The First Meeting
McKenna threw open the basement door and accidentally kicked a stair basket of laundry off the top step, too concerned about the disaster sending smoke and soot up the stairs to care about her underwear floating down ahead of her.
Halfway to the bottom, she stopped, stunned, and the sledgehammer slipped from her grasp to thunder and dent its way to the bottom, just missing her pained intruder’s head on its final bounce.
In the middle of her basement sat the hunk from Vivica’s office, the Pied primping Piper, himself. Except Bastian Dragonelli looked more like a leathery tan pirate than a handyman—no primping involved—even with his butt stuck in her coal chute.
Shoulders thrown back, teeth bared, he stared at his raised hands as if they were on fire. Speaking of which, the bottom of her wooden stairs had been singed black, with no fire in sight, though the scent of smoke lingered in the coal-dusty air.
Vivica wouldn’t send a lunatic handyman for her to interview, despite the evidence to the contrary.
Her archaic coal chute, now detached from her foundation, remained connected to the bricks the chute took with it during Mr. Handyman’s Wild Ride. Also attached: an important section of drywall, the lack of which gave her basement bedroom an open-air view.
As intense as the man’s inner struggle seemed at first, his hands and shoulders relaxed, as did every delineated muscle. A guileless half smile grew on his sculpted lips.
Difficult to contemplate killing an Italian Stallion, or so he appeared—except for his eyes, as violet as a summer sunset—especially when he seared her with his gaze to the point that she expected smoke to rise from her pores.
Despite the assortment of intimate apparel scattered about him, his gaze touched her in a place so deep, she hadn’t known it still existed, and she hated like hell that it did.
The longer the eccentric stranger stared, the harder his stone-carved features became, until they sharpened to severe angles.
Never mind the sledgehammer breaking him, he could break the hammer with that look.
She, however, refused to surrender beneath the power of his gaze, though dashing up the stairs, locking the door, and nailing it shut, sounded good, if only to annihilate the physical response scorching her. She pried her gaze from Weirdzilla’s and raised her chin. “Take my bra off your head. You look like a perv.”
He seemed surprised to discover her beguiling bargain up there, but after he removed it, he examined every red lace flower and finger-traced its shape, as if he’d never seen one before. With a fist in one of the cups, he frowned as if doing a math equation. Then he raised the bra by its straps, the points of the cups facing him, looked at her with a question in his eyes, then he gave her a double take—her breasts, the bra, her breasts. That final look came with a lingering perusal and a stroking nod of approval, both of which made her nipples rise like cheerleaders at halftime, drat the girly traitors.
McKenna’s heart raced. Her hands began to sweat.
Mr. Tall, Dark, and “Do Me” raised her bra as if to fit it to her contours. And, click, she saw comprehension dawn. He grinned.
She lost her knees and grabbed the stair rail. “What, assclown? You couldn’t find the door, so you made a new one?”
He sobered. “Define assclown.”
McKenna sighed. “I apologize. I’m being rude. You broke my wall”—and penetrated my defenses—“so I acted out.”
“Out of where?”
“Out of pissed off, damn it. Your invasion is going to cost me.”
“I don’t know my own strength sometimes.”
“I’d call that an understatement. Take a running leap, did you?”
“More like a thoughtless step.”
“I beg your pardon?”
“Vivica sent me. I’m here for the interview.”
“You’re not hired!”
“Good,” her intruder said, assessing his situation. “This place is dangerous.”
McKenna tried not to let her jaw drop when Bastian Dragonelli, cold-day-in-hell employee and major studster, exercised the muscles in his quarterback shoulders to push against the coal chute and pull his tight, linebacker butt free. Then he rose like a warrior in a cloud of ancient coal dust.
Stretching to his full staggering height, he held her with his gaze as he squared his shoulders to a breathtaking span—like Lucifer, sighting prey and spreading his charred wings.
Dark. Disreputable. Depp without his pirate ship, but taller, broader. More dangerous.
The silent hunk lowered his chin to keep his head from an intimate encounter with a raw oak ceiling beam and stepped her way. “Vivica said you would interview me. She said I work cheap. You need cheap. I am also strong.”
McKenna glanced at the hole in her house. “I can see that.”
“So hire me.”
“You just gave me the impression you didn’t want the job.”
He raised his chin—and swallowed his pride, she thought. “I need it.”
Glued to the spot, three stairs from the bottom, she found herself standing nose to nose with the sex dream and tried not to fold under his hypnotic gaze. Good thing panic called for self-preservation. “I don’t know you. You broke into my house. No, you broke my house!”
His physical strength, and the smile in his eyes, if not on his face, brought her to her senses. She took a minute to observe the paradox, giving him as bold and greedy a scrutiny as he gave her. Forbidding as he appeared dressed all in black, his leonine mane, an overlong tumble of sooty waves, humanized him.
“Did you use an eggbeater on your hair this morning?” she snapped, annoyed with herself for her speeding heart.
“On my way here, it started raining,” he said, his voice low, gravel-rough, and as physically stroking as his gaze.
She wondered how it would sound as a whisper in her ear.
Mercy, McKenna, get a grip. “Don’t touch the electrical wire in front of you, then, or you’re a goner, wet or dry.”
In the way every stubborn male listens to a smart female, the studster wrapped a hand around the end of the live wire and took the zap. But with some kind of bizarre inner force, he stood up to it.
The wire pulled from his hand, stood in the air, and burned itself up like a stream of gunpowder, electricity zooming back the way it came. When the wire vanished at the breaker panel—Zap! A crash and flash, and the lights went out.
“Good thing it’s still daylight,” he said.
“Do you know how much an electrician costs?” But with his smile, attraction zapped her like the electricity through that damned wire, which pissed her royally. “Unless you’re the jolly dumb giant, or you were shot from a cannon at gunpoint, I’m gonna sue your sorry ass, mister!”
The idiot’s eyes widened. “You do fight.”
“You find me amusing?”
“I find you breathtaking.”
“Blind and dumb.”
“What is dumb?”
“You are, buddy, for coming on to me after adding to the cost of my renovations. I don’t buy flattery. I’m no frail female, and I do own mirrors.” A small one. To pluck her brows.
“I like fight in a woman.”
McKenna stepped back, resenting her traitorous body and the warm tingles headed to all the wrong places. “Holy smackeroonie,” she said. “You can probably walk through the kitchen wall, no sledgehammer needed. Or you can look at the wall, hard, and it’ll fall at your feet.”
Hell, he could walk through her, topple years’ worth of walls, and leave her in a crumbling mess.
Don’t let him stay, her sane self warned. This man is his own ammunition. “You can’t—”
“I’m sorry about your wall,” he said in all sincerity. “But I can fix it.”
McKenna saw now what she’d missed when she lost her bones. Dimples. Oy vey Maria. “Walls, plural,” she snapped. “Foundation wall, there.” She pointed behind him. “Bedroom wall, that way.” She thumbed his gaze toward the right.
Emotional walls. In here. No mention necessary.
But if he could do the job she needed him to, at the price she offered, she might be able to ignore his studlyness, if it weren’t for the scars that added beast to his mirage of male perfection.
Must be a mirage. After all: he is man, hear him run.
He bowed. “Bastian Dragonelli at your service.”
“McKenna Greylock,” she said, her hand disappearing in his firm, secure one, while an unwanted sense of peace filled her.
Time stopped . . . for an infatuation hallucination.