Sometimes love finds you when you least expect it.
Travis Holt’s life is steadily pulling him under, and he’s fighting it. He’s running his family’s construction company, trying to save his addict brother from self-destruction, and dealing with the constant reminder of his personal failures, including the one that shattered his family. When a woman with a mythical name and a soul-warming smile suddenly brightens his world, his need for her wars with his fear of adding her to the list of loved ones he’s hurt.
Andromeda Miller has escaped Phoenix and come to Utah to sort out the mess her life has become. She needs a new start: new home, new job, new friends. When she meets a good man whose touch she craves, she fights the desire to include him in the new life she’s creating. His personal demons hit too close to home and may doom her to the same kind of consuming pain that destroyed her father.
Will these two damaged souls find refuge, or be swept away by their heartaches?
Note: While there are some crossover characters between this book and Mending Fences, each stands alone.
Excerpt from Chapter One
Travis Holt sat in his truck, eyes closed, fingers clenched around the steering wheel. Melancholy seeped out of the prison inside him and he brutally shoved it back into place. Lunch hadn’t helped his mood any, and he still had several hours of work left for today. He didn’t have the time to feel anything. A gentle breeze wafted through the half-lowered window, brushing over his face and ruffling his hair. He drew a deep breath of air touched with the scent of warming earth. The smell of spring that was so late in coming this year. He missed the way things used to be, when spring arrived on schedule in March, and summer was in full bloom by the time the end of May rolled around. June was always hot when he was a kid, but the last several years in Utah had seen snow in the mountains and cold, wet weather in Salt Lake valley until the middle of June.
He hated it. Just one more frustrating thing in his life that he couldn’t control. The misery squeezed him hard, and he opened his eyes and fought back: turning on the truck, cranking up the stereo, heading for the next stop in his packed Monday list of crap he had to do. Thinking about the past didn’t do him any good at all. Neither did the present, really, but at least if he stayed rooted in the here and now, living moment by moment, the knowledge that he was a failure didn’t swamp him completely.
He sang with the rock anthem pounding through the speakers, distracting himself from the weight of his life. Because the awful truth nagging at the edges of his thoughts was that he’d reached the limit of what he could carry. One more thing dropped on top would push him under. He’d drown. If he didn’t acknowledge that fact, he’d make it through every day, no matter what hit him.
Travis pulled into the driveway of the sprawling, French Country-style mansion sitting high on the Mount Olympus foothills. His client had spent a hell of a lot of money for a spectacular view lot, and Travis believed the man truly got what he paid for, with the primarily glass rear of the new house facing the valley. As he exited his truck, he noted the vehicles of the plumbing and electrical subcontractors parked on the drive. He crossed the path through the newly landscaped yard to the covered front porch.
His parents would have preferred he live in a home like this, ideally near them in Federal Heights. But he’d never give up his little chalet in Midway. The mountain town gave him room to clear his head. Living there, even with the daily commute, kept him sane.
Travis walked into the high-ceilinged, stone-paved foyer. Plastic sheeting covered the floor, protecting it from dirty workboots. Martin Delgado, the job supervisor, stood beyond the foyer in the open, airy sitting room, talking on his cell phone. Travis waved, and Delgado quickly ended his call.
“Hiya, boss,” Delgado said, clipping his phone onto his belt.
“Are we on schedule?”
Delgado snorted. “Of course, man, you think I’d let you down?”
Travis smiled. “Good, because I’m talking to Mr. Jasper five times a day, and if this place goes into overtime, I may strangle him before he ever gets the keys.”
“I feel for you. It’s almost done. Rachel’s putting up the fixtures and plates and Harley is just about done with the finish plumbing.”
“Okay. I’m going to have a look around so I can tell Jasper I was here in person, and everything’s fine.”
Delgado laughed and reached for his phone when it beeped. “You do that, Travis. I’m glad I’m not you.”
Yeah. Being me is even less fun that it looks. Travis went up the wide, lavishly milled, curving stairs, meaning to give the house a look from the top floor down. His intentions flew out the nearest window when he walked into the master suite and found himself staring up at the most perfectly curved rear-end he’d ever seen poured into faded denim. Sweetly rounded below a narrow waist, it was the sort of ass that women were forever trying to work off even though men begged for more.
He refocused, shaking off the buzz of appreciation zipping straight to his groin, and forced himself to take in the whole picture. The woman stood too far up for safety on a six-foot ladder, facing the opposite wall. She twisted a light bulb into the pewter fixture on the coved ten-foot ceiling. His gaze wandered up to dark brown, wavy hair. Pulled into a ponytail at the nape of her neck, the waves cascaded down the length of her red t-shirt, swaying at the top of her hips. He’d expected to find Rachel Garrett, his electrician. This tiny, curvy thing was definitely not Rachel.
“Who are you?” he asked.
