This isn’t good.
Miranda stared at the water gushing from the broken pipe that led to the showerhead, then at the rapidly spreading pool on the bathroom floor. Even with only three guest rooms to clean every day, something always had the potential to go wrong. When she found anything amiss though, it was usually nothing more serious than a clogged sink or a loose handle on the nightstand drawer. Something she could fix with the aid of a screwdriver and a little elbow grease.
This, on the other hand…
This is the last thing I need right now.
The couple who would be staying in the pink room—the couple who were due to arrive in less than three hours—had mentioned they were celebrating their tenth wedding anniversary when they’d made the booking. Miranda had already placed a big bouquet of red roses and a bottle of Californian sparkling wine on the table as a welcome gift, alongside the bowl of fruit she always kept filled for guests. But it didn’t matter how cozy and welcoming the bedroom felt if the floor of the en suite bathroom was under an inch of water and the shower was doing its best impression of Niagara Falls.
There wasn’t any point in wishing Tom were around to help. He was long gone, and he wasn’t coming back. Ever since he’d moved to Pittsburgh to live with her so-called best friend, Joni, Miranda had gotten used to running the inn single-handedly.
You can cope with this, she told herself, fighting not to panic. The first thing to do was turn the water off at the stopcock. At least that would prevent the leak from getting any worse. Still, it took her a few seconds to remember its location—under the kitchen sink.
Miranda dashed down the main stairs to the lobby, through the breakfast room and into the kitchen. She flung open the door of the cupboard beneath the large butcher’s sink, and had to pull boxes of cleaning supplies, dishwasher tabs, and tea lights out of the way to reach the pipes. The stopcock was stiff, and at first, she feared she wouldn’t get it to move. Then it turned in her hands and she let out a long sigh of relief.
When she tried the taps, the water that had backed up in the pipes streamed out for a moment, then stopped.
“Well, at least I managed that part okay,” she muttered as she snatched up her cell phone from the kitchen table. She scrolled through her contacts list till she found Lance Peters’ number. He’d been handling the plumbing and electrics for the Maltby Farm Inn for as long as she and Tom had owned the place, but she couldn’t remember the last time she’d had to call him out for an emergency.
He answered the phone on the third ring.
“Hi, Lance, it’s Miranda from Maltby Farm.”
“Hey, Miranda, how are you?” His voice was little more than a croak.
“I’m fine, just about, but you sound hella rough.”
“Yeah, I’ve got this bug that’s going around. I’ve been laid up in my bed for the last couple days. Donna’s been nursing me with chicken soup and Tylenol.”
“Oh.” Miranda’s heart sank. If Lance was out of commission, where would she find another plumber she could trust on short notice?
“Everything okay there?” Lance asked.
“Well, I have a problem with my pipes. It’s kind of an emergency, and I’d been hoping you could come take a look, but…”
“What sort of problem?”
“I’m not sure, exactly, but there’s a leak in one of the en suite bathrooms. I’ve turned the water off at the mains for now, but if I don’t get this sorted, I’m going to have to start turning guests away.” She thought of the Connollys, driving to the inn from two states over to celebrate their anniversary, and prayed she wouldn’t have to cancel their booking. She clutched the hem of her cable-knit sweater and twisted it between her fingers, a nervous habit she’d never been able to give up.
Lance must have heard the desperation in her voice. “Don’t worry, Miranda. Zach’s fixing a dripping faucet for a woman over in Pittsfield, but as soon as he’s finished up there, I’ll get him to come straight over to you.”
“Zach? He’s working with you now? I thought he moved to Boston.”
“Yeah, well, things didn’t quite pan out for him there. You know what that boy of mine is like. Anyway, he’s been back four months now. I’m surprised you haven’t seen him around town.”
“I don’t know that he and I run in the same circles,” Miranda said with a chuckle.
She didn’t mention that until a couple of months ago, she’d stopped venturing out for social occasions or to do much more than shop for supplies. Tom’s betrayal had hit her hard, and there had been times when all she’d wanted to do was lie in bed and pull the covers over her head until the hurt went away. Instead, she’d plastered on a smile and given all her guests the warm, professional Maltby Farm Inn welcome, never letting the pain show through. Recently, things had begun to change for the better, or so she hoped.
“Well, I’m enjoying having him working alongside me again.” Lance broke off to cough, the sound muffled by what Miranda assumed to be his hand over his phone.
“I’d better not keep you talking any longer.”
“Oh, I sound a lot worse than I am,” Lance assured her. “But I’ll get in touch with Zach as soon as I’ve finished talking to you. All being well, I figure he’ll be with you within the hour.”
“Thanks so much, Lance. And feel better soon.”
Miranda ended the call and went to mop up the water from the broken pipe.
* * * *
Forty minutes later, someone knocked at the front door. When Miranda went to open it, she found Zach Peters standing on the porch.
