“I’m sorry, what did you say?” Christa, the housekeeper, stood in the doorway of the mansion with her arms folded across her chest.
“I said I’m the plumber,” Tegan repeated.
Christa’s dark eyebrows jumped toward her hairline. “You?”
Tegan nodded. She was used to this reaction.
“Yes,” she said. “We’re a rare breed, us female plumbers. We’re like unicorns.”
Christa didn’t laugh like Tegan had expected.
“But you can’t be,” she said. “You’re a—”
“What? A woman?” Really, Tegan thought, we’re going around in circles, getting nowhere.
“Listen,” she said. It was hard to rein in her anger. “I didn’t ask to be here. You were the one who called me up unexpectedly and asked me to come. I was just about to have supper. Maybe we shouldn’t—” She stopped herself.
She wanted to tell Christa that maybe they shouldn’t bother. But she couldn’t, even though she really wanted to, because she needed the cash.
There was a pause. At last, Christa let out a deep sigh then jerked her head, gesturing for Tegan to enter. A Labradoodle stood at her heels, tick-tocking its plumy tail. Tegan stepped into the vast foyer and followed Christa through the house. The dog led the way, its claws tapping on the marble. Abstract art hung on the walls. Everything was so white that Tegan felt snow-blind.
The hall opened out into a living room that was about the size of a basketball court. Its low leather furniture was the same dazzling white as the walls. Tegan had guessed that the house would be fancy. It was on Cornwall Street, or Billionaires’ Row as the Vancouverites jokingly called it, a prime stretch of land by the water and close to the city. Not that Tegan was intimidated. What had her dad always said? That folks were just folks, no matter their money. They all got up in the morning, all sat on the toilet, the same as everyone else.
She looked forward and gasped, almost dropping her tool bag. A floor-to-ceiling window dominated the entire back wall. Through it, she could see the beach and specks of flashing sea glass. Across the bay reared the skyscrapers of the downtown core. These were framed by mountains, turning purple in the setting sun.
“Wow,” Tegan breathed. “How do you ever get any work done with a view like that? Now I see why these houses cost so much.”
Christa pursed her lips. She clearly had no time to discuss the price of real estate.
She hurried them toward a set of spiral stairs. By now, the dog had lost interest in following them and flopped onto one of the Persian rugs instead. Christa led them up the stairs to the middle floor then along a corridor past a series of closed doors.
She stopped at one and pushed it open. “This is the en suite for the third guest room.”
Tegan stepped inside and gave a low whistle. The bathroom was fitted with copper-colored tiles, which she knew at a glance had been handmade in Italy. Spotlights shone from everywhere, giving the room a coppery hue. A plasma-screen TV hung in one of the recesses of the walls. She eyed the sink. Wow, is that a Trinsic Pro faucet? She’d only seen them in magazines before, never in the flesh.
Hearing dripping, she walked over to the shower.
“So what exactly is the problem?” she asked Christa.
Christa sighed. “I went to clean it and now it wouldn’t turn off properly. It has to be fixed. Mr. Stone has guests coming from Seattle for the weekend and he expects everything to be perfect.”
Christa’s voice rose, but Tegan refused to be caught up in the panic. Even still, she did want to impress the mysterious Mr. Stone. Then, hopefully, he would spread her name around Billionaires’ Row and more gazillionaires and squillionaires would use her plumbing company.
“Okay,” she said to Christa. “First I’ll have to switch off the water to take a look. Can you take me to the main supply?”
Christa shot Tegan a death stare. “Only now you tell me? It’s right the way on the other side of the house.”
In his bedroom on the top floor of his house, Blake Stone undid the buttons on his shirt, shrugged it off and threw it onto the floor. Part of him liked making a mess because it broke the fanatical neatness and order of the house—something which he’d insisted on but which he also kinda hated. He took off his belt from his dress pants. The buckle made a clunking sound as it hit the carpet, shattering the mausoleum quietness.
Blake thought back to growing up in his big Catholic family, and about the meals around the six-leaf table where he had to scarf down his food before one of his brothers helped themselves to it. He remembered the hustle around the television while everyone crammed in to watch the Stanley Cup series. Sometimes, he longed for the cozy noise. But being single’s better, he told himself. It was simpler and less hassle. He had chosen this life.
Picking up his pace, he stripped faster. He had twenty minutes to get ready for the gala. He would have had longer, plenty of time, if Alison, his EA, hadn’t booked that final conference call of the day. Man, that Brazilian CEO can talk.
He stepped out of his boxer shorts and marched, naked, to the en suite shower room, or wet room, as people had started calling it. What kind of ridiculous name was that? He reached into the cubicle, turned the water to as hot as he could bear it and stepped into the shower. Jets attacked him from every angle, pummeling his body. Christ, it felt good, but he couldn’t stay for long.
He reached to the shelf and grabbed a bottle of shampoo—hair bath? WTF?—flipped open the lid and lathered his hair. Everything was fine. He would be on time. The fundraiser would smash all records. He pictured himself holding up a giant cardboard check for half a million…no, make that a million. Hell, those kids at the children’s hospital deserved—
The water stopped. For a second, he stood rigid with disbelief. Then he fiddled with the control panel on the wall, thinking that he must have touched something by mistake.
“Christa,” he bellowed as he jumped out of the cubicle.
