Find My Way Home (Harmony Homecomings)

Copyright © 2014 by Michele Summers

Cover and internal design © 2014 by Sourcebooks, Inc.

Cover design by John Kicksee

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All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means including information storage and retrieval systems—except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews—without permission in writing from its publisher, Sourcebooks, Inc.

The characters and events portrayed in this book are fictitious or are used fictitiously. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental and not intended by the author.

Published by Sourcebooks Casablanca, an imprint of Sourcebooks, Inc.

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To the best critique partner and friend, author Laura Simcox—without you, I’d still be stuck on chapter three. Your wit and insight were invaluable.

To my sisters, Carol Lynn and Nancy. Your encouragement always brightened my day, even when peppered with constructive criticism. Love you both!

Chapter 1

Just because a person lived in a small Southern town didn’t mean she had shit for brains. But then again, maybe she did.


Gary!
Where are those
damn
lamps?”

Bertie Anderson struggled with a cumbersome box of wallpaper clutched in both arms as she pushed through the heavy front door. A glossy Scalamandre shopping bag stuffed with fabric samples dangled from her numb fingers.

She cringed as she peered at her client’s dining room. Half the brown-stained, mildewed wallpaper peeled from the walls as if it suffered from some contagious skin disease. She could’ve sworn the walls wept at their state of raw exposure.

“Gary.” She stopped shuffling to listen for a response. No Gary. “Where the hell is he?”

Dumping the box of wallpaper on the dirty drop cloth that covered the polished oak floor and untangling the strings of the fabric bag, she renewed the circulation to her fingers. She surveyed the mess before her. Great. Another day lost. This couldn’t be happening.

The dining room looked as though it had been abandoned by unsavory squatters. Littered with empty coffee cups and dirty, paint-smeared rags piled high in a corner, the place smelled of new paint and old mold. With hands on her hips, Bertie scowled at the half-stripped walls. She needed to clean this mess up fast—and find a new wallpaper hanger to replace the one who’d bolted for a family emergency. And then, of course, deal with the fact that the electrician had gone AWOL.

She studied the room, reining in her frustration, which threatened to spew forth in an ear-splitting scream. She had exactly three weeks before she was expected in Atlanta to start her job as an interior design specialist at a new firm. Sure, she wouldn’t be running her own business anymore. In fact, she’d be relegated to the sample room until she’d proven herself, but it’d be worth it to leave Harmony, North Carolina. Her little hometown had choked her half to death, and it was time to escape. Despite her irritation, a small smile lifted the corners of her lips.

Soon she’d be living in a big city, exposed to designer showrooms that housed all the latest in fabrics and furnishings,
and
she’d be living away from home for the first time since her college days. Excitement kept the fear lurking in her belly under control. A new chapter in her life was about to unfold. But not until she completed this renovation—hopefully before the Milners, her clients, showed up with moving van in tow.

Bertie waggled her fingers at the pitted-brass chandelier from Home Depot hanging cockeyed from the ceiling. “Bleh. You need to go.” The Milners, who hated everything tacky, would skin her alive if she left it up.

She squared her shoulders and began cataloging the Herculean job ahead of her. She had designed this particular dining room using the inside of a jewelry box as inspiration, but right now the room looked ready for the wrecking ball, not two thousand dollars’ worth of wall covering and tongue-and-groove wainscoting.

“Gawd. I need a vacation.”

With a lengthy sigh that echoed in the cavernous room, she hiked her black pencil skirt up her thighs and climbed the ladder that was propped against the half-stripped wall, careful not to trip in her four-inch heels.

“Okay, so today I play electrician. How hard can it be?” She eyed the dusty, hideous brass sconces, which matched the travesty of a chandelier.

“Please Lord, keep me from electrocuting myself,” she prayed, unscrewing the backplate to the sconce and staring at the exposed tangle of electrical wires inside the wall cutout. Crap. She had no idea what to do with it all. A familiar ringtone began playing in the pocket of her cropped chartreuse jacket. Gary. Thank God. Her best friend always came to her rescue. And it certainly didn’t hurt that he had amazing talent. She couldn’t ask for a better assistant. She fished for her cell and shoved it between her ear and shoulder, answering with screws in her mouth.

“He-roh…Gawy, whey are ou?”

“Sorry. Had to pick up more paint. Anyway, the new electrician should be there any minute, and I’ve put in a call for another wallpaper hanger,” Gary explained.

“Kay. Thansh.” She spit the screws out as she ended the call and dumped the phone back in her pocket.

