It's not like she makes a habit of calling numbers she's scribbled down off the side of a vehicle moving past her at an intersection. Especially since the guy she called who'd posted his business card on the grocery store bulletin board ended up being such a fucking creep. Like, she's all for a variety of characters in her life, but listening to the middle aged guy singing Spice Girls songs and swearing with way too much hostility in his tone when he got the lyrics wrong would have been bad enough. Then he kept watching her through the window as he sang. She fired him when he started shaking his hips at her. Seriously, what the fuck is wrong with people?
Needless to say, she's getting better at screening the people she hires to do work for her. Like, googling their names and businesses. And she would have done that with the first guy, too, but she had a porch with front steps you couldn't actually walk up without falling through rotting boards, so she took what she could get. (Even now they're makeshift steps because she wanted Psycho Spice the fuck off her property as quickly as possible.)
When she's stopped at a red light and a brand new white pickup pulls up beside her, SR Renos written on the side, she writes the phone number on the back of a parking receipt and tosses it into her purse.
Yeah, part of the problem is she bought this house because she was sick of renting shitty apartments from landlords who did piss all. She should have saved for longer, but her last place was such a piece of crap that even this house with all its problems - and there's a list of those as long as her arm - was better than staying there.
The house seemed like a good deal at the time, but now getting all these things fixed and updated seems like a job she's just not up for. She sure as hell can't do it herself. Hence calling the place with the nice truck and the positive reviews online.
It's hot as hell in here - the AC isn't yet near the top of the list of shit to fix - so she's walking around in shorts and a tank top when she hears footsteps on her porch and a strong knock at the door. She's been working at taking down wallpaper in the hallway and steps over her mess to run to the door, picking a piece of stray paper off her heel as she jerks the door open.
Forgive the hell out of her for dropping her jaw when she sees the unreal specimen of a man standing in front of her.
Jesus. Tall, broad, tanned and ripped, smiling at her just enough to make her wonder what the hell he's thinking.
"Hi," she manages. Intelligent. Fuck. The least she could have done was invite him in.
"Darcy? Steve. We spoke on the phone."
"Yeah, right. Of course. I just. Yeah. Come in." He steps inside and sets down his tool box. He honest to god has a pencil behind his ear. Where do you even get shirts that size? And he toes off his work boots, which she appreciates despite the state of her house at the moment. There's something to be said for good manners, okay? "Welcome to the hovel."
He laughs a bit and surveys the space. "I've seen worse." He's probably not even just saying that, but he's definitely trying to be nice, too. "What is it you need me for?"
Dangerous question, cause she's been mentally adding a few things to the list since she first opened the door.
"Everything," she answers honestly. "When can you start?"
She's only half joking, but she likes the sound of the low chuckle he lets out. She watches him run his hand along the wall in the foyer, then take a few steps into the house and look up the stairway to the second story.
"Needs a little love, hm?" he says over his shoulder, tugging on one of the rungs of the banister like he already knew it'd wobble when touched.
She thinks give it to me, and clears her throat because she needs to calm the fuck down.
"The walls are a mess. I think the previous owners had like seven shitty kids."
"Aesthetics," Steve shrugs, spins his keys on his finger once then drops them into his tool box. "I'd start with the front steps. Botch job, there." He turns and looks at her like he's afraid he's offended her. "You didn't do that yourself, did you?"
"Hell no," Darcy laughs. "The extent of my skill with a hammer is the ability to hang pictures. Sometimes they're even straight."
He laughs again, tips his head back and everything, and she's wondering where the hell men like this are anymore, 'cause she's never actually met one.
"You're funny," he tells her like he's somehow surprised. Darcy raises her shoulders. "I'll get some things and set up out there."
They haven't even talked about payment, though she knows how much he charges - and it's not a lot, compared with some of the other quotes she sourced - and he seems like the type for whom money isn't everything.
"That's amazing. Thanks," she says, and he gives her a nod, looks around her down the hallway.
"Careful with the drywall when you're stripping the paper. It's a bitch to patch."
"Aye aye, cap'n," she says, salutes him, and feels like a complete dork until he salutes and winks back at her before heading back out the door.
Fuck. She's so screwed.
... ... ...
