In a book filled with stories about blue-collar guys, you know there had to be at least one “Mr. Fix-It”! Robie Madison’s story was just the one I was looking for. Take a lonely divorcée who needs a little boost in girly confidence, add a man she’s drooled over in the past, and who can give as good in the attitude department as our heroine, and you have a winner! Enjoy the excerpt. Be sure to give Robie some love in the comments, and don’t forget to enter to win the prize! Leave a comment here for a chance to win a small Amazon gift card! Have you ever hired a contractor, a Mr. Fix-It? Was he as sexy as Robie’s? ~DD
Excerpt from Robie Madison’s “Renovating the Heart” in Blue Collar
A sledgehammer-wielding divorcée finds her heart repaired by a contractor she hires to renovate an old family cabin
“What the fuck were you thinking?”
My two brothers said—shouted really, in perfect unison no less—when curiosity finally led them up the path from the main cottage to the Little Cabin to investigate the “unholy din.” Their words. Their voices sounded judgmental as they exchanged glances that plainly said what they were thinking.
At forty-one, their little sister was, evidently, experiencing a midlife crisis.
I didn’t bother to confirm or deny the allegation. Their big-brother attitude made it clear they weren’t really interested in listening. Besides, I wasn’t sure I could adequately put into words why I’d ripped out the walls to the studs.
That evening I received an invitation to a barbecue. Resistance was futile. I accepted with a modicum of grace. Letting those two believe they were doing me a big favor never paid.
My brothers cooked dinner and refused my offer to help clean up. I didn’t protest. For all I knew, this would be my only midlife crisis, so I intended to take full advantage.
Beer bottle in hand, I could at least be considerate and not use a glass, I slouched in a chair at the table and ignored the glances my brothers were once again giving each other as they washed and dried the dishes. I appreciated the TLC, but I’d kick both their asses if they gave me any pity.
“What are you doing now that you’re—” One brother started to ask, a plate and a dishtowel in his hands. He promptly shut up when he received an elbow in the ribs for his effort.
Okay, so my brothers, my parents, and the whole extended family were worried about me. Hell, I was worried about me. But no one wanted to utter, let alone talk about the seven-letter “D”-word.
My divorce. I repeatedly had to remind myself I needed to own it. Half of it, anyway.
“Mom and Dad will be back at the end of the month,” my other brother said, without even bothering to turn around and look at me.
Message received. Our aging parents had decided to travel while they were still “go-go,” but they hadn’t transferred ownership of the summer compound to the three of us to see it destroyed. More importantly, while my brothers might be willing to feed me, neither of them was prepared to help me clean up my mess.
Divorce mess. Cabin mess.
Yes, I could see how my brothers might well conclude that my destructive madness this afternoon was a delayed response to my divorce, which had been granted earlier in the summer.
Now I’d been put on notice. I had a month to get my act together.
How? I wanted to ask but knew such a question was futile. I was the first person in my family to divorce. I was a trailblazer on a road I never thought I’d travel. I knew with absolute certainty my family loved me, but I could have done with a little less respecting of my personal space and a lot more reassurance that I hadn’t just made the biggest mistake of my life.
I sat a little straighter, determined to look mature and responsible, even if I hadn’t acted the part this afternoon. The end of my marriage might have demolished my heart, but that was no excuse to wreck a family heritage site. Our grandparents built the Little Cabin seventy-odd years ago, and while several upgrades had been done a few decades ago, even my brothers couldn’t argue the place was due for a major renovation.
I was groping for a way to present this brilliant idea to my brothers, as though it had been my plan all along, when I realized I was staring at the perfect solution. On a square piece of paper, pinned to the fridge by four plastic, yellow magnet flowers, our mother had written in her neat hand, Call Mr. Fix-It. A phone number was dutifully printed underneath those momentous words.
Mr. Fix-It was, of course, not his real name, which was something prosaic like Smith or Jones. But that knowledge had been lost long ago when our mother created the nickname after an especially epic plumbing disaster forced the five of us to escape the main cottage for the cabin. As I remember it, my brothers pitched a tent near the parking lot, rather than bunk down like sardines in the small living room with me.
That night I slept in my old room at the main cottage. After my rampage, the Little Cabin was unfit for human habitation. The next morning, I followed my brothers up the hill to their cars and waved goodbye. They were heading back to Toronto and their homes, their families, and their jobs.
I tried, and failed, not to think about the fact that I currently had none of those things. The condo I’d shared with my ex had been sold. The proceeds divided quite civilly. No kids, so no custody battle, thank God. I’d even quit my job. Which sounded totally insane given the upheaval in my personal life, but then I’d worked with the person I’d been living with. The lines got too blurred, even for me.
If I was having a mid-life crisis, I was going full throttle.
I poured myself another cup of tea and phoned Mr. Fix-It.
Mrs. Fix-It called me dear and assured me someone would be right over.
Which was how I met Jeremy.
Not Mr. Fix-It, but one of his sons.
I had a lazy, summer memory of one or other of Mr. Fix-It’s three sons trailing after him whenever he’d come out on a job. I didn’t remember the grown-up Jeremy at all with his super-short brown hair and a neatly trimmed beard and mustache that made him look like he was in his mid-thirties, at best. But then my visits to the cottage had been sporadic in recent years.
He resembled his father enough to reassure me he was imbued with the Fix-It gene. He certainly looked the part in faded jeans held up by a pair of black suspenders that matched his T-shirt and his work boots. And he’d arrived in a large truck with a toolbox in the back, apparently ready to get to work.
I stuck out my hand. “Hi, I’m Victoria Carmichael.”
With a shove, he slammed the door of his truck and stepped forward, right into my personal space.
