if this next project was profitable enough.

“I feel sure it contributes to your perpetually single status.”

Amused, Wyatt shot Simon a mock glare. “You saying I don’t have game?”

“I haven’t even seen you try to play.”

Yeah, well... Wyatt had been burned on that front a long time ago and had little interest in trying again. He had options if he wanted short-term female companionship. He just hadn’t pursued any in a while. Too much work to do. There was always the next flip, the next episode of his home improvement show, DIWyatt, to put together for posting on YouTube. Maybe he’d think about that after he’d reached his goal. After he’d proved himself.

“Right now I can’t afford the distraction.”

“You’ve always got an excuse.”

Irritation prickled. “Better I avoid dating entirely than to make some poor woman feel like she’s second fiddle to my dreams.”

Simon went quiet for a moment as they made their way into a kitchen that probably merited hazmat suits. “I mean, that’s fair, but don’t you want someone to share it with?”

Did he want someone to love and support him in the thing that meant the most to him? Of course. But Wyatt had stopped believing in fairy tales a long time ago. Rather than point that out, he hooked an arm around Simon’s neck and gave him a noogie. “That’s why I have you.”

When he’d taken Simon on, it had been as a favor to his old foster mom, Joan Reynolds. A summer job. A way to keep him out of trouble and teach him a few skills. Three years later, Joan was dead and Wyatt had the chance to be the kind of big brother he’d been lucky enough to have. He hadn’t imagined the boy would stick. But Simon had proved to be a hard worker and eager to learn. He was taller and broader now, no longer the whip-thin boy he’d been, but a leanly muscled man as tall as Wyatt. But there was still teenage boy in his laughing response to the headlock—an elbow jab and long fingers reaching for Wyatt’s ticklish ribs.

“Are we taking this monstrosity on?”

His use of “we” made Wyatt smile, even as his gaze automatically tracked over the ceiling and walls, noting small cracks and the evidence of a leak. “Maybe. Transforming this place would be something of a miracle. It’s got that whole train wreck vibe that could really drive views.” And views were income on his monetized YouTube channel.

They stepped outside. From the front of the walk, beside the gate of the chain-link fence sporting signs declaring No Trespassing and Keep Out, the realtor looked up from her phone with hope in her eyes. “Well? What do you think?”

Knowing how desperate Shelley was to get the listing sold, Wyatt conceded, “It’s a possibility. I want to look around outside.”

He shoved through an overgrown section of fence that was more vines than chain link. That would have to go. There was already little enough space to navigate between this house and the next less than fifteen feet away. The foundational plantings were massive and should’ve been ripped out decades ago. But what really concerned him was the huge old oak shading the house in the back. One good storm could send that big, beautiful bastard crashing through the roof.

Wanting a look at the foundation, he fought his way through the holly bushes that stood higher than he did, cursing as the prickly leaves scratched his arms. Low-tech alarm system at its finest. Crouching, he made his way along the base of the structure. About halfway across the east side of the house, he realized the roof didn’t matter. A huge crack snaked up from the foundation, right where one of the gnarled roots disappeared beneath the house. Based on its location, it was likely running up into one of the overloaded closets, which explained why he hadn’t spotted the problem inside.

Shoving back out of the bushes, he rejoined Shelley and Simon out front. “No go. There are foundation problems. That big ass oak is gonna have to go, and the house will need releveling.” Foundational issues were too costly and time consuming to tackle for a flip with his small operation.

Undeterred, Shelley insisted, “I’m sure the sellers will deduct that from the cost. They’re eager to make a deal. I’m positive they’ll negotiate.”

“I’m sure they are, but unless they want to just hand me the deed, the answer is no. We’ll keep looking.”

“Thank God,” Simon muttered.

Shelley’s face fell.

Wanting to throw her a bone, Wyatt offered a smile. “If you find any others that fit my parameters, let me know. I’m happy to look.”

She just nodded, casting a frustrated, disgusted glance back at the house.

“Thanks for your time.”

They climbed into Wyatt’s truck. As they waited for Shelley to lock the house—Wyatt wasn’t about to leave her on her own in this neighborhood at this time of day—Simon stretched out his long legs.