She wakes to the sound of an electrical saw or something, puts her pillow over her head and then groans and gives up on trying to get back to sleep when she hears persistent hammering and realizes the obnoxious noise is actually happening on her property. She tosses back the covers and gets out of bed, looks out her bedroom window and sees Steve already working. He's pulling lumber out of his truck bed, tossing two planks up onto his shoulder and carrying them off somewhere out of sight. Darcy sighs, mostly 'cause she's tired but also because her handyman looks like fucking Adonis in Levis, and she's never been turned on this way by a goddamn tool belt sitting on someone's hips.
She needs a shower and some caffeine.
Once she's stuffed a couple Eggos into her body and has poured herself her second cup of coffee, she walks out the back door and around the house onto the driveway where Steve's got a table saw set up. She's got a mug in her hand for him and holds it up while he stands up and wipes his hands on his jeans. He's working on the steps exclusively right now, but on the tailgate of his truck she sees a sketch of her house with a stunning porch that she hopes will turn out as well as this rendering lets on.
"You start early," she says, and he takes a sip of coffee. He either likes it black or is too polite to say anything about it.
"Sorry if I woke you. I wanted to get as much done as I could before it gets too hot." Darcy nods. He's already sweating through his tee shirt. He's got a smudge of led from his pencil on his cheek. "Thought then I'd move inside and see about the first floor bathroom."
Thank god. That thing's unusable at the moment. The plumbing's fucked and the sink has a crack in it so deep there's no way it would ever hold water. She's picked a new one out at Home Depot, but hasn't had a chance or the motivation to go try to wrestle it into the trunk of her car.
"I have a meeting at 11:00, but I'll be back by 2:00."
"Oh," he says, turns to her and puts his hands on his hips. She can see the sweat rolling down his temple and wonders why this guy even bothers with shirts, 'cause she doesn't know a single soul who'd complain if he took it off. "I can come back tomorrow."
"No, it's totally fine," she insists, leans against the banister of the steps he's working on, then holds up her coffee cup to keep it from spilling, and mutters a curse word when the thing nearly gives out and she has to catch her balance. He's quick to reach out and help her if need be, but (damn her good reflexes) he doesn't have to touch her at all. "Please keep working."
He grins at her and nods. "If you're comfortable with that."
"Sure," she says, walking up the makeshift steps that hopefully won't be there much longer. She turns when she's at the top, and he's still looking at her, turned now and taking his pencil from behind his ear again. "If you make off with any of my stuff, I'll just sue your ass off and make sure you never work in this town again."
Steve laughs and leans over and reaches for his measuring tape, and she absolutely checks out his ass in his jeans. "I'll try to control myself."
Darcy walks into the house before she says or does something that'd make her miss her meeting.
… … …
A week in, she's got a set of front steps that don't resemble a horror movie death trap, and a downstairs bathroom you can both pee and wash your hands in. Steve's done a gorgeous job so far, and any anxiety she had over the amount of money she'll be spending to make the house liveable is ebbing away. He's damn good at what he does, and even when she disagrees with him he respects that it's her house and does as she asks. He wanted to put crown moulding in the bathroom, but she thought it'd make the space feel smaller. And he said he'd prime the walls for painting, but she wants to do at least something herself. When she asked him for his opinion on a paint colour, he held up his hands and backed away, saying he's not an interior designer.
Her legs are spattered with primer - because she's the genius who takes on a home reno when it's so hot outside she can't even imagine wearing pants - and Steve is pulling up the shitty carpet in the living room. She hears his phone ring over the music they've got playing (he lets her pick, which she loves enough that she doesn't ask why) and pokes her head out to see him answer it and step out onto the porch. She hears the tail end of the conversation, which is him saying, "Fuck off," and chuckling, and steps out of the bathroom to go get some water just in time to see him toss his phone down on the sofa that's covered in a drop cloth to keep the dust off. He smiles when he sees her, and Darcy is trying so fucking hard not to get used to having this guy in her house.
"Girlfriend?" she asks, then cringes, because god, that's the lamest tactic in the book.
"Best friend." He rolls his eyes and follows Darcy to the kitchen, where she pours them each a glass of ice water. "He wants me to meet him for drinks at this place I hate."
"Why does he want to go to a place you hate?"
Steve scoffs. "To torture me, probably." Darcy laughs out loud and leans one hand on the counter between them. "Been doing it since we were kids."
Nodding, Darcy takes a sip of water and then shrugs her shoulder. "So don't go."
"Naw, I'll be there. I'll show up late just to spite him."
Rolling her eyes, she says, "That'll show him."