He wrapped a towel around his waist. A bubble of shampoo popped in his ear.
“Christa.” He strode down the corridor. “Where the hell are you?”
Seconds later, Christa appeared, panting, up the staircase. Most of her hair had escaped from her ponytail.
“Mr. Stone,” she said, “I’m really sorry. I didn’t know you were in the shower. The plumber’s fixing the en suite in the third guest room. She has to switch off the water to—”
“That’s right, Mr. Stone.”
Blake forgot all about the fundraiser and about being late. His voice dropped dangerously low. “Who exactly did you hire? Why didn’t you call Bill at McKenzies? We always use Bill.”
“He’s on vacation. I looked on Yelp—I have to get it fixed—and this company had five-star reviews.”
Blake gave a hiss. “You let strangers into my house? People from a bloody Yelp advert? Where is she? This so-called plumber of yours?”
Christa was backing away from him as though he was an angry tiger, but he was too mad to care. He strode off.
“Don’t follow me. I’ve got this,” he called over his shoulder.
Oh, he’d got this all right. This was easy. Had he not dealt with wily project managers who’d sailed past timelines and gone way over budget? He’d handled unions when his miners had been uprising. And once, he’d gotten all his ex-pat workers out of Bolivia in under twenty-four hours when the country had been imploding into civil war. So, dealing with this unauthorized woman who’d been let loose on his house would be a slice of cake. Oh, he’d definitely got this.
He rushed down and around and around the spiral stairs, although it was hard to move quickly in such a tight towel. Who the hell had Christa brought in? Acme plumbing? Plumbers R Us? The bathroom had just been renovated. The fittings alone were worth thousands and now this…this chick was having free rein in his house, unsupervised. After what had happened with Genevieve, he liked to control who came into the house. He only allowed a few trusted people into his inner circle, people who then formed a wall of steel around him.
He marched along the corridor, ready to set this woman straight. When he came to the bathroom, he stopped. She stood in the shower, which wasn’t running. Her back was toward him and she clearly hadn’t seen him. Blake had opened his mouth, ready to interrogate her, when his cock stirred beneath his towel.
Holy hell. He could see the outline of the globes of her buttocks through her overalls. She was tiny. Her hair was cut so aggressively short that he wondered if it was a statement. It exposed the long white nape of her neck. He’d always had a thing for necks. And she had proper biceps, like she could bench-press with the best of them.
She was taking off the temperature knob. Next, she dismantled the mixer valve. She worked carefully, methodically, moving with a natural ease as though she’d done the job a thousand times before. Then she started to hum to herself, a punk rock tune by Pennywise. She’s enjoying herself, he thought in amazement.
Without meaning to, he cleared his throat. She gave a start and turned around. Christ, she was pretty. He’d never expected her to be so attractive. She had a snub of a nose, and big green eyes like headlamps in her face. He found himself stepping forward. It was as if she’d put thousands of fish hooks into his skin, attached strings to them and was now pulling him toward his fate, one step at a time.
Now he was standing close to her, too close, uncomfortably so. He stared into her face. Her lips were deliciously full and plump and he imagined them sucking on his dick, which grew even harder.
She looked down and smirked. He glanced down too. Christ, his dick was pressing up against the towel like a tent pole, shaping the material around it. He pushed it back down but knew he was going to have to keep holding it because it was too stiff and throbbing to ever lie flat on his own.
The sexual chemistry between them was so strong that it shocked him. In a way, it was worse than any war or uprising because, for the first time in ages, he, Blake Stone was helpless. He didn’t have a clue what to do.
“Were you watching me?” The woman broke the silence.
What was with her tone? Where was the ‘yes, Mr. Stone’? The ‘I’m so sorry, Mr. Stone’? Where was the bowing and the scraping? She sounded amused and defiant.
“I was just checking that—” he began.
She raised an eyebrow. “What? That I was doing it right?”
“Actually, you look like you know what you’re doing.”
“Oh, actually I do, do I?”
Blake stared at her in wonder. Who was this snarling she-warrior? She was so hot she made his balls ache. He pictured stripping her in the shower and pulling her close, so close her tits pressed against him. He imagined her nipples, brown like acorns.
She said something, which he didn’t register.
“I’m sorry?” he muttered.
She shot him a cheeky grin. “I said you’ve got soap in your ear.”
To Blake’s horror, he felt himself blushing. He hadn’t blushed since elementary school. To his relief, Christa appeared in the bathroom, breaking the moment.
“Mr. Stone,” she said. “JJ’s waiting outside in the car.”
Blake sprang to his senses. Holy hell. The fundraiser.
He swiveled back to the plumber. “Can I have your business card?”
At least that way he could keep a log of who came into the house.
She hesitated as though she didn’t want to waste a card on him but realized that she probably should. When she passed it over, their hands touched and he drew back, shocked at the energy that had burned between them. He studied the card. The design was in red and black and was as bold and as gutsy as her. It said Tegan McCall—Proprietor—Fairview Plumbing.
“You’re the owner?” He was amazed.
Tegan’s eyes shot sparks.
She tilted her chin, clearly daring him to question her further, but, by now, Blake had experienced enough. He turned and hurried out of the bathroom as fast as his towel skirt would allow.
Just past the threshold, he heard someone snicker. He was sure that it hadn’t been Christa.