He recognized Keely’s frustration at having a vision no one else saw or understood.
“I wanted something that was just mine. I wanted to do it my way, with my money, and my ideas. But this clinic would benefit everyone, not just me, so it’s not about my ego but about me wanting to help people.” Her eyes searched his, almost frantically. “Haven’t you ever wanted to prove yourself? To be different or do something different from what people expect of you?”
“So I was feeling cocky that I’d pulled it off. Everything was going miraculously well. The real estate broker kept quiet. As did the banker. I thought I’d jumped through all the proper hoops. Imagine my surprise when I learned I can’t change a freakin’ thing on the building that I now own without the step-by-step approval of some damn committee.”
Welcome to his world.
“Oh, and on top of that, I have to hire a qualified expert, already certified by the committee, to oversee the remodeling process. So the specialist can reassure the committee that my contractors aren’t destroying the ‘unique and key’ elements that make it a historic building.”
Jack dealt with the pros and cons of rebuilding versus restoration every damn day and it never got easier. Or clearer.
“This place was— is—in absolute disrepair. Know what’s asinine? The committee would let the building fall to ruin rather than allow me to make desperately needed improvements that don’t meet with some—” she gestured wildly, “—obscure set of rules. Which was why I contacted Full Circle Consulting.”
“Lucky me,” he drawled.
“I had not a friggin’ clue you owned the company or trust me, Jack, I never would’ve called you.”
“I’m deeply hurt.”
“Don’t give me ideas,” she warned.
“Did you try another company?”
“They turned me down. The project is too small and they’re too busy. The other companies I found aren’t certified in Wyoming. It could take up to a year for the official certification process, provided they actually give a damn about becoming certified in Wyoming—which most don’t.”
“Look. To be honest, it’s not about the money. I don’t have the time—”
“For a small-potatoes project like this? You could’ve saved yourself some of that precious time and called me rather than driving up here from Colorado. Or was the prospect of seeing my disappointment too big a temptation to resist? Did you rub your hands with glee at the thought of crushing my dreams?”
“Keely, just listen—”
“Don’t you dare try and placate me, Jack Donohue.”
“I’m not. What was the name of the other company you contacted?”
“BDM Incorporated. They’re based out of Chicago. Anyway, it doesn’t really matter now, does it?
I’m screwed.” She spun on the bootheel and disappeared around the corner.
Jack clenched his fist by his side. BDM. His former partner Baxter’s company. Baxter’s luxury of blithely turning down work, when Jack raced all over the damn country taking every job in every podunk town from Barrow, Alaska to Bangor, Maine, burned his ass.
You don’t have to take every job. You don’t need the money.
True, but it was a matter of pride to prove to the restoration community that his expertise was just as much in demand as Baxter’s after their professional split. Jack suspected the reason Baxter’s company had refused to consider Keely’s restoration was because BDM was in the queue for a prestigious project in Utah.
A select group of architectural specialists had been invited to bid on a complete restoration of two city blocks in the small burg of Milford, Utah. The Milford Historical Preservation Consortium was a privately funded organization, insistent upon hiring a company whose morals and ideals meshed with theirs.
Although Jack’s professional qualifications were top-flight, his personal qualifications had disappointed the committee. No long-term relationship, no wife, no kids, no religious affiliation.
Baxter retained the advantage on the Milford project because he was married. During their partnership, Baxter’s main focus had been drumming up business. Jack stayed in the trenches with the contractors and traveled extensively while Baxter remained in the Chicago office. Baxter’s availability was why Jack’s former girlfriend Martine was now Baxter’s wife.
Martine. Beautiful. Educated. Sophisticated. Every quality Jack had required in a woman. The double whammy of Martine and Baxter’s betrayal had nearly crippled him. Baxter was twenty years Martine’s senior, a balding man with a big gut and a bigger mouth, but Baxter’s bank account was his biggest asset.
Rather than allow the situation to explode into an ugly scandal, Jack bowed out of the partnership, licked his wounds, relocated to Colorado and hung out his shingle. Now his former partner was his main competition.
Too bad Jack couldn’t conjure up a wife. Then Baxter would be out on his fat ass as far as the Milford job. Jack wanted that project and he’d do anything to get it.