She's teasing, but she also gets the feeling it's just about the meanest thing he can bring himself to do. She's not saying she's vengeful, but she knows how to hold a grudge and isn't afraid to let people know if they've pissed her off. And frankly, if her friends wanted her to go somewhere she didn't want to go, she'd be upfront about that and stay home. Or at the very least, suggest somewhere else.
"Any plans tonight?" he asks, and for a split second she thinks he's about to ask her to go with him, but that's just her wishful thinking, driven by the fact that she thinks about him getting her into bed at least 10 times a day.
"Nope. Night in with some tea and a book."
(Really, television and her vibrator, but it's not like she's gonna tell him that.)
"Boyfriend?" he asks, smirking and raising his brow like he knows for a fact what she was doing earlier. Which is fine, but she doesn't know why the hell he's asking her the same thing.
"If I had a boyfriend, I wouldn't need you to fix all this shit."
"Yes, you would." Oh. "'M pretty confident in my abilities."
All she's saying is if she had a boyfriend, she can't see him being too damn pleased that this guy who is like, the perfect incarnation of man is the one fixing up her house and spending so much time with her. 'Cause even if she was shacked up with someone, she wouldn't be looking at Steve any differently than she is now. That's to say she'd still want to take her clothes off every time he walked through the door.
"If you change your mind," he says, getting her mind out of the damn gutter, "we'll be at Smitty's."
She bursts out laughing, then looks at him like he's completely insane to think she'd set foot in that bar. "That place is a shithole." Which of course he knows, because he just said he hates it. "I'll pass. But thanks for the offer."
They go back to work and she's pretty confident she's made the right choice. As much as she wants to, she's not going to sleep with her handyman. She's got shit that needs doing and yeah, she definitely feels like he's the only one who can do it.
… … …
He calls her the following Monday morning, wakes her up with that instead of power tools or, like Friday, a knock on her door. But this thing where he's getting her up before her alarm is a habit she isn't even upset about, which is about the most surprising thing that's ever happened to her. He laughs at how sleepy she sounds, then gets all apologetic and says he's got a last minute thing out of town this week and he won't be able to come by. It's not a big deal, since she's not in a great rush to have this all done, and she's more than happy with his speed so far. She's just a bit bummed that she won't see him at all. Actually, a lot bummed. She can tear up carpet on her own, and last week he showed her how to remove the hideous backsplash in her kitchen, so she can get started on that. It's just that despite her best efforts, she's definitely gotten into the habit of spending her time with him when they're both around, and it'll be weird not seeing him.
She asks him where he's going, even though it's really none of her business, and he says, "Europe," like it's an inconvenience, not a vacation. She wants to know a lot more based on his response alone, but it sounds like he's already at the airport so she doesn't want to keep him.
It's really fucking weird to be alone in the house during the day. She's got meetings most days, but when she's home she can hear him working, even if she's in her office (well, a nursery she's turning into her office) or sitting with her laptop at the kitchen table.
On Wednesday, she wakes up with a text from him. She has no idea what the time difference is between them, but she got it at four in the morning. She's assuming it was sent at a more reasonable hour than that.
It's a picture of the Eiffel Tower in front of a pink sky, and he's written that he thought she might like it, and this motherfucker is in the most romantic city in the world and thinking of her, so, you know. She's got thoughts about that.
It's a couple more days, then on Saturday morning, she hears tires backing over the gravel driveway and a car door shutting, and she's naked and half asleep when she walks to the window (okay, she grabbed a blanket to cover herself) and looks out to see him dropping the tailgate and sporting a scruff that's like, this close to being an actual beard, and damn.
"The hell?" she calls from the front door, coffee in hand after her shower and swiping on some makeup, throwing on the cutest clothes she could find. "You so jet lagged you forgot it's the weekend?"
Steve smiles bashfully, sets down a box of what's labeled as hardwood floor and shrugs his shoulder. "I felt bad about bailing on you this week." Darcy rolls her eyes. She's paying him by the hour, so it's really no difference to her.
She's also really fucking curious as to what took him to Europe for five days. It wasn't work, unless he's like an internationally known carpenter or something. And if it was a vacation, there's no reason why he couldn't have said so. Yeah, it was last-minute, but if he found a deal, or was invited by someone else…
Oh, hell, she's got to just get over it.
"Yeah, here's the thing," Darcy says, and Steve squares his shoulders to her, looks a bit puzzled, and then walks up the steps onto the porch. "I was really hoping to do exactly nothing today."
