DYNAMITING DADDY'S DREAM HOUSE
By Robyn Anders
Copyright 2003 by Robert Preece, All Rights Reserved
This is the first chapter to the electronic novel DYNAMITING
DADDY'S DREAM HOUSE by Robyn Anders. If you enjoy this chapter,
you may purchase the entire electronic novel for only $2.99. Please
visit www.booksforabuck.com or click the Buy Now button to purchase this novel. (All payments processed by PayPal for your safety).
DYNAMITING DADDY'S DREAM HOUSE
by Robyn Anders
"Close your eyes, honey. I want you to be really surprised." Troy Garrett accelerated his Ford Explorer smoothly onto Windswept Drive. For the first time in weeks, the hint of a smile crossed his lips. Annie was going to love her new home. She'd better. He'd sunk better than three-quarters of a million into the beachfront Malibu house.
"Can I look now, Troy?"
His smile vanished. "Why don't you call me Daddy or Dad or something?"
"Mommy always called you Troy."
"I know but--" he cut himself off. Whatever he'd thought of his late ex-wife, he wouldn't speak ill of Liz to Annie. "We'll talk about that later. Just keep your eyes closed another minute."
He made the last turn and headed into his new driveway. There it stood in all its shining glory, the house, a modern fantasy of white stone and glass. About half of it jutted out over the cliff, supported by steel girders anchored into the shale.
He was about to tell Annie to open her eyes when he noticed something strange. Right in front of him, his house seemed to shiver like a dog shaking off an unexpected wetting. He blinked. Could this be a California earthquake?
As he watched, the girders that suspended his new house over the ocean wobbled, then disintegrated. The home, along with most of his newly bought property, descended straight into the ocean below.
He slammed on the brakes, instinctively reaching out a hand to protect his daughter from jerking forward.
"Where is it, Troy? I don't see anything."
The faintest hint of cordite caught his nostrils and he reacted instinctively.
Before he knew what he was doing, he had unbuckled his own and Annie's seatbelts, grasped his daughter, then rolled the two of them out of his car. His body providing what little protection it could to his daughter.
Only as his hand slapped for a weapon that wasn't there did common sense overcame years of training. He was in California, for Pete's sake. Thousands of miles away from the killing grounds where he'd spent most of his adult life.
"Troy, you're hurting me," Annie complained.
"Sorry." Troy stood carefully, then gave Annie a lift up. He ignored Annie's tugs toward freedom, keeping a firm grip on her hand as he stepped toward the edge of what had once been his property. Troy inhaled deeply. California or not, it definitely hadn't been an earthquake. The scent of dynamite clung to the air like a leech. Below him, a thick cloud of dust and smoke dispersed more quickly than he would have thought possible, blown away by the strong wind off the Pacific.
A few steel beams and a flotsam of what would soon become driftwood were all that remained of his home. If he'd arrived five minutes earlier Annie would be down in the surf, mixed with the wreckage.
A hot pulse pounded at his temples. He'd been denied any part of his daughter's life, until now. And someone's carelessness, stupidity, or meanness of spirit threatened to tear away what he had now.
"Is that our new house?" Annie seemed more excited than frightened.
"It used to be a little bigger," he admitted. To her, the destruction of their home was a new adventure. After fifteen years in Iraq, Kosovo, Congo, Afghanistan, and other war zones around the world, Troy didn't need adventure. His memories provided plenty. Memories he'd told himself he would be able to forget now that he was a father, a family man. Now that he was responsible for this perfect daughter--who couldn't stand him.
The snick of rocks sliding against each other caught his attention and he spun around, putting his body between Annie's and the sound.
"Oh, hell." The husky female voice didn't sound particularly ominous. As she climbed up the embankment a few feet away from them, however, she looked plenty dangerous.
Honey-blonde hair dangled in a pony tail behind a yellow hardhat. The woman wore a pair of khaki walking shorts that displayed tanned and muscled legs that would have shut up a drill sergeant. A dusty white undershirt barely covered her upper torso leaving little to his imagination. Not that his imagination didn't go into overdrive anyway.
If he'd met a woman who looked like that two weeks earlier, he would have been tempted to sweep her off her feet and carry her away. That was then. Two weeks ago, when he'd finally persuaded the court that he could be a suitable father to a four-year old girl, he'd sworn off women. He was a full-time father now. At least until Annie turned eighteen, he intended to set a good example. Or maybe until she was thirty.