“So now what? You close on the current flip tomorrow, right?”

“Yeah. First thing in the morning. I had hoped to move directly into the next project house, but I’ll have guaranteed money in the bank. I can afford to take a bit more time to find the right next project.” The show needed something with wow factor. Something that would get him noticed by the networks. The right house was out there somewhere. He knew it.

“What’s the word from the buyer about the potential connection at CMT for the show?”

Curt Welling was some kind of mid-level something or other at CMT. He and his wife had actually found the house through DIWyatt and put in an offer before the property even went on the market. In the process, he’d mentioned that his boss was part of a team looking at producing some original content for the network in the home improvement arena. With luck, his enthusiasm for Wyatt’s work would translate into a meeting with that team.

Wyatt shrugged with more nonchalance than he felt. “No word yet. I’m hoping he’ll have something to say tomorrow.” And if there was a part of him that was crossing his fingers and toes that he’d get the meeting and land a show, such that there was an actual production budget, well, he couldn’t be blamed for hoping.

“They’d be crazy not to talk to you.”

If only his little brother were in charge of the decisions. “Here’s hoping.”

“Since you’re about to be flush and all, how ’bout you buy a brother dinner? It’s the least you can do to make up for subjecting me to that shit show.” Simon jerked a thumb toward the property they’d just walked through.

Wyatt laughed and pulled away from the curb. “I expect I can make that happen.”

Chapter 2

The piquant scent of Thai food greeted Deanna as she stepped into her apartment.

Bennet Hartley slid out of the kitchen Risky Business style in sock feet, leggings, and an oversized T-shirt that should have looked shlumpy but on her looked stylish. She held a full glass of wine in each hand. “I have been honing my list of insults since you texted. Dinner’s just waiting to be plated, and there’s Ben and Jerry’s in the freezer. I figured you haven’t had a chance to eat yet.”

Tears of gratitude pricked the backs of Deanna’s eyes as she accepted a glass, wrapping Bennet in a one-armed hug. “I will never ever regret giving you a key to my place.”

“I got you, girl. Go pajamaficate, then we can have an insult the asshat contest the way we did all through your divorce.”

Deanna drained half the glass where she stood. “How much wine did you bring?”

Bennet’s laugh warmed the cold that had lodged itself in the pit of Deanna’s stomach since the run-in with Blake. “I came with an overnight bag and hangover preventatives.”

“God, I love you. Maybe we should become lesbians.”

“The world cannot handle that much fabulous in one couple. Besides, you are a legitimate morning person, and I’m pretty sure that’s grounds for murder in some states.”

“Only if I don’t come armed with coffee.”

Bennet angled her head in mock consideration. “You do make excellent coffee.”

In the bedroom, Deanna stripped out of her work clothes in favor of yoga pants and her most comfortable T-shirt, the Five Finger Death Punch one that Blake had hated. She no longer lived her life based around his whims and wants.

It did no good to berate herself for all the years that hadn’t been true.

By the time they settled at opposite ends of the sofa with bowls of extra spicy basil fried rice and more wine, Deanna felt some of the rough edges of her day smoothing out. Or maybe that was just the alcohol hitting her very empty stomach.

“So how exactly did you run into the spineless dick weasel?”

“Work. Of course.” She explained her close encounter of the bastard kind.

“This is the first time you’ve actually had to deal with Blake the flake in over a year, right?”

“Yeah. Which is a minor miracle considering how small a world the music industry really is. Since he’s now being repped by Gavin Waters, and since I’m now at the beck and call of Gavin’s number one client, I suspect it won’t be the last.” With a grimace, she sipped more wine. “It’s the epitome of irony that my deft handling of the whole potential clusterfuck of Kyle Keenan’s surprise engagement meant I got switched from County Music’s Captain America to Nashville’s biggest diva.”

“Being amazing at your job has its drawbacks.”

“I miss Kyle. He was sane. And watching him with Abbey gave me fresh hope that love actually does exist.” It was nice to know some men could and did keep their promises. Certainly she hadn’t seen that kind of devotion from her ex.

“They are pretty damned adorable, and you just know their baby is gonna be the cutest thing ever.”