"Oh." He looks a bit shy or something. Which is weird, since they've seen each other almost every day for weeks. "I can go. I'll come back Monday."
"No," she answers quickly, putting her hand on his arm. She doesn't want him to leave. "It's okay. I can be a lazy shit tomorrow. I need your help in the kitchen or I swear to god I'll just set the place on fire."
Steve smirks and grabs his tool belt, hoists it up onto his shoulder. "So you did miss me."
Darcy looks straight ahead and leads him into the house. Maybe that means he missed her, too, or something. "Don't flatter yourself, guy."
She hears his low chuckle behind her and gets him a cup of coffee when they're in the kitchen. She'd absolutely love to just fuck around today, hanging out with him, but then he's inspecting the job she's done partially removing the backsplash and telling her they'll definitely finish that today. She honestly wants to take a sledge hammer to the thing, then laughs when he very seriously tells her not to do that.
"Europe, Steve?" she asks during a lull in conversation as they work.
He blows out a long breath and wipes the sweat from his forehead with the back of his hand. "Yeah. Last minute thing."
Darcy's brow goes up when it becomes clear to her that he's not gonna say anything more than that unless she starts digging. She may be blunt, yeah, but she's not rude and she's not about to start pushing when she doesn't think he wants to play that game.
It's quiet another minute, and Steve says, "Listen, I'm hanging out with a few friends tonight. You should come."
The invitation catches her a bit off guard. They've never even mentioned hanging out anywhere other than on her property. Not that she doesn't want to. She's pretty charming around new people so she's not really worried about that part of it. She just hopes he isn't only inviting her to make up for the fact that he's being a bit secretive about this other thing.
Actually, she hopes he wants what she wants, which is at least one night of amazing sex.
"Look," she says, a sudden burst of confidence or insanity producing this absolute word vomit, "we could do that, yeah, or we could just skip to the part where we go home together and you get me out of my clothes."
She can't read the look on his face. Well, not past the absolute surprise, anyway. His mouth opens and closes, then he's blushing and looking down to the ground, but she just barely sees the little smile on his lips. Her heart's pounding away in her chest and she just really hopes she hasn't made some insane assumption. It's totally possible that she's been reading the signs wrong and he's not into it. Or maybe he just doesn't really want to mess with this working relationship they've got going. Or, god, maybe he's not interested in having sex without a relationship in place first.
His hands are on his hips when he looks back up at her, still sort of smiling, and she takes a breath when he steps closer to her.
"Darcy," he says when he's in front of her, and she just looks up at him. He reaches for her hand, but honestly that's not exactly high on the list of places she wants him to touch her, so she pulls hers away and sets it on his chest. His lands on her hip a little more confidently than she was expecting.
"If you don't want..."
She's cut off by his breathy laugh, then his hand on her hip pulls her closer and she ends up pressed against him. Fuck, that's hot.
"Are you nuts?" he asks. "I haven't been able to get you outta my head since you first opened that door."
She's spent weeks wishing he'd push her up against the closest surface, so when it happens, she's surprised and relieved, and then he kisses her and she doesn't realize how tightly she's got his shirt clenched in her fist until her hand starts to hurt. Steve pushes a hand into her hair, presses his hips against hers and scrapes his teeth along her bottom lip and Darcy is just gone.
"Fuck," she breathes against his mouth, and Steve lets out this low laugh that makes her want to be naked now.
"Upstairs," he murmurs, then his hands leave her body and she has no idea why the hell he'd do that, til she realizes he's taking off his tool belt. It means she's got access to his button and zipper, so she reaches out to undo them. "Darcy. Now."
"Oh my god, get in my bed," she says, then grabs his hand and practically drags him to her bedroom.
(Well, he goes willingly, but still, she seems to be moving faster than he is.)
… … …
Darcy wakes up alone in the morning, which isn't unusual but kind of sucks since she went to bed with Steve last night. He wouldn't have just left, and then after she's blinked off the sleep she hears him downstairs and goes to find him.
He's in the kitchen, shirtless, coffee brewing as he reaches up to wiggle a nail loose from the wall where the previous owners must have had something hanging. God, he's unbelievably attractive.
He hears her there, turns around and meets her next to the coffee maker, wraps his arms around her in a hug that feels so good it makes her close her eyes.
"You don't expect me to pay you for that, right? Because..." she says, and the sound of his laughter in her ear makes her hold on a little tighter.