THIS OLD HOUSE
Never tick off a woman holding a sledgehammer.
Cole Carruthers added that piece of wisdom to his mental checklist
for dealing with the opposite sex the second he stepped into the
entry of the three-story Victorian house in the pricey Dupont Circle
area of Washington, D.C.
One glance at the woman standing in the living room off to his
right and he questioned the wisdom of being there at all. He'd come
to see an elderly woman about a house.
Actually, he'd come to get an elderly woman out of the house.
As his gaze wandered over his unknown companion's khaki short-shorts,
down her mile-long legs, then back up to her rounded ass ... well,
he knew one thing for certain: right house, wrong woman.
He expected a greeting from someone bent over a walker. The same
friendly, white-haired someone who a month ago sold this historically-protected
property to his partners, Adam and Whit Thomas. Looking at the peeling
wallpaper and exposed floorboards, Cole wondered if his usually
astute friends had jumped on the deal too fast. The place could
crumble and fall on top of them before the construction permits
And the smell. Reminded Cole of damp shirts left in a dryer too
long. He doubted the windows had been opened during the last decade.
But that wasn't the problem of the hour. No, convincing the former
owner of the house to get out held the number one spot on that list.
Two weeks ago Gilda Armstrong had nearly set the kitchen on fire
making her special cheese biscuits. Now she refused to move to her
reserved room at a nearby assisted-living facility.
The refusal made Gilda Cole's problem. Not that he volunteered.
No, he just didn't refuse as fast as his business partners at yesterday's
weekly meeting. Next time he'd take a swallow of coffee after a
vote instead of during.
Despite being shanghaied an hour ago, Cole assumed the job would
be simple enough. He thought he'd have no problem making his standing
Thursday racquetball game with Adam. Cole glanced over at the sledgehammer-wielding
mystery woman again. He had not counted on finding her.
"Looks like racquetball is out today," he mumbled under
Facing away from him, the non-grandmother stood in front of the
dark, hand-carved fireplace staring at the ornate mirror towering
above it. With the tool balanced in both hands, she concentrated
on a spot on the wall.
He didn't see whatever she saw. Probably had something to do with
focusing on the way her slim white T-shirt skimmed the top of those
On the outline of her tan arms and lean legs.
On the wavy black hair falling over her shoulders and down her
Yeah, this lady was no grandma. He'd guess she was somewhere in
her twenties. Which meant she was not the woman he came hunting.
Which was a damn shame.
"Uh, ma'am?" His voice echoed back at him, so he stepped
into the cluttered room and tried again. "Hello?"
She ignored the slam of the front door and continued to ignore him
now. A lecture on safety and self-protection seemed in order. He'd
get to that right after he explained the concept of trespassing.
The warped wood floors creaked under his weight. "Ma'am, I
need you to-"
She finally turned around. Her dark eyes widened and a tiny "o"
formed on her full mouth. Then she yelped. Actually made one of
those sounds heard best on dog frequencies.
"I'm here to-"
"Get out of here right now, or I'll call the police!"
She managed to demand and yelp that time.
Through all the screeching, Cole saw the culprit. Earphones connected
to an MP3 player. She never heard him coming. "Sorry to scare
you. I didn't mean-"
"Last chance," she warned.
But she was already moving. With a fierce battle cry, she jerked
the sledgehammer over her head. The move nearly wiped out the antique
chandelier above her. Crystals clanged together from the hit.
On instinct, Cole put his hands up to his chest to ward off an
attack. "Whoa, lady, I'm-"
The sledgehammer wobbled forward, then sideways, and then the heavy
end fell behind her. Slammed right into the wall. Not against the
wall. Through the wall in exactly the move Cole had tried to prevent
with his approach.
Any interest in figuring out the who, what, and why of this mystery
woman evaporated in an instant. "Damn it, lady. Watch what
For the moment more concerned about protecting the house than with
having a sledgehammer lodged in his forehead, Cole dodged around
a high-back chair to get to her.
She moved just as fast in the opposite direction. Spinning back
to face the wall, she tugged and pulled on the visible end of the
hammer. Metal crunched against wood. Chunks of drywall fell to the
floor. The hole increased to twice the original size before the
sledgehammer popped free.
She whipped back around, her cheeks puffing in and out. "I
will scream this place down before I let you hurt me."
"Hurt you? Lady, you got this all wrong."
With a bit of a grunt, she hoisted the sledgehammer high above
her head. "Or rob me."
That explained the self-defense moves. She thought he had come
to steal something. Never mind that his company owned the damn house.
He could take the lightbulbs if he wanted to without running afoul
of any laws.
"I'm not a burglar."
"Sure you aren't."
He pointed at her. "Put that thing down and listen to me."
She lowered the weapon until the heavy end aimed at the dead center
of his chest. "Until I know who you are and what you want,
the sledgehammer stays where it is. Talk fast, or I clock you and
call the police."
For a petite woman, she sure was fast. Strong, too. That mean look
behind those bottomless dark eyes didn't strike him as good either.
Pretty and furious. From his experience, not the best combination
in a woman. More like the kind of thing that defined trouble. He
wasn't in the mood for trouble. Wasn't much in favor of broken bones
either. Not when those bones belonged to him.