“True story. They’re really nice people. I miss nice people.”

Bennet angled her head, considering. “I think it’s less nice and more normal. You’ve been rubbing elbows with the famous and famous adjacent for a long time.”

Deanna drained the last of her second glass of wine. “I have. And, God, I’m so tired of it. I’m tired of wrangling spoiled musicians and keeping their bad behavior or poorly thought out remarks from becoming a DEFCON situation. I’m tired of fixing other people’s mistakes.” Reaching for the bottle on the coffee table, she filled her glass again. “But I don’t get to do anything else because my own mistake was so huge, I’ll be paying for it via alimony for what feels like the rest of my natural life. Because Blake isn’t going to marry again. Why would he? He can’t keep it in his pants.”

Bennet squeezed her ankle. “You never know. Maybe he’ll hook up with Mercy Lee and be taken off your hands.”

“I’d say from your mouth to God’s ear, but I don’t know that I hate her that much.”

“She’d certainly be able to afford him and his expensive tastes better than you. And you don’t need them to stay married. Just get married in the first place. That would terminate the alimony.”

“True.” Deanna lifted her glass. “To Blake and Mercy Lee. May they find they’re the perfect combination of crazy for each other.”

“Cheers.”

They clinked glasses.

“You know what you need?” Bennet declared. “Hot guys in tool belts. That always makes you feel better. What are you feeling? Carter Osterhouse? Ty Pennington? The Property Brothers?”

“Oh, I’ve got a new guilty pleasure on that front. Remember, I told you I met Paisley Parish at Ivy’s wedding?” Deanna grabbed the remote and flipped on her small TV, navigating to YouTube.

“I’m still jealous of that. I frigging love her books.”

“Well, she’s the one who told me about this.” Hitting a few more buttons, she brought up her current favorite home improvement channel. “I give you DIWyatt.”

Bennet leaned forward. “What have we here?”

“He’s this contractor who specializes in mostly one-man flips. He’ll take these absolute monstrosities and turn them into beautiful, functional homes. And it’s not just video of the flip process, which you know I love, but also a ton of instructional videos about how to actually do the stuff.”

“A glimpse behind the home improvement curtain.”

“Exactly. This isn’t a case of having a full production crew, round-the-clock contractors, and an army of volunteers. He’s just one guy. From time to time, he’ll pull in a few other folks, but by and large, he does all of this on his own. He makes it look easy and doable.”

Bennet smirked. “He’s doable. All that thick, dark hair and muscles.”

Deanna tossed a pillow in her direction and made her laugh.

“Seriously, though. The fact that your commentary is all about his construction skills and not how that tool belt hangs on his hips is not what I was expecting. I thought you were just obsessed with the prettiness of the end product like the rest of us. I didn’t know you cared about the actual process that goes in to this kind of thing.”

“I love old houses. I love the idea of renovating something. Building something up that would otherwise be torn down. None of these modern, clean lines and no soul. A home should tell a story. Have a history.” She swiped open her phone and pulled up the house she’d been looking at earlier. “It’s my dream to be able to buy one of these houses and bring it back to glory. Someday I want to walk into my home and feel ownership—not just because it’s my name on the deed, but because I put in the sweat equity to truly make it mine.”

Bennet studied her with an expression that was part impressed, part Girl, you crazy. “I had no idea you were this into the idea of home improvement. You never said.”

Deanna swigged more wine and shrugged. “It’s just a dream. Something I play with as stress relief. Pinterest boards and Instagram.”

“Will you show me?”

Dragging out her laptop, she introduced Bennet to her many and varied Pinterest boards and the old house accounts she haunted.

“This is really good, Deanna. You have a great eye.”

She liked to think so, but anybody could capture pictures on the internet. “It makes me happy.”

Bennet fixed bright, dark eyes on her. “Have you ever tried to actually do anything like this before?”

“I tried to talk Blake into buying a fixer upper. The kind of place we could really put our mark on. He wouldn’t hear of it. All he ever wanted was the new and the shiny. All our money ended up going toward this lavish lifestyle that was above our means because he was convinced it would help him be discovered. And instead, it landed us neck-deep in debt—or rather, it landed me neck-deep in debt, since he ran most of it up in my name. Between that and the alimony, I just don’t have the money to put into a project like this.”

