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MONTANA BLUEPRINT FOR LOVE
Property Sisters Book 1
BY DEBRA SALONEN
Is she restoring “this old house” or reimagining her future with the man she left behind?
When “Diamond” Jim McCall gambles on a fixer-upper for sentimental reasons, his house of cards implodes – along with his health. Ruby’s ready for a job change but agreeing to become her first crush’s apprentice might be her biggest mistake. She doesn’t doubt they can “flip” the derelict ranch house and save Summit Construction, but at what cost to her heart? After all, Boone Fielding became the son her father never had when she left for college.
Helping Ruby McCall and her sisters flip Diamond Jim’s “money pit” makes sense financially, but he can’t partner with someone he doesn’t trust – and Boone hasn’t forgotten his last close encounter with Ruby. But every day on the job reminds him of why he fell in love with her in the first place.
How is he ever going to let her go when the job is done?
My carpenter husband likes to say, “A house is only as good as its foundation.”
I understand that as the wife of a remodeling contractor for forty-plus years, but as a writer, I had to test the theory with my hero and heroine. College students Ruby and Boone had “forever” plans–until their house of cards collapsed under the weight of parental expectations and family obligations. Now, a dozen years later, they’re remodeling an old ranch house to save her parents from bankruptcy—and protect Boone’s investment.
I’ve given them the vehicle to rebuild their relationship from the ground up—there’s nothing like sweating side by side on a nasty job to send the pheromones into overdrive. But we all know how time and old hurts can weaken even the strongest foundation. Will Boone and Ruby rally and reclaim their love or decide they’re better off playing it safe as partners with no benefits?
Ruby McCall checked the digital clock on the Prius dashboard: 10:07.
When was the last time I drove this road on a weekday morning?
She couldn’t remember. Ever since her first year of college at Montana State, she’d made routine visits home to Marietta—an hour or so drive away. But those visits had become less and less frequent after she’d landed a management position with Homestake Insurance, headquartered in Bozeman.
A mistake, it turned out.
She’d known this day was coming, but the way it went down had left her a little shaken. She glanced at the note-taking app on her phone, perched in its holder on her dash. She’d made a list of possible career options that she planned to run by her mother—important, since the one that called to Ruby the most would require Rosemary McCall’s help.
She cleared her throat and practiced the spiel she’d been formulating in her mind ever since the security guard intercepted her in the Homestake lobby a few hours earlier. “Getting fired might be the best thing that ever happened to me, Mom. I’m looking at it as an opportunity to try something new. If not now, when? I won’t turn thirty for another couple of months. I don’t have a husband or kids to worry about uprooting.”
Um…maybe nix the last part.
An extra shot of anxiety made Ruby’s gut complain. She took one hand off the steering wheel to unsnap the waistband of her slacks. She yanked the black-and-white-patterned top free and let out a sigh.
“Too much sitting at a desk and stress eating from dealing with a neurotic boss. Another reason to change careers.”
Her gaze remained glued to the road instead of the postcard-gorgeous, snowcapped vistas in the distance. Sunlight streamed through the windshield. She cracked the side window and sucked in a deep breath of crisp spring air.
No snow today, thankfully.
“May in Montana is decided by the weatherman’s roulette wheel. Blizzard one week. Top down on the convertible the next,” her father liked to say.
Her belly complained again.
“Please let Dad be at work,” she murmured under her breath.
Known for his short temper and strong opinions, Diamond Jim McCall didn’t embrace change—even the good kind—with aplomb. Ruby had grown up using her mother as both a sounding board and an advocate for any decision Ruby made that might run contrary to Diamond Jim’s initial wishes.
But, in this case, Mom probably wouldn’t be thrilled by Ruby’s proposition. Twelve years ago, she’d been quick to shoot down Ruby’s suggestion that she postpone college for a semester or two to stay in Marietta to work for Summit Construction alongside her then-boyfriend, Boone Fielding, who’d just lost his father to a heart attack.
“You will do nothing of the sort, Ruby Jean,” Mom had said in a tone Ruby would have expected from her father. “What happened to Nolan Fielding is a sad shame, but it has nothing to do with your future. Jim told Boone he can work full-time and we’ve even given him a raise. I can’t give Boone a raise and add you to the crew. That would be like taking money out of Boone’s pocket. Is that what you want?”
“Of course not. I love him.”
Mom hadn’t even tried to understand. “We all have plans that don’t come true when real life gets in the way of your dreams. Just ask Boone.”
Ruby had left in tears and run to Boone. Her rock. Her best friend.
But overnight, the boy she’d fallen in love with had turned into a man she barely recognized. “I know you want to help, Ruby, but all I can focus on right now is Mom and work and digging us out of this hole my dad left behind.”
His blunt dismissal sounded more Jim McCall than Boone Fielding. He’d made her feel like she was a burden, not the partner she’d intended to be. Hurt, indignant, and unsure about her feelings and the status of their relationship, she’d left for college and never looked back.
Since traffic was remarkably light, she tapped her phone’s screen again to check the bullet points she’d dictated earlier.
“I have marketable skills and a great employment record.”
Truth. She had no intention of apologizing to anybody for her past career choices.
“I learned a lot from working in a large corporation.” She paused and added in a resigned tone, “Most importantly, I learned that I don’t ever want to work for a large corporation again.”
Adam Manley’s furious face flashed across the screen in her mind. The Madman, as Ruby and her best friend, Jenny Baxter, called their boss, completely lost it last week when Ruby demanded credit for the proposal she’d just turned in. Why didn’t I record the encounter? A spoiled four-year-old has more self-control.