“Hello? Anybody home?” a deep voice called from the foyer by the front door.

She eyed the coil of wires dangerously exposed like a snake ready to strike. “In the dining room,” she called. Bertie juggled the sconce and the loose backplate as she heard heavy footsteps echo on the golden oak floors.

“Excuse me? I’m looking for Bert Anderson, and I was told I would find him here.”

She turned toward the voice and almost dropped the sconce. She grabbed the top rung of the ladder to keep from falling. A very tall, dark, and extremely hubbalicious guy dominated her field of vision.

Her eyes narrowed as she peered harder a second time.

Hmm-mmm, a little
too
hubbalicious. The guy was
perfect
—thick, dark wavy hair; hooded, dark eyes; sensuous mouth; sexy stubble; and oh yeah, killer body. Not to mention worn jeans that fit to perfection with strategic rips that screamed
fashion
statement
. And Lord, his nice, broad chest was a little
too
nice and broad. He could model for Abercrombie—bare chested with his disreputable jeans riding so low, they bordered on scandalous.

“Christ on a cracker. I’m going to kill Gary,” she said under her breath as she grappled with the sconce against her chest.

If this was a new friend who needed work but didn’t know how to do anything but look good and make cappuccino, she was going to hurt somebody.

“Let me help you.”

Before she could object, Mr. Perfect climbed the ladder, surrounding her with his electric heat and masculine scent. He smelled like a Saturday night shot of yummy. His musky, outdoorsy scent sliced through the mold and paint fumes. No heavy cologne like most gay guys she knew. Bertie had the strangest urge to lean her back against him and sigh.
He
must
drive
the
boys
wild.

“You want it down?” he rumbled close to her ear. Nice sexy, raspy voice. What a shame.

“Yeah. Great. You need to remove the other one as well and take down the chandelier.” She handed him the screwdriver and pliers. The black knit sleeves of his polo shirt exposed tanned, muscled forearms, and Bertie spied rough callouses on his right palm. The sign of a man who worked with his hands. Thank goodness.

“Okaaay? Sure.” Mr. Perfect maneuvered around her and made easy work of untangling the electrical wires. He climbed down the ladder with the sconce in his hand.

Nothing made her heart go pitter-patter more than a guy who knew his way around tools. She hiked her skirt up once more and started to climb down the ladder, not caring that her butt strained against the tight fabric. The beauty of working around gay guys in the design field: They never gave her a second glance except when she needed fashion advice.

“Let me help you,” he offered.

“I’m fine. Do it all the time—yikes!” The ladder rattled as her foot slipped and a big warm hand slapped her butt to keep her from falling.

“Whoa there! You okay?” he asked.

Sweet sassy molassy! Heat burned her cheeks. It had been ages since a hand—any hand—had touched that part of her anatomy. “Uh, yeah. Sorry. I’m not usually this clumsy,” she said as he held her elbow in a firm grip and helped her down.

“You might want to rethink those shoes and that skirt if you plan on climbing any more ladders.”

She turned and detected heat behind his narrowed eyes as his gaze traveled from her butt to the dip in her black knit top where a hint of cleavage showed.
Whoa. My gaydar must be faulty, and it’s usually spot-on.
“Uh, Gary sent you, right?”

“Excuse me?” His dark brows arched up over warm, coffee-colored eyes. “I’m looking for a Bert about a—”

She laughed. “Bertie. You’re looking for Bertie. That would be me.”

He blinked and then studied her with dark, narrowed eyes. Her face felt warm. “Uh, I think there’s been a mistake,” he said in his low, raspy voice.

No kidding. Bertie reached for the sconce in his hand, dumped it in one of the large plastic paint buckets used for garbage in the corner, and sighed, “You’re not an electrician, are you?”

“No. But I know how to install lights.”

Great. At least he had a useful skill, and that wasn’t a bad thing. And he really did have that perfect, hot look that must’ve taken hours of mirror time to achieve. “So, Gary didn’t send you, and you’re not one of his special friends?” She air-quoted “special friends” with her fingers, wearing a dubious look on her face.

“No. I’m Keith Morgan, and I don’t know”—suddenly disbelief lit his coffee-colored eyes and his jaw tightened—“Jesus. Lady, I’m not gay.”

“Yeah, I figured as much,” she said with a shrug. After the once-over he’d just given her, he couldn’t have been anything but straight. She tried not to notice how he pinched the bridge of his nose as if she gave him a headache. She slapped down her impatience. He was a hot construction guy who needed work. It wasn’t every day Harmony produced a hot…anybody. Those kind of characters only appeared in small towns like Harmony in the movies or romance novels. “Um, if you’re here to see me about some work, your timing is actually perfect. I’m short-handed all around and could really use an extra pair of hands.”