She stared at him for a moment, struck by his height and the broadness of his shoulders, and wondered whether he’d always been quite so handsome. He’d inherited his father’s build and his mother’s high cheekbones, and his hair fell in a messy golden-brown tangle to just above his shoulders. Even the unflattering khaki bib overalls and faded plaid shirt he wore did nothing to detract from his good looks.
He greeted her with a broad grin revealing straight white teeth, and Miranda’s heart skipped a beat. “My old man sent me over. Told me you were having some trouble with a pipe?”
“Of course.” Miranda, aware she’d been gaping at him, closed her mouth and ushered him inside. “Come on through and I’ll show you what the problem is.”
He wiped his boots on the mat and followed her up the stairs. “I’d forgotten how nice it was in here,” Zach commented, looking around as Miranda led him along the hallway to the guest rooms. “I came here a few times when my dad did the rewiring job for you. That was not long before I left for Boston… All ancient history now.”
Funny, it only feels like five minutes to me…
Miranda thought back to when she and Tom had first bought the inn, the optimism they’d felt despite the size of the renovation job. If she could go back in time, would she do things differently? She’d asked herself the question so many times since Tom had walked out, and she never came up with a satisfying answer.
“I think I remember you coming over. You’d been out of high school—what, two or three years by then?”
Zach nodded. “Something like that. I turned twenty-seven a couple of days back. It’s scary to think thirty’s not too far away.”
Miranda said nothing. Thirty was a distant memory, and she was in the process of negotiating forty. Most of the time she didn’t worry about the passage of time, but on the one occasion she’d ventured onto an online dating site, more out of sheer curiosity than with any serious thought of setting up a profile, she’d realized most men her age were only looking for much younger women.
She pushed open the door to the pink room. The mop and bucket still stood where she’d left them in the en suite bathroom. “The problem’s with the shower pipe. I don’t know exactly what’s wrong with it. The water’s turned off, but it’s been leaking all over the floor.”
Zach went over and examined the wall while Miranda hovered anxiously behind him. After a couple of moments, he turned to her. “Okay, so it looks like the real issue is with your inlet pipe. I’m guessing there’s a broken connection in there. Let me open the shower panel and take a quick look for you.” He must have seen Miranda’s stricken expression, because he added, “The good news is, if this is what I think it is, then I have a replacement part in the truck, and we can get it fixed for you right away.”
“And if it isn’t?” She did her best not to sound as worried as she felt.
“It’ll just take a little longer to put right, but if the worst comes to the worst, your shower will be out of commission for a day or two. You’ll still have that sweet claw-foot tub for your guests to use.”
Miranda nodded. She hated the thought of having to tell the Connollys they couldn’t use the shower if they wanted to. Guests didn’t often leave bad reviews on the accommodation booking sites—she worked so hard to make sure they wouldn’t have anything to complain about, no matter how picky they might be—but something like this would surely knock her rating down a few notches.
“Can I get you anything to drink?” she asked. “Tea, coffee, soda?”
“Coffee would be great, thank you.” Zach set his toolbox down on the bathroom floor.
“How do you take it?”
“Cream and two sugars, please. My ex used to tell me all that sugar isn’t good for me, but working a job like this, the calories just melt away.” He flashed her that heart-stopping smile.
Ex? So…he’s single? Miranda pushed the thought away, embarrassed at even caring about his marital status, and went to make coffee.
When she returned with his drink, Zach had unscrewed the shower panel. He bent to take something out of his toolbox, and Miranda’s breath hitched in her throat as his overalls tightened over the firm contours of his ass. He stretched and moved, the khaki fabric outlining his muscled thighs.
Oh, I could watch this view all day…
Miranda shook her head, hoping he wouldn’t turn around and catch her staring at him. This wasn’t like her. She was no horny cougar who loved spying on hot younger guys, but Zach was the most attractive man she’d seen in a long time and her body couldn’t help but respond to him.
She cleared her throat, and he turned around. “Here’s your coffee.” She held out the mug.
“Thanks,” he said, taking it from her. “Just as I thought, it’s the connection to the inlet pipe. I’ll have this fixed for you in no time.” He sipped his drink. “This is seriously good coffee.”
Miranda wondered how he could taste anything but sugar, but she only said, “Thank you.”
“I just need to get the new connector from the truck.” He put the mug by the side of the tub.
“Well, I guess I can leave you to it.” She wanted to linger and watch him, but she didn’t have an excuse to stay, and if she made small talk, she knew she would only be distracting him from his work.
Though I can think of a few ways I’d like to distract him…
Reminding herself Zach would be charging by the hour and she didn’t want to run up a bigger bill than she needed to, she left the bathroom and went downstairs. It wasn’t like she had no other work to do. She needed to whip up a batch of cranberry and orange breakfast muffins for the freezer, and the flowers in the hanging baskets on the porch needed watering.
Minutes later, she heard the faint slamming of the front door as Zach went to retrieve the part he needed.