So what are you doing in Wyoming, pissing with Keely McKay? She can’t help you.
But you could help her. This is a noble project. And you’re a quart low on nobility since you’ve been chasing the gravy train the last few years.
Nudged by his conscience, Jack followed the foot-traffic pattern on the dusty floor, mentally tallying the building wreckage as he bypassed it.
Keely stood in front of a busted window, staring at the faded blacktop. She whirled around, her body stiffening at his approach.
Jack’s body stiffened too—for an entirely different reason. The sweet perfume of spring lilacs wafted toward him. Pure lust grabbed him by the short hairs. That intoxicating aroma had haunted him since the night he’d filled his lungs with her scent. Breathing nothing but her. Tasting nothing but her. Swallowing her hunger and letting it feed his… He shook his head to clear the memory. It hadn’t ended well. Every encounter with Keely McKay ended badly.
Whose fault is that?
His. Hers. Who the hell knew why they threw atomic sparks off each other?
“So, did you follow me just to glare at me? Or have you already formulated a nasty comment to fling at me before you leave?”
“Maybe I’m formulating an eviction notice.”
Keely’s lush lips parted, then flattened.
“Tell me, Miz McKay, why was I unaware you were renting the Sandstone apartment?”
“Tell me, Mr. Donohue, why was I unaware you were my landlord for the Sandstone apartment?” she lobbed back.
Jack ignored her taunt. “I hate that you pulled one over on me.”
“I imagine so. But that sort of makes us even for you pulling one over on me today, doncha think?”
“Not even close.”
“Besides, it’s hardly my fault you are unaware of your individual renters. I sent references, which your company approved. I paid the security deposit, which your company still has.”
“That doesn’t change the fact had I known, I never would’ve rented to you.”
Keely shifted to an aggressive posture. “Why not?”
“Because I don’t like you. I don’t trust you.”
“Ditto, but your personal dislike is a moot point because I’ve never been late paying rent. It’s not like I’m throwing wild parties or staging orgies.”
When he quirked a questioning brow at the “orgies” comment, she cocked her head pertly. Like a trained dog. Right. Keely McKay was more pit bull than pampered poodle and he ought to brace himself for her biting sarcasm. “Being rude to me is not helping your situation,” Jack pointed out.
“Just how could my situation get any worse? The apartment I’ve lived in for two years—”
“Two years? My property management company doesn’t offer two year contracts.”
Her defiant chin lifted a notch. “I finished the term of Domini’s lease after she married Cam. I applied the following year under my own name when the lease came up for renewal. Like I said, your company could’ve denied me then.”
During that crazy time, not only had Jack dissolved his partnership with Baxter Ducheyne, his father had also died unexpectedly. Jack’s attention to his rental properties had been nearly nonexistent. Owning properties in three states meant he couldn’t remember every tenant, but Keely’s name would’ve jumped out at him like a rabid skunk.
“As the building owner, I can terminate any lease agreement at any time, for any reason.”
“Is that your way of telling me to pack my shit?”
As much as he wanted to bark out a gleeful yes! he hesitated. Carter McKay would be livid if Jack unceremoniously booted his beloved baby sister from the apartment, particularly when Carter discovered
Jack hadn’t disclosed that he owned the Sandstone Building. The same building which housed the restaurant Carter’s wife managed as well as three other businesses owned by various McKay spouses.
Talk about a clusterfuck.
“Hello? Earth to Jack.”
Jack refocused. Keely glared at him. Jesus. She was gorgeous when she was pissed off. Maybe especially when she was pissed off.
“You gonna answer me? Or do you have a limp tongue as well as a limp—”
“Careful what you say next, cowgirl,” Jack warned. “You’d be wise not to tick off your landlord.”
She snorted. “You’re kicking me out anyway, so what do I have to lose?”
“I haven’t decided if I’m kicking you out.”
Keely’s razor-sharp gaze pierced him. “Now are you going to tease me and claim you’re not passing on the project?”
He shrugged, knowing his non-response would drive her crazy.
So did he.
“Answer me. Why are you dicking with my head, Jack?”
“Because I can. Because I get off on it.”
“I’ll tell you where to get off, bucko.”