Keith scowled, ramming his hands in his jeans pockets and then a smile began to twitch around his lips as he shook his head. “I’m here to speak with you about design, but if you really need the help, I’ll be happy to remove a few lights for you and then maybe we can talk,” he said.

Bertie clapped her hands as she pressed her lips together in relief. “You would do that? Help me? Even after…not that I meant to be insulting,” she said in a low voice. “Quite the contrary. Every gay guy I’ve ever known has not only been great looking, but incredibly talented and handy as well—unlike most heterosexuals I’ve encountered. In my world, it was really a compliment.” She smiled, hoping to gloss over her blunder as she babbled.

“So, you’re implying that only gay men are good-looking and useful,” he said.

She focused on the disorganized orders needing her attention, piled high on the makeshift plywood tabletop balanced on two sawhorses. It was safer than staring at his chiseled features, smoky eyes, and smirking lips. “Yup. Pretty much. But what I’m really saying is there are no good-looking, useful, straight guys left in Harmony, North Carolina.” Except for a few she’d known since first grade. Of course, they didn’t count. Most of them had successful careers, exceptional wives, and adorable babies. Her own love life looked stark in comparison…another thing that needed fixing.

“What about all the construction workers you encounter?” he asked as he shifted the ladder over to the second sconce.

She lifted her head and gazed out the naked bay window where the morning light poured through the leaves of the ancient oak ruling the front yard. “Well…I wouldn’t know for sure. They’re very good at what they do.” She shook her head, making her hair swing around her shoulders. “But for some reason they’re married, too old, or missing teeth. Anyway, I’m sure they don’t love taking orders from a woman.” She returned to sorting through the paperwork.

“Sounds like you need to broaden your market. Homosexuals and old men with no teeth can be very limiting,” he said, climbing the ladder.

She gave an unladylike snort. “What I need to do is get this job finished.” She peered at him through the corner of her eye. Damn. Too bad she was leaving town. Something intriguing lurked behind this guy’s hooded expression. But Bertie didn’t have time to play sleuth to a mystery man. Besides, she didn’t normally go for enigmatic men, no matter the level of hotness.

Her cell chirped from inside her jacket pocket. “Excuse me.” She put the phone to her ear and listened to a barrage of questions from her drapery workroom. Her temporary electrician got right to work, removing the second sconce. She took full advantage and openly ogled him while his back was turned. He was as fine from behind as he was from the front. His long, lean legs and nice, tight butt gave new meaning to the term
guy
candy
. Sigh. Too bad. But she didn’t need his kind of distraction right now. She had big plans. Big. Plans.

She finished her call and said, “Thank you again. You have no idea how much I appreciate your help. I’ll be in the kitchen when you’re done and we can talk.”

Bertie was comparing paint sample chips against the white kitchen cabinets when Gary came through the back door, carrying two gallons of paint, looking impeccable as ever in his crisp slacks and designer sweater.

“Hey. Got more trim color, but we need to make a decision on the kitchen and the living room,” he said.

“Working on it.” She fanned out the strips of color, narrowing down the choices of sage green.

“Did Hal the electrician get here?” Gary dropped the buckets on the floor by the back door.

“Not yet. I thought the dreamy guy in the dining room was him, but I was sadly mistaken.”

Gary’s forehead crinkled as he pulled a paint can opener from his back pocket. “Hal is far from a dreamy guy. What are you talking about?” He stared at her as if she’d been sniffing wallpaper glue.

“The guy in the dining room helping with the fixtures—”

“Yo, why is Keith Morgan removing a chandelier in the dining room?” Bertie’s older brother, Calvin, interrupted as he strolled into the kitchen from the front of the house, carrying a tray with three iced coffees from the Daily Grind.

“How do you know him?” she asked. Now that she thought about it, his name did ring a bell, but she couldn’t figure out why.

“Who?” Gary spoke at the same time.

Calvin handed out coffees, nodding. He ran his hand through his dark hair, still damp from his morning shower. “Keith Morgan, the professional tennis player. Ranked six or seven in the world before he retired four years ago.” Cal licked a mountain of whipped cream from the top of his cup. “Can’t remember why. He moved to town a few days ago. I think he bought the old Victorian, the one you’ve always loved, Bertie, with the big wraparound porch and the huge magnolias in front.” Cal relaxed his tall, lean frame against the cabinets.

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