Authors: Christina James
Tags: #Contemporary, #Literature & Fiction, #Contemporary Fiction, #Romance
A Place to Call Home
Passion in Print Press
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
Copyright 2010 by Christina James
All rights reserved, including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form.
Passion in Print Press
3052 Gaines Waterport Rd.
Albion, NY 14411
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Editing by Laura Garland
Cover art by Deana Jamroz
First Edition 2010
The author acknowledges the trademark status and trademark owners of the following wordmarks mentioned in this work of fiction:
Band Aid: Johnson & Johnson Corporation
BMW: Bayerische Motoren Werke Aktiengesellschaft Aktiengesellschaft
Botox: Allergan, Inc.
Emeril: Emeril’s Food of Love Productions, LLC
Google: Google, Inc.
iPod: Apple Computer, Inc.
Mercedes: Daimler AG Corporation
Scooby-Doo: Hanna-Barbera Productions, Inc.
Scrabble: Production and Marketing Company
To my mother, Bonnie Lynch, who shares my love of romance stories.
Thank for you for all the valuable feedback on my drafts.
Now, Hannah O’Leary had been in many dangerous predicaments in her twenty-six years, but nothing compared to the situation she found herself in at the moment. Her fingernails clawed the surrounding dusty plywood floor, desperately trying to pull her long, slender body from the hole through which she dangled helplessly.
The dank air in the old attic mixed with the inch thick grime that covered every foot of the very cluttered room. Her nose wrinkled every time she breathed, the smell reminding her of soiled socks and wet newspaper. Surely if she could grasp one of the many antique furniture pieces around her, she could crawl out of the gap she’d blindly fallen through while inspecting her new house.
Hannah reached with all her iron-will toward a large dresser but fell inches shy of success. Her legs flailed on the underside of the splintered hole and sheared lumber. Alone in this big, deserted house, she’d give anything to have even the boogeyman rescue her.
Exhaustion quickly settled deep into her bones—her very sore bones. Her head throbbed from the stifling heat in the large, dark room. Her long hair shrouded her shoulders and back, its thickness providing a blanket of warmth she certainly didn’t need or want. The muscles in her arms twitched and spasmed in protest from holding up her body’s weight. Oh, how she wished to have solid ground under her feet again. And her poor leg burned from what she guessed must be one hell of a scraped knee.
A squeak penetrated the silence. What was that? She scanned the area, her ears strained to listen for the noise to come again. Slowly, she twisted to see behind her.
Please don’t let there be rodents, or worse, creepy crawly things in here,
she prayed. There was no one but her in the attic.
What could she do to save herself from dropping to the floor below? Daring to peek down where her waist disappeared through the floor, she surmised she had to be some fifteen feet in the air. Letting herself fall wouldn’t do.
Scream. That’s what she’d have to do. Someone would hear her from the street. Right?
she begged the gods.
Then she screamed. And screamed. And screamed.
Her parched throat, raw and painful, begged for water. Her voice cracked, but she promised herself she’d not stop until rendered mute.
“What the hell is going on up here?” a man’s voice boomed through the room.
Help is here. Thank God!
“Over here. Help me. Help,” Hannah yelled toward the doorway.
“All right already. Quiet down.” The massive man marched into sight, scowling. When his gaze found her, he stopped short. “Just what the hell do you think you’re doing up here?”
“Getting a manicure,” she said sarcastically, her nails digging into the floor deeper. Didn’t he know when someone yelled for help it was serious? “What the hell does it look like? Now would you please get me out of here?”
He muttered an oath, dropped a plastic clipboard, and kneeled. “Well, I certainly can’t leave you like this. Hold still. Moving around like a fish out of water ain’t gonna help you.”
“Just please get me out of here,” she said, biting her lip to keep from sobbing.
His large, strong hands squeezed through the broken wood and slid over her waist, down her hips, and over her bottom.
“Hey! Must you do that?” she demanded, wiggling from his touch, wedging herself further.
He sat back on his heels, rested his hands on his knees, and leaned over her. “If I don’t touch you, how do you figure I get you out of this fine mess you’ve got yourself into?”
“You don’t need to cop a feel while doing it.” Embarrassment flowed through her from head to toe. Her cheeks heated with her mortification. It’d been years since a man had touched her, and this wasn’t exactly romantic.
His face rested inches from hers. In the limited light, Hannah could just make out the hard angles and planes of his features. Their gazes locked, a glint of amusement in those dark eyes of his.
“Now as appealing as that sounds, sweetheart, I’m a busy man. But once we get you out of here, maybe I can adjust my schedule to cop a feel. Now do you want my help or not?”
“Of course I do. Please. I can’t hang here all day.”
“Then hold still.”
She jerked her head up, irritated by his demanding tone. Who was he to boss her around? “Who are you anyway?”
“Looks like your hero. Now quiet. Let me work here.”
He placed his arms through the hole and once again his hands roamed her waist, hips, and bottom. She bit down on an oath. She wouldn’t admit how good those strong arms felt maneuvering over her body.
“Put your arms around my neck,” he commanded and cupped her bottom.
Shaking her head, she panicked. “No. I’ll fall through.”
“No you won’t. I’ve got a good hold of you.”
“Yeah. I’ve noticed.”
“Damn it. I said put your hands around my neck. Now.”
She huffed and did what he told her. “Don’t drop me,” she demanded nervously.
“Don’t give me a reason to. And don’t hold my neck so tight. I like to breathe.”
With his face so close to hers, his warm breath tickled her cheek with each word. A tingle ran down her spine. Probably just a reaction from her fright.
“Just hold on. I’m going to lift you up. When I tell you, hold your knees to your chest as high as you can. Got it?”
