Under Renovation will be available next week! In case you can't possibly wait that long, here's a fun excerpt to keep you entertained! Keep your eyes on the News page for updates, coming soon!
The following scene takes place just following the first time Quinn and Theo have met. He has volunteered to help her with set-building projects at the community theater. His young son Oliver (7), is a student in the program. At this point in the story, Quinn hasn't learned about Theo's late wife (not a spoiler, that's in the summary) and can't figure out WHY he's still wearing a ring...
----- from Chapter Five, Under Renovation -----
Theo and Oliver walked into the auditorium on time, holding hands while the little Miller gave his dad a full tour. Side by side, Oliver looked like his tiny clone, right down to the dimples.
"Miss Quinn!” Oliver is possibly the happiest, most excitable child I’ve ever known. “This is my dad!”
“Yes, we met on Tuesday, remember?” I made eye contact with Theo, who seemed equally amused. “I’m so happy you’re both here! Shall we get to work, gentlemen?”
Oliver joined the other kids for a vocal warmup with Faith, my best friend and the program's director. Theo and I headed for the workshop backstage. The best way to get a newbie acclimated to the tech life is with a power drill. Theo said he’d be more comfortable trying out tech stuff, but I had no idea if he was the handy type. If he isn’t, he will be by the time I’ve finished with him.
“The next thing on my to-do list is a second staircase. It needs to match this one.” I kicked the first one with the toe of my shoe. “Well, it’s only three steps, so I guess you can’t call it a whole case of stairs, but you get what I’m saying.”
“I can do that,” he said, encouraged. Theo headed right for the two-by-fours stacked in the corner and plugged in the power drill nearby. He sat down on the floor and started laying out the materials, ready to go. It seems I won’t be teaching much today.
I picked up a second drill and sat on the floor nearby, in front of my own project, but couldn’t focus right away. I admired him working, fully concentrating, hands steady. A man using power tools is… hot? I let my mind wander to, uh… places. Theo raised his head and we made eye contact. Busted.
I blurted the first words that came to mind. “You clearly don’t need my supervision.”
“No,” he said with a shrug. “But I enjoy your company.”
“That’s good,” I said with a smile. “Because you’re stuck with me all day.”
“Eh, it’s not so bad,” he teased. “What are you working on?”
“This bad boy right here,” I pointed to the upside down 4x4 platform in front of me. “Needs some legs before we can use it. This will go on the stage—with the stairs on either side so the kids can get up and down. We’ll need two more of these to make the whole thing.
Theo noticed the drill in my hand and slid the box of screws across the dusty floor in my direction.
“So, Theo,” I began nervously. “What do you do for work?”
“I’m a project manager,” he said. Whirrrrr.
“Is that like a contractor?”
“I work with contractors, but it’s a different thing,” he explained. “Basically, I manage the entire construction project from beginning to end. So, I work with the client, the architect, and the different kinds of contractors to make sure everything gets done right, on time, and within the budget.”
“That’s… cool. I mean, it sounds like it could be interesting.”
“It’s a lot like what you do here, to be honest. Instead of a construction job, it’s a show. And you’re managing all these tech projects, making sure it all gets done.”
“Maybe, but it’s Faith’s program. I just volunteer.”
“I think that would technically make her your client,” he said with a grin. “Somebody’s gotta make sure the kids have a floor for tap dancing.”
“And I guess that would make you one of my contractors…”
He laughed, lining up the top of the second stair. Theo was working quickly—I was impressed.
“So where are you guys from? You said you just moved here, right?”
“Yeah, Oliver and I moved from Chicago in January. I grew up a few towns over from here, but I got married and stayed in Illinois after college,” he paused. Whirrrrr. “The company I work for opened a Boston location and they offered me a promotion if I transferred.”
“So here you are.”
“So here I am. It made sense to come home,” he said, eyes still on the drill. “Since it was just the two of us, I wanted Oliver to have more family around. My parents are still living in the house where I grew up. I bought a house here though, didn’t want to be too close to Mom and Dad.”
“Sure,” I said, trying to focus on my job. Let’s review… only he and Oliver moved to Boston, to be closer to family. Where was his wife? Were they separated? He wouldn’t move so far away from his son’s mother if it were temporary. So maybe divorced? But then, he probably wouldn’t still have a wedding ring on. Was she in the military and deployed somewhere? The ring made more sense if that were true, but why would someone move in the middle of their spouse’s tour?
Faith often criticized me for being too nosy, so I decided to just drop it. Something was not lining up, but it was none of my business. Time for a subject change…
“So, what do you do for fun?” I asked.
