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“I've got an interesting client for us,” says Sophie, which usually means she's got a client she wants to con something out of, but this time there's a gleam in her eye that makes Eliot sit up and take notice. “They found out about us through the television show, but they're willing to pay quite a lot of money to make sure we do this job as off the books as possible.”

Eliot frowns. “I don't build for the mob.”

“Remarkably, I don't think they are the mob. They're a nice young couple trying to refurbish a warehouse in downtown Portland and willing to pay rather a lot of money from the nice young man's tech job for our services. Even Nate thinks it's a good idea, and it's his job to make sure all our best projects end up on television.”

Eliot likes rebuilding houses, making them easier to live in, making them better, working with Sophie. He does his best to keep his new life as far away from his old ones as he can, even if he's hiding in plain sight on HGTV. He doesn't like mysteriously wealthy people. But Sophie doesn't trust easily, and she's got plenty of secrets of her own. “Fine.”

*

It's a warehouse.

“Why do you even want to live here?” Eliot asks into the echoing space of it, no windows, no rooms, nothing but a storage crate they've made into a bedroom and another one that's locked up that Alec Hardison calls their office.

“High ceilings,” says Alec, in unison with the blonde who just introduced herself as “Parker,” who's been squinting between Eliot, Sophie, and Nate with unnerving force.

“Do you have any idea what you want?” Sophie asks, drawing his arm through hers and leading him to some back corner.

Eliot sizes Parker up for a minute, nods at her. “I do good security, even with all the windows you're going to need.”

She nods back. “So do we. But you can help.”

*

Parker wants as much empty space as possible. She wants sightlines on everything. She wants a roof she can use, and anything and everything that can hang from a ceiling.

Alec wants every stupid house tech gadget he's ever heard of (and insists on installing them all himself and arguing with the electrician about how to do it), as well as “the best damn bathtub you have ever installed in your life,” and he insists on feeling the fabric of everything Sophie picks for decoration to make sure it's soft enough.

When Eliot asks about the kitchen, both of them give him a blank look. “Whatever you want,” Parker finally says, and Eliot takes her at her word and gives them the kind of kitchen he can never manage to install in any of the places he's lived, because being an HGTV host means he's never got time to take care of his own place.

Alec looks at the plans, grins at Eliot, grins at Parker, and says “Okay, man, just make sure you install that microwave I told you about. And can we get some of those laser things? Maybe I'd cook more often if there were lasers.”

There's a refrigerator plugged into one of the warehouse walls and it's full of orange soda and takeout containers. Eliot puts the kitchen in the plans anyway.

*

Eliot likes them. He doesn't usually like the clients with money, but he likes these ones. Likes how sweet Alec is with Parker and how Parker trails him around when she's bored. Likes how they know what they want but listen to Eliot and Sophie when they have a better suggestion.

“Sure you can't get them to go on the show?” Nate asks after stopping by the work site, ostensibly to ask the question but mostly to flirt with Sophie while she picks out curtains.

Parker is freaking out some of the construction team but hanging from a harness above them watching them work. Alec is arguing about something with the electrician again.

“We probably don't even want to try.”

*

“What do you think, two more weeks before it's down to decorating for Parker and Alec?” Sophie asks when they're driving over to work one morning. “Nate will be glad to get us another job with actual publicity, but I'll miss them. Alec's given me free rein in the guest bedroom, and I'm going to have to steal the style for a show room.”

Eliot grunts. Sophie's talking like she wants something out of him. He likes making her actually ask instead of pulling it out of him.

“You like the house.”

“Better than I liked the original warehouse.” It's looking like a home these days. Enough high ceilings for Parker, enough privacy for Alec, enough windows to keep them from looking like criminals even if they are. The first day they got a couch in one of the finished rooms, they invited Eliot and Sophie to stay, and Eliot stayed two hours later than she did playing stupid video games with Alec. He's cooked in their kitchen and likes it more than he likes his.

“You like them.”

“Come on, Sophie.”

“I'm just saying that they seem to like you too. But of course it's not any of my business.”

“Damn right it's not,” says Eliot, but he lets her buy him coffee on their way in and hopes it's an apology coffee and not a pity coffee.

She got it black and didn't even try to convince him to do sugar or flavors. It's probably a pity coffee.

*

“You should stay for the housewarming party, man,” says Alec on the last day, when Sophie is fussing about towels and Eliot has gone through the kitchen one more time to make sure everything has instructions on it.

“Don't I get to stay?” Sophie asks, poking her head out of the bathroom.

“You can come for the other housewarming party,” says Parker. “Just Eliot's invited to this one.”

Eliot should say no. He knows a bad idea when he spends months designing a home for it. But he's the one who broke their kitchen in, making them all chicken parm when they were up late picking out furniture with Sophie, and they've been asking him a lot of questions about bedding and things they should have in their pantry and how often he's in town.

Sophie's grinning at him already like she knows what he's going to say. “Well, Eliot? Mind if I take your car tonight? I'm sure you can get a ride in the morning.”

“You know,” says Eliot, “I think I can.”

*

“Hey,” says Alec in bed that night. “We're thinking about buying a restaurant. Want to decorate that too?”