Built

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I don’t know that “wrong” was accurate in my case so much as misguided, but the complete lack of judgment or censure coming from her made me want to pull her into my arms and hold on to her even more. I had made a mistake, a huge one, one that I was forever going to have to carry around with me, but I had learned from it, was still learning from it. That kind of understanding from a total stranger was so rare, especially coming from someone in the legal field. I wasn’t accustomed to someone looking at me and seeing me, just me, not an ex-con loser after I explained where I had been. It was wildly refreshing and attractive. I couldn’t quite get a handle on what made the woman tick, but I would welcome any opportunity she gave me to figure it out. I found her outwardly flawless and pristine demeanor tempting to taint with my dirty hands and ways, and there was something about the way she watched me, the way she turned toward me like she was drawn to me, that made me think maybe I wasn’t alone in the inexplicable pull department.

Rowdy left and she stayed.

We had a couple more beers and talked some more about her house and what she wanted done with it. She already hired one contractor but felt like the guy was ripping her off. It happened a lot in the industry, so I wouldn’t be surprised if the guy was taking her for a ride. Spending time with her was easy. She was fun to talk to and really fun to look at. I really wanted to get my hands on her house and of course on her, and I felt like she was maybe, kind of, slightly leaning in the same direction when I made the mistake of asking her about her past.

I asked about where she had been before she found out about Rowdy and decided to move to Denver so that she could get to know him. I was curious what kind of life she had where she could leave everything behind and not be missed. Really I wanted to know if she had a boyfriend or husband stashed somewhere, but the simple inquiry must have touched a nerve. The next thing I knew she had paid out the tab for both of us and disappeared into the night. She went from glowing and bright to frigid and untouchable in the span of a heartbeat.

I figured I blew my shot by being too blunt, as always. I assumed she probably did have someone else in the picture and had been friendly and polite only because I was good friends with her brother. I thought I would never hear from her again and was baffled why the thought of that made my chest ache and my heart feel like it weighed two tons.

Imagine my surprise when she called me and hired me to renovate her house a week later without a bid, without a contract, without even knowing if I was half as good as I claimed to be.

Of course I accepted, but I knew once I was inside I would need to knock down and rearrange more than just the walls of the house, in order to get at something beautiful and lasting.

EPIGRAPH

Love is friendship that has caught fire. It is quiet understanding, mutual confidence, sharing and forgiving. It is loyalty through good and bad times. It settles for less than perfection and makes allowances for human weaknesses.

—Ann Landers

CHAPTER 1

Sayer

Six months later

Can’t sleep?”

The soft question sent the glass of white wine I’d been chugging like it was cheap beer falling from my fingers and clattering noisily to the beautifully refinished hardwood floors under my bare feet.

The glass shattered and wine splashed everywhere as I put a hand to my chest and looked over my shoulder at the pale ghost of the young woman I was currently sharing my newly renovated living space with. Her light brown eyes were huge in her face, and, like always, she looked like a delicate fawn ready to bolt at any noise or quick movement I might make.

I took a deep breath to calm myself down and gingerly picked myself out of the broken glass minefield so I could get a towel and the broom to clean up the mess. “Why aren’t you asleep, Poppy?”

I knew the answer. The old Victorian I bought just a few weeks after relocating to Denver was huge, had three separate levels, was made of sturdy wood, and had heavy, solid doors on each room. None of that was enough to keep the sounds of this young woman’s screams of terror as she had nightmare after nightmare from reaching me. They weren’t as frequent as when she’d first moved into my home. In fact they hardly ever pulled me from my own troubled dreams anymore, but every now and then I would hear her voice through the walls, hear heartbreaking sobs echoing across the rafters, and my brittle heart wanted to snap in two for her.

She pushed some of her long, caramel-colored hair behind her ears and lifted an eyebrow at me. “Bad dream. How about you, Sayer? Why are you still up?”

I cleared my throat as I bent down to sweep up the glass.

It was late.

I was really tired.

I had a full day at work tomorrow and I needed to be up early enough so I could swing by the gym before I went into my office.

I had also agreed to have drinks with a fellow attorney after my final court appearance of the day. It was a semidate I had already rescheduled twice, so I couldn’t reasonably back out again without looking like a complete jerk. Doing any of that on a few hours of sleep was less than ideal, but I was getting used to running on fumes lately. I, too, was having dreams that woke me up in the middle of the night, that left me shaken, heated, and too wound up to stay in bed.

Only my dreams weren’t terror inducing—they were good. Oh, so fucking good. They were better than good. They were the best dreams I had ever had. Hell, the dreams were better than any kind of actual sexual experience I had ever had while wide-awake. They were the kind of dreams that had me jerking up from a dead sleep while I panted and sweated. I woke up twisting in my sheets and touching myself because the man that starred in each and every single one of them was nowhere around.

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