“Let’s see… cooking, going to the movies on rainy days, hiking with Ollie… I also enjoy crossword puzzles and long walks on the beach.” He looked up, finally, and we smiled at each other. “Is my interview over now?”
“What can I say? You’re more interesting than I am.”
“I doubt that,” he said with a grin. “What does the talented Miss Quinn do outside the theater?”
“Lots of stuff,” I hesitated, searching for a concise way to explain it all. I gave up. “It’s… complicated.”
“Okay…?” Theo pulled the first staircase toward him and tried to tighten some of the screws, but they were perfect, obviously. No adjustments required. Satisfied, he moved closer to me.
“Mostly, I’m just the president of a charity foundation.”
“Just?” he said, handing me a couple screws to finish the second leg. “That sounds like a big deal.”
I shrugged. “It’s only a few days a week, plus events.”
“And? I sense the list goes on…”
“I help out at my uncle’s bar a couple times a week.”
“You’re a bartender?”
“Me?” I couldn’t help it, I laughed. I could only imagine Shawn and Charlie letting me pour drinks. They don’t even let me mix my own drinks. That’s on par with letting Charlie file his own taxes. “No, back office stuff, mostly accounting. I started helping him when…” Nope. “A while ago.”
“Charity president, theater director, private accountant.” He counted it all out on his fingers. “Any other pursuits?”
“Volunteering, here and there,” I added. “I spend most of my free time at the animal shelter, the library, and the senior center. And I like to help out with the soccer team fundraisers when I can.”
“Wow,” he said, with a playful smirk on his face. “It’s just too bad you don’t have enough to keep you busy.”
“I’m sure I could find some room on my calendar somewhere…” I countered. That was a little more forward than I’d planned on being, but the more I talked to him, the braver I got. “If I needed to.”
He raised his eyebrow at me with the hint of a smile on his lips. And in that moment, I realized two things. One, that he was absolutely, totally, devastatingly handsome. Second, that he seemed reasonably receptive to the idea of spending time with me on purpose.
“Alright,” I said, switching gears. For my own safety. “There are two legs left to attach to this platform. You’ve got a drill; I’ve got a drill. I’ll race you.”
“Are you sure that’s a good idea?” he asked, with that charming expression still on his face.
“Okay fine,” he smirked, narrowing his eyes. It was kinda sexy. No, it was a lot sexy. “You’re on.”
“Ready?” He nodded. “Set?” He focused on his hands, lining up the drill and the screw. “Go!”
I worked quickly, driving two screws into one side of the platform, straight into the leg. Then I scooted around and did the same thing to the other side. I should’ve set a timer for myself. I might’ve broken my previous record.
“Done!” I shouted, putting my hands up. And just a split second after me, Theo did the same. “Oooh, so close! Sorry, Miller.”
He scowled. “That was definitely a tie. And even if you were a second faster than me, which you weren’t,” he said, with mock defensiveness. I tilted my head. “It’s only because your hands are so little. Easier to move around the tight spots.”
“Don’t hate the player,” I said defiantly. Standing up, I placed two hands beneath one side of the platform. “Can you help me flip this thing?”
Theo got up, grabbed the side opposite me, and we turned it over. Then I climbed on top of it, about a foot from the floor, and jumped up and down a couple times.
“I like to test these out before a bunch of kids dance on them.”
Riding that wave of boldness, bolstered by the adrenaline of competition, I forgot to be nervous. I extended a hand to Theo and said, “Get up here.”
And he did.
“Look how confident I am in your carpentry skills,” he said, then stomped his feet a few times. “Seems as sturdy as my corner.”
“Yeah, yeah,” I laughed, then performed a perfect time-step over his side. Ten years of tap dance lessons, all preparing me for that moment… “It’ll do.”
I laughed and swatted him on the arm—which was precisely the moment my adrenaline dissipated. Physical contact was just a tad too far under the circumstances—wasn’t it? Theo grabbed his arm, feigning injury, and stepped toward me.
“Ouch, Miss Quinn…” he said, trying not to laugh.
“If that hurt,” I said, boldly looking him in the eye. “Then you don’t wanna see my right hook.”
He smiled, and the mood suddenly shifted. We both seemed to realize how close together we were, just inches away. My heart pounded. More adrenaline, right? Nothing to do with his eyes. I desperately wanted to ask about his wife. She wasn’t around—where was she? And is it okay to be staring at him like this?
“Well,” I said, blinking. The reminder was sobering. “We still need two more of these. No racing this time. I don’t want to embarrass you twice in one day. You’d never come back.”
He nodded, laughing, but didn’t speak again for a while. It also took us an extra minute to climb down.