She glanced at the speedometer and eased her foot off the gas pedal. She couldn’t afford a speeding ticket. Especially not now that she was unemployed.
Not a word she ever thought would apply to her. Diamond Jim McCall’s daughters were not slackers. They’d learned the value of hard work at their daddy’s side as soon as they were big enough to pick up nails on a construction site. Every summer until they’d left for college, Ruby and her two younger sisters worked for Summit Construction.
Normally, she’d have called either Amber or Jade to share her earthshaking news the moment she reached her car in the Homestake parking lot.
But not today.
She’d been through enough collective bargaining meetings to know the plan with the most logical and well-defined talking points always won. Employing the study method she’d picked up in college that involved reading aloud the facts she needed to memorize into a miniature tape recorder, she cleared her throat and touched her phone’s screen again. “Open new note.”
“What do you want it to say?” the voice she’d dubbed “Surly” responded.
“Point number one. The summers I spent working for Summit Construction are some of my best memories. Yes, the job was hot and dusty with noxious fumes and bad music from that stupid FM station with the worst commercials on the planet, but”—she stressed the word—“I can’t tell you how much satisfaction I felt at the end of the day looking at the fruits of my labor standing right there in front of me. I miss that sense of immediate reward. It’s definitely something I never saw in my current…er, former job.”
She also knew that if Diamond Jim agreed to take her on as an apprentice, she’d be spending forty hours a week in the company of Boone Fielding—her first love and biggest regret.
She decided to be candid about that elephant in the room. “Point number two. Thanks to Homestake’s ‘Community Service’ program, I participated in the Habitat for Humanity ‘house-raising’ last fall that Boone Fielding oversaw. To be honest, that experience reawakened my interest in building.”
And honestly, it didn’t hurt that Boone showed up looking like an Adonis in a hard hat and Carhartt jacket, with a neon green safety vest, a bullhorn, and a binder filled with jobs.
She fanned her face, recalling her dreams over the next month. Steamy enough to make her sign up for an online dating service, which, unfortunately, cost a pretty penny and produced zero Adonises—with or without hard hats.
She and Boone had barely exchanged a dozen words the whole day. And most of their exchanges were generic—a sort of old-friends-but-not-really kind of dialogue. But she’d run a review reel of the whole day over and over in her head so often she knew their first conversation by heart.
“Ruby. This is a surprise.”
“Me, too. Aren’t you supposed to be in Marietta?”
“A contractor friend volunteered to run this, but he hurt his back and asked me to step in.”
“Nice of you.”
Those broad shoulders she’d never quite forgotten nor been able to replicate had shrugged with typical Boone humility. “He’d have done the same for me. Are you a regular Habitat volunteer?”
Heat had seared her frozen cheeks. “Not really. Job requirement. Last weekend was warm and gorgeous. Working outside sounded like a great idea, so I signed up.”
Even slightly blue from the bitter Montana wind, his lips still made a hot shaft of lost chances slice through her insides when he smiled. “Yeah, Mother Nature is being a bit testy today. But once we get moving, we’ll be too busy to notice the frostbite.”
Humor. Crap. I forgot how much he made me laugh back when we were dating.
She’d spent the rest of the build avoiding him as much as possible, but despite the distraction her guilty conscience had imposed on her, she’d still managed to enjoy the work.
She checked to make sure the app was still open then said, “Point number three—or, possibly, sub-point two: The satisfaction of seeing the walls sided and the roofing completed on the build left more of an impression than I cared to admit at the time. The work was eye-opening—and not because Boone was being his usual kind, organized, thorough self, although I appreciated the fact he treated me like any other volunteer with a modicum of construction knowledge.
“My team leader for the day was a man Dad’s age. He was slow and methodical and talked my ear off, but, honestly, the time flew by and I went home realizing how much I missed being on a job site.”
When she’d mentioned this revelation the following Monday at work, Jenny had sniffled with fake sympathy. “You poor girl. It’s obvious you missed your calling. If only you had an in with some construction company somewhere on the planet, you might be able to blow this popcorn stand and follow your dream.”
They’d laughed. Jenny always made her laugh.
Unfortunately for Ruby, Jenny and her engineer husband, Rolf, were headed to Texas, where he’d taken a job in the aerospace industry.
But Jenny’s joke had planted a seed.
Past winner of Romantic Times Reviewer’s Career Achievement “Series Storyteller of the Year” award, Debra Salonen’s 26 titles for Harlequin Publishing sold more than 2.3 million copies, worldwide. A six-time nominee for RT’s Best Superromance of the Year award, Debra took home that honor in 2010.
Channel your inner maverick with Debra’s six-title Big Sky Mavericks series from Tule Publishing. Her three-book Love, Montana series features heroes to die for: they came to Montana for adventure…and found love. Satisfy your sweet cravings with the 12-book, six-author Love at the Chocolate Shop series. Get your DIY fix with Deb’s new Property Sisters of Montana series, which opens with MONTANA BLUEPRINT FOR LOVE.
Links to Debra’s website, blog, books, etc.
As you probably noticed, this is Book I in my PROPERTY SISTERS OF MONTANA series. For insider news about Books II and III and for special deals, please sign up for my newsletter here: Deb’s Newsletter. (I also share my travels, including destinations with my new RV.)
** Special Giveaway**: Debra is giving away an autographed print copy of MONTANA BLUEPRINT FOR LOVE (or you can request a digital copy if you prefer), along with a little swag to two lucky readers who comment on her Karen’s Killer Book Bench blog. Happy Reading!
Thanks, Debra, for sharing your book with us!
Don’t miss the chance to read this book!