“I mean, yeah, I get that. But why aren’t you doing something like this as a career? Why stick with PR when you hate it?”

“I’m not qualified for home renovation and design. It’s just something I’m playing with. There’s nothing practical about it, and with the debt and the alimony, I don’t have the luxury of making some kind of career jump.” Topping off her glass with the last of their second bottle of wine, she settled back into the sofa. “I’m slowly building up savings. Maybe someday I’ll actually be free of this anchor around my neck. In the meantime, I have wine, excellent friends, and HGTV. That’ll have to be enough.”

“And just one more.” Nyra Singh slid another sticky tabbed document in front of Wyatt.

He scrawled his signature for the hundredth time and felt his head ache as the letters of the contract swam on the page. This was the worst part of his business. He and the written word were not on speaking terms. Thank God Nyra was a trusted friend who could do the heavy lifting on this front and explain what was in the paperwork without him having to struggle through it all on his own.

He passed the contract across the table to the Wellings. Curt added his signature and dropped the pen, flexing his hand while his wife Megan signed the last line of the seemingly endless FHA loan paperwork.

“That is it. You’re officially homeowners,” Nyra announced. “I’ll get all of this filed today and my secretary will have copies of all the paperwork ready for you to pick up tomorrow.”

Curt wrapped his arm around Megan, and they both beamed at Wyatt. “We can’t begin to thank you enough.”

He grinned back, rising to offer a hand to the other man. “No thanks necessary. I’m delighted to know the house will be loved.” It meant a lot that the property he’d poured his passion, blood, and sweat into would be a real home for this growing family. Just because he chose to live a somewhat itinerant lifestyle didn’t mean he couldn’t appreciate the value of a home.

Megan absently ran a protective hand over her small baby bump. “I love that we have a video record of the renovation from your YouTube channel, so we know what it started out as. Nobody would believe it used to look like that.”

“Speaking of,” Curt began, and Wyatt’s stomach jumped. “I talked with my boss. He’s interested in meeting with you, if you’re game.”

Holding in a whoop and a fist pump, Wyatt nodded. “I absolutely am.”

“Fantastic. What is your availability?”

“I’m between projects for the moment. I’ll make myself available whenever. Just name the time and place.”

“Great! I’ll text you the details as soon as I confirm.”

“I’ll be sure to be there.”

After one last handshake, Wyatt handed over the keys and managed to wait until the Wellings had walked out of the office to do a little victory boogie.

This was it. His big break. He couldn’t wait to tell Scott.

Nyra laughed. “Another successful sale down. I noticed there was an extra zero on that check from the last house you flipped. Getting bigger, better, and more profitable. Your brother will be proud.”

Wyatt fought not to wince at the hitch around his heart at the mention of his brother. The reason for his whole career. The reason he even had a career. “Yeah, I think he’ll be pumped.”

“The funds should show up in your accounts tomorrow, split per your usual preference. I know you’re eager to get on out to see him.”

“I am, thanks.”

She pressed a hand to his arm. “Tell him I said hi.”

Wyatt gave her fingers a squeeze. “Thanks, Nyra.”

The buzz of excitement kept him company on the drive to the other side of town. After a brief stop off to pick up milkshakes, he turned onto the campus of Fairland Village. The security guard at the gate looked at his decal and waved him on through with a smile. A tree-lined drive gave way to a cluster of buildings housing assorted therapy modalities, as well as apartments for the wide range of residents. It was, in a sense, a little self-contained village. As residential facilities went, it was a nice place, certainly better than some of the others they’d looked at. Here, Scott had access to round-the-clock care and top-of-the-line therapies and rehab specialists. Wyatt had been able to have him moved here two years ago on the profits from his flips. The progress he’d made in that time was sufficient motivation for Wyatt to keep funneling a portion of every single job toward keeping him here. By rights, part of the profits belonged to Scott, anyway. He’d been the one who’d taken the chance and bought the first house Wyatt had flipped. Before the accident and after, he’d always been Wyatt’s biggest supporter.