“Okay.” His fingers dug into the curve of her bottom where it met her thighs.
Oh, God, how embarrassing to have a strange man’s hands holding her in such an intimate fashion. And damn she didn’t want to notice, but he was so strong, his arms solid, his fingers long and brawny, and currently massaging her buttocks thoroughly, while he lifted her slowly, angling her through the jagged wood. Breathing heavily with fear, she pressed her face against the curve of his neck and inhaled his scent. She couldn’t miss the smell of his skin, the scent of soap and heat.
“Okay. Now,” he ordered.
She raised her knees even though they felt as heavy as logs. And then she stood on solid floor again, held tightly around the waist by his arm. He bent, grabbed his clipboard, and hauled her with him, lifting her and carefully and crossing over the wooden planks. Just like she’d done—before she’d lost her footing and crashed through the floor. Each stair creaked as the tall stranger walked her down to the second floor. Hannah squinted at the bright sunshine pouring through the dirty windows.
“You can let go of me now.” The demand was stronger than necessary, but she could no longer hide her embarrassment.
“You sure? I don’t mind helping hold you up. Well, until you can stand on your own.”
His smile should be outlawed for the danger it presented to a woman’s state of mind. To
state of mind. Between the heat, humidity, and him watching her so closely, she swayed not knowing which to blame. Southern men may be known for their manners, but never had she seen a smile that intoxicating. With his slow drawl, he must be born and bred Southern.
“I think I can handle it now. Thank you.”
Slowly he removed his arm from her waist. “Sure now?”
Before she could answer, she staggered.
His hand grabbed her elbow. “Stay still.”
“I’m trying. Don’t forget I just finished hanging from the damn ceiling. Have to get used to my feet again.” Her knees protesting her weight, she froze when his hands purposely roamed her body. She brushed him away. “What the hell do you think you’re doing?”
“Checking for injuries. Stay still.”
“I will not. You did your good deed for the day. Now stop.”
He ignored her protests and continued to run his hands over her arms, legs, and back. “You’re dirty, but you’ll survive. You’re not injured. No broken bones.”
Before she knew what he planned to do, he grabbed his clipboard, lifted her into his arms, cradled her to his chest, and walked to the stairs.
“Hey! Put me down.” Why be so nice to her when he didn’t even know her? Accepting his help needed to be done earlier, but she could take care of herself now.
“I will when I get you downstairs. Don’t think you should tempt fate with a header down the stairs on those wobbly legs. And the next time you inspect an attic, use a flashlight. If you had, then you would’ve seen that floor is riddled with dry rot.”
“Thanks for the lesson. I can walk fine. Now please put me down.” She wiggled against his hard torso needing him to stop holding her so close. Her body heated, and she knew it had nothing to do with the summer temps.
“No,” he said simply, starting down the winding staircase. “Hold still, lady. Unless you want to kill us both.”
When she turned to see how close they were to the bottom, he lost his footing, and they tumbled down the last of the stairs with her landing under him.
He called out a string of curses. “What part of ‘hold still’ did you not understand, lady?” He sat up next to her and rubbed his lower back.
She sat up as well, her body smarting in too many places to console.
He continued to yell. “I need my body in one piece to earn a goddamn living.”
She flinched, guilt consuming her. “I’m sorry. It’s not like I planned to make us fall.”
“Had you listened to me and stopped moving, I wouldn’t have tripped.”
He was right, of course. How did she tell him that being held in his arms had made her too nervous to think clearly? She sighed, wishing she could rewind the entire morning.
He stared, still sitting on the floor with her. “Okay. Maybe you didn’t mean to nearly kill us. You okay?”
She shrugged and straightened her shirt, offering a shy smile. “Yes. Thank you for rescuing me from the attic.”
“And you repay me by lying to me?” he said, frowning. “You’re hurt and won’t admit it. I know some first aid. Let me look at your leg.”
“No. I’m fine really. Just a little scrape.” She inched back from him. “So what are you doing here anyway?”
“Sorry,” he said, extending his hand. “Name’s Mac. You called me for a bid to renovate this place. MacDevin & Sons Construction at your service. It’s Ms. O’Leary, right?”
“Hannah,” he repeated, her name rolling off his tongue to serenade her ears.
“Do you have a bid, Mac?” She let go of his hand.
“I do. You’re not getting it, though,” he said and gestured toward her injured knee. “Not until I look at that cut on your leg.”
She frowned. “Now that’s not playing fair.”
He shot her that killer smile again. Thank goodness she wasn’t standing. Her knees would’ve weakened instantly. Damn, if a smile could have that kind of effect on her, then she needed to get laid.
She scooted up and sat on the bottom stair. Her injury throbbed, and when she glanced down, she found her pant torn and a jagged gash sliced across her knee. Mac’s large hand covered her calf and tugged until her leg straightened then he slid his callused palm up her shin. Dear God, why did that have to feel so good?
He studied the knee, released her, and stood. “Be right back. Don’t move,” he directed and walked out the front door.
Too bad Mac didn’t know Hannah took orders from no one. She struggled to her feet, retrieved her purse from where she’d left it near the door, and grabbed a wad of tissues. However, trying to hold the tissues over her knee and hobble back to the stairs proved to be difficult. With her injured leg bare from knee to ankle, she eased back down onto the stair step and looked up when Mac returned.
He grimaced. “Thought I told you to stay put.”
“You did. I didn’t want to.”
“You have a hard time with listening, don’t you, Hannah?” Mac popped open the first aid kit.
“You’d be wise to learn I don’t follow orders or take demands.”
“Yeah? Even when your safety is concerned? That’s just being stubborn.” He reached for her, and she pulled away.