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Built for Love
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Abel Underwood has built his construction fortune off of gut instinct. He knows a good piece of property when he sees it and he doesn’t hesitate to pursue a project once he has it in his sights which is precisely why he doesn’t hesitate when he spots Pepper Paddison on the sidewalk of a run down apartment complex near Bell Heights. He knows she’s the one and he’s going to acquire her through fair means or foul.
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“I think we should walk on this deal,” I tell my partner Beck as I climb out of my pickup. “The neighborhood is kind of shitty, and I don’t see it being gentrified anytime soon, at least not before Bell Heights. There’s an eight-unit complex over there that we could reno and lease for at least three fifty a square foot.”
“If that’s what you want to do, I’m okay with it. I trust your instincts.”
“I’m waffling,” I admit, “It’s not a terrible property but we’d have to do business with Chad Walker. If we get in bed with him, we’ll not just get up with fleas, but a whole colony of parasites.” I slam the door shut and stride up the cracked concrete walkway. Walker hasn’t done one lick of work on this property since he bought it a year ago. The fact that he put it back on the market so soon after the purchase and for not much of an increase means that there are real, expensive problems he doesn’t want to take care of.
“Like I said, I trust your judgment. I write the checks in this relationship while you do all the grunt work.”
Beck does a helluva lot of work besides scrawling his name across a piece of paper, such as evaluating comparative properties, analyzing market trends, and estimating costs. It’s a good partnership. We bought our first property just out of high school from the insurance proceeds Beck got after his car was wrecked. He put up the funds and I did the labor. Beck would’ve helped out with the work, but the same accident that destroyed his car mangled his right knee. He’s got more hardware in his leg than the local utility store—not that you would know if you saw him, but I know it bothers him.
“This grunt thinks that—“ A figure passes in front of me, dragging a suitcase in one hand and carrying a laundry basket in the other. The basket is about to tip its contents out. I lurch forward and grab it before it tumbles to the ground. “Maybe you should make more than one trip…”
My words die on my tongue as I look into the face of the most beautiful person I’ve ever seen in my entire life. I swear I hear angels singing in the background as I inventory her features. Her jet black hair is chin length and cut so razor-sharp it might draw blood. Her eyes are big and round, and she has the cutest fucking nose. Her full lips are pursed into an angry scowl.
“What are you doing?” she says, jerking the basket out of my hands.
“Baby, you look like your hands are full. I was just helping.” I grin.
“First of all, I’m not your baby.” She scowls. It only makes her look sexier. If I was a dog, my tongue would be out. “Second, I have everything under control.” She hefts the laundry basket higher up her curvy hip where my hand should be resting.
Some may take this rejection to heart. Not me. This woman is beautiful and I need to know her name, her vitals, and everything else—immediately.
“Where’s your man? You shouldn’t have to be carrying stuff by yourself.” It’s not like I particularly care if she has a man, but I want to know what kind of mess I’ll need to clean up. I mean…I have a backhoe and access to a lot of dump sites.
“I don’t need a man. I can do this myself.” She starts walking toward the front door, but when she moves, the basket slips. I catch it before it falls,
Inside is a bunch of freshly folded laundry like socks, tiny pieces of underwear, some T-shirts and pants, and a couple of rolled towels. She must live here. “What unit are you in?”
“I’m not telling you that,” she snaps.
“Good. You should never tell random strangers your apartment number, but I’m not a random stranger.” I’m going to be your new man, I think, but maybe it’s too early to declare this given that she’s frowning and all. “But since I’m carrying your laundry—“ I break off. Didn’t the prospectus say that there was a laundry unit in the basement? Was she just moving in? That might explain why she’s toting her clothes around outside.
“Are you a new resident?”
She tips her head back and sighs. “Not that it’s any of your information, but since you aren’t going to give me my clothes back until I tell you something, no, I’m not a new resident. I had to take my stuff to the laundromat because the basement units are broken. Our slumlord doesn’t take care of anything around here.” She holds out her arm. “Now give me my clothes back like you promised.”
Slumlord. Broken laundry in the basement. Nah. My woman cannot live in a place like this. I’m definitely not returning her basket until a full reno is done. It’s not safe for my girl. “I think not.”