She didn’t respond. He stepped forward. “Are you here with Rachel?” He reached out and tapped the heel of her red tennis shoe. “Hello?”
She jumped at his touch, turning toward him as she took a hasty step down.
Her foot missed the ladder rung.
Travis reacted instantly, catching her as she fell, stepping back so she didn’t hit the ladder.
A surge of fire blew through his system on the heels of the adrenaline rush, the heat pulsing through his chest as he held her, as his mind identified where he ended and she began. One arm held her around her waist, the other wrapped across her legs below her hips. For a moment, she stayed where she’d landed, half over his right shoulder, then she straightened. That position brought her breasts to eye-level. Her t-shirt, caught between them, molded against her, making it damn near impossible for Travis to swallow.
Heart pounding, Travis forced his gaze upward, meeting her dark brown eyes. The confusion in them threw ice water on his hormones. Small hands pressed against his shoulders and he loosened his hold on her, trying to ignore his physical interest as she slid down his frame to the floor.
She backed away a step, her gaze on her feet, her cheeks dusted pink, and pulled earbuds from her ears. The music blared through them. Ah. She hadn’t heard him.
“Hey, sorry I startled you,” he said. The rest of his words died in his throat when her gaze lifted and she smiled. A sweet, welcoming smile that lit up her entire self. It slid down inside him, stunning him and leaving a trail of light. No one he’d ever known had a smile like that.
“It’s okay. Thanks for catching me before I hurt myself.” She hitched her thumb over her shoulder at the ladder. “Guess I should have taken the ‘do not stand on this step’ warning seriously, huh?” Her voice was low, with a slight whiskey-rasp.
It was a punch to the gut after anticipating that she’d sound like a little girl to match her small size. She couldn’t be more than, what, five-two? A grin spread across his face, he couldn’t help it. “Pretty sure the warning is there for a reason. Are you here with Rachel?”
“Yeah, I’m visiting her, and attempting to help, though I clearly have no clue what I’m doing.” She shrugged. Her smile faded and the part of Travis that had revived inside because of her smile died again, too. It stung. How could he fix that?
“You were doing great, I messed you up.” He held out a hand. “I’m Travis Holt.”
Her handshake was surprisingly firm. “Andri Miller.”
“Andri? Interesting name.”
“Short for Andromeda. I know, I know, my mother is Greek, so I come by it honestly,” she added hastily as his smile widened.
“No, it’s a beautiful name.” The sweet blush colored her cheeks again and his stomach flip-flopped.
Her gaze shifted to the right and she said, “You about got me killed, sending me up on a ladder like that.”
Travis turned to see his electrician walk in. Rachel Garrett, dark red hair looped through a Dodgers cap, looked Andri over. “You appear unscathed.”
Andri pointed at Travis. “Thanks to the hero.”
A sharp jolt of pleasure hit him. He’d love to play the successful hero again, anytime. He bit down on the thought that her need for a hero was his fault. Always his fault, but he refused to let his failings shadow her words.
Rachel stood beside him, tall enough to meet him eye to eye. “Yep, that’s Travis. He spends his copious spare time rescuing damsels in distress.” She nudged him with her shoulder, and that contact from his lifelong friend snapped him out of the magnetic pull emanating from Andri.
Shaken by his reaction, he steeled himself and glanced at his watch. “Unfortunately, speaking of spare time, I have none. Rach, you’ll be finished today?”
“Yes. Another half-hour maybe, and we’re out of here.”
“Just what I wanted to hear, thank you.” He nodded at Andri. “Nice meeting you.”
She smiled as she said goodbye, but he yanked his gaze away from her. That smile was kryptonite, best avoided since he couldn’t hope to fight the way she drew him without even trying.
He did a high-speed check of the rest of the mansion, pausing only to confer briefly with Delgado. The plumber had already finished and gone. Inspection complete, he beat a hasty retreat to the truck.
Andri. He’d known Rachel forever and never run into this friend of hers before. She’d said she was just visiting Rach, so chances were that he’d probably never see her again. And while that realization pained him, it also relieved him.
There were two kinds of women. Those who played, and those who didn’t. Andromeda Miller was decidedly one who didn’t. She sent off waves of home and hearth and ‘till death do us part’ vibes. Absolutely off-limits, and he knew precisely why—stability was the one thing he needed, the one thing he wanted. The one thing he didn’t deserve.
It was also a hell of a catch-22. If she wasn’t what he thought…well, he’d paid the price for mistaking a player for a stayer before, with his ex. And if she really was what he read her to be, a good girl…damn, he couldn’t go there. He’d only end up failing her somehow, like he failed everyone else, and in the process, she’d learn to hate him. He knew if he ever saw that light in her eyes replaced with hatred, it would utterly destroy him.
One more thing added to the pile. No. He simply wouldn’t allow himself to go there. Period. No matter how much he wanted to cling to the lifeline her smile had thrown him.