His move forced me to look way up. He was barely six feet tall, but that meant he still towered over me. In the heels I habitually wore to work, but had no use for at the cottage, I was five-five.
“Yeah, I know,” he said.
His hand easily engulfed mine. Calloused fingers tickled my palm, but I didn’t laugh, too fascinated by the slide of rough skin against smooth. Tendrils of heat licked at my wrist, and for an instant something very like desire stirred inside me. I couldn’t be sure. It had been so damn long. Before I could grab hold of the sensation, he let me go.
“The Little Cabin, right?” He strode off in the correct direction.
A big clue his question had been rhetorical.
Bemused, I stood rooted to the spot.
What the hell had just happened? I’d always been more attracted to brains than beefcake. Metrosexual types with trendy glasses, sharp suits, and wiry bodies honed at a gym. But after spending months in absentia, my sex drive had other very intriguing ideas.
Then my brain kicked in, computed what he’d said, and I raced after Jeremy. When I’d called this morning, I’d told Mrs. Fix-It I was planning a reno, not that I’d started the process.
When I reached the cabin, he was standing with his arms crossed, surveying the interior. His brawny frame blocked the doorway. I didn’t need to see inside. I already knew what the Little Cabin looked like in the rational light of a new day. The main living space was an unholy mess.
I crossed my arms, too, and took a look anyway.
Jeremy’s biceps were freaking huge. I spent a full minute and a half indecently mesmerized by his well-muscled physique. I spent the subsequent thirty seconds estimating that both my hands would definitely not span one of his arms. Around minute number three, I faced the shameful yet tempting truth. I was ogling beefcake.
I’d experienced a case of insta-lust a time or two, maybe even three or four, while I’d been married. The fact that I’d been committed to someone else hadn’t precluded me from looking and admiring. I may have scrutinized an especially fine male form. I may even have had a few stray daydreams. Both were perfectly healthy, legal activities. But never once had I converted thought to action.
This time, though, I was not married. This time, I could take my thoughts as far as I wanted.
I thought about Jeremy when we’d met at the compound’s parking lot.
I’d been out of the dating game for a decade, but I was reasonably certain I wasn’t the only one who had felt a flicker of interest back there.
Hello, he’d dropped my hand and left pretty damn fast.
Still, I was uncharacteristically unsure of my next move.
I actually liked having a plan. I liked structure. I liked being an organized person, thus creating the illusion I was in control. Recently, though, I’d done such an excellent job of deconstructing my life, I could no longer even imagine what a next move looked like.
“You do this?” Jeremy asked as he kicked aside a couple of wood panels with his steel-toed boot.
My random thoughts about seducing the handyman crashed along with the boards, creating a fresh pile of rubble. I ordered myself to ignore my hormones and stay focused on the job of renovating the cabin.
I looked up.
He looked down at me, frown lines creasing his forehead.
He was clearly waiting for an answer. I tried, and failed, not to notice his eyes were a deep sea green.
“As opposed to did I have help?” I asked, unable to stop the sarcasm from slipping into the words.
Defense was a lousy default strategy. That didn’t mean I was about to apologize for being capable. All it ever took was one stray comment, and I stepped into the ring. Ready to defend a woman’s right to wield a crowbar or a sledgehammer or a—
He leaned in so close I could count the laugh lines around those amazing eyes. In the ten seconds before he opened his mouth, I wondered what it would take to make him laugh.
“Yeah, as opposed to did you have help doing all this over the weekend, because the cabin was in pristine condition when I was here Friday morning?”
His tone was surprisingly conversational given the attitude. But then I was the one who’d made assumptions. About him. About myself. Apparently, he hadn’t been questioning my abilities at all.
He turned away, breaking whatever the hell spell he kept putting on me and walked along one of several pathways I’d created through the debris toward the other side of the room. About three quarters of the way, he stopped, pivoted, and used the toe of his boot to lift a sizable, jagged triangle of glass.
Mom had been talking about replacing the cracked mirror for years. Yesterday, I’d made an executive decision to speed the process along.
“You’re in for seven years’ bad luck,” he said.
“Nine actually.” I shrugged. “Though to be fair, the first two were half decent, so seven sounds about right.”
Although I don’t ascribe to superstitions, I was in no position to take one on.
“Half decent,” he muttered as though testing the phrase. “As opposed to great, spectacular, love of your life?”
Jeremy, I was learning, was not a “Hi, how are you?” “Fine, thanks” kind of guy. When he asked a question, he seriously wanted an answer.
“Yeah, as opposed to good.”
The simple, yet oh so complex truth. My marriage hadn’t been terrible. It just hadn’t been very good, either.
He moved his foot away, and the piece of mirror fell, perfectly intact, back onto the floor.
“Here’s to my seven years,” he said.
Then he stomped on it. Hard.
A yelp of surprise whispered across my lips. Not because of the noise made by the glass shattering into a gazillion pieces. At least that was what I told myself. No, I was far more startled by what Jeremy had just admitted.
What I had admitted to him. I had just confessed more about my marriage to this man than I had to my family. I also had the distinct impression, because he was now staring at the wreckage in the kitchen and not me, that Jeremy’s confession had been equally unexpected.
I stepped into the room, not quite sure what to say. I was sorry. Of course I was. Failing at a relationship, at love, didn’t look good on the resume of life. It felt worse. Yet at the same time, a part of me was grateful for those few words.
They meant I wasn’t the only one stumbling around trying to figure out how to move on.
“Stop. Don’t move.”
His voice was calm, clear, and commanding. I froze.
In three strides he was beside me. He grabbed my arm and tugged.
I stumbled and landed against his chest with a soft “oomph.” A girly response for a woman in the midst of a midlife crisis, but then I’d always thought the phrase “he was built like a brick wall” a romance novel exaggeration. Apparently not.