"Would you please watch your language," Troy said. "I have a child here."
"When I get my hands on that city engineer, I'm going to have his--ah, oops, sorry." The woman looked at Annie, obviously struggling for words. "Head," she concluded weakly.
"I take it someone is doing demolition," Troy said. "You'd better get your foreman over here. Now." Somebody was going to pay for his house and it wasn't going to be him.
"I'm Jill Villars, the construction manager. As you can see, though, we're a little busy right now." She took a step away from him. "Too busy to entertain tourists."
He closed the distance between them, grasping at one of her arms before she could run.
She reacted instinctively, blocking his reach, then bending for a hip-throw.
Troy recognized the judo technique, but didn't have time for it. He stepped forward into her and lowered his center of gravity.
Her eyes met his. Nobody should have eyes that deep shade of gold. Her snub nose wrinkled as her body strained against his in her futile attempt to complete her move. Too bad for her. He knew the counter. And once she'd lost the element of surprise, her chances of actually doing him any damage were small. Or so he told himself. Jill Villars felt way too female to be safe.
"Perhaps you'd like to explain what you've done to my house," Troy suggested as she continued to strain against him.
Jill dropped her grip on the man's arm. His rock-hard body wasn't going anywhere. When she'd grabbed him, she had no idea he would be quite so solid. As it was, his arm felt like a sizable tree. "Your house? You own that monstrosity?"
She'd mistaken him for one of the tourists who haunted Malibu looking for any sign of the movie stars who were supposed to live there.
"I think the technical term is owned. Right now, it belongs to the Pacific." His speech held the faintest hint of a southern drawl. Something in her insides seemed to vibrate in step with its deep resonance.
"Look," Jill said. "I've got a mess on my hands right now. I've got to get on the phone and straighten it out. I suspect you've got to do the same. You know, contact your insurance company. Stuff like that."
"I'm afraid my insurance doesn't cover incompetent demolition crews blowing up my house. That's going to come out of your hide." His glare just might have had suggestive overtones.
She shook her head. If he decided to take it out of her hide personally, she wasn't sure she would fight back. What a hunk.
Jill tried to take a deep breath to cleanse her system and instead breathed in a sensual spicy scent of pure maleness.
She stumbled backwards for two steps, separating to what she hoped was a safe distance. "Then I've got even more reason to get out of here and on the phone. I'm confident my insurance company provides protection against this kind of thing." Actually she wasn't sure at all. Of course, letting Hercules here know that didn't sound like a great plan.
"But what are we going to do? I want my house."
Jill had forgotten about the child the man had been hiding. She wondered where the mother was. Not far from the male, she decided. No sane woman let a man with his looks get far away.
Jill looked more closely at the child.
The little girl couldn't have been older than five. She wore an outfit Jill would have killed for when she'd been that age--a pink dress, white tights, and a pink handbag that might hold a spare Barbie outfit but not much more. Her dark hair matched that of her father, but where his skin was baked dark by the sun, hers was peaches and cream.
Intelligent green eyes shined from a face that looked halfway between laughter and tears.
"Hi, honey. I don't know what you're going to do but we'll figure out something. Where did you stay last night?"
"Last night we stayed in a hotel. Troy let me pick what we ate from room service."
The man's name was Troy. She stored that in her memory banks for future fantasies.
"You'll just have to stay there tonight, too," Jill suggested. "I don't think anybody's going to be living in that house again."
Talk about understatement. She'd not only blasted away the man's house, but most of the land it had sat on had followed it down the cliff. It didn't take a great imagination to see the twisted wreckage of her business down there in the surf with it.
It wasn't her fault. The authorities had initially been reluctant to allow her to blast in this area for a swimming pool. But when Keith Sullivan, her client, had hired private engineers to do a supposedly thorough survey, the Malibu City engineers had agreed the cliff was stable.
Well, obviously they'd all been wrong. Equally obviously, they wouldn't be the ones taking the heat.
"I don't want to go back to a hotel," the girl complained. "Troy said we were going to live in a house. I want to live in a house. Tonight. Now!"
Troy shrugged his shoulders. "We aren't going to live in that house, Annie."
The little girl laughed. "I could pretend to be the little mermaid."
However old she was, Jill thought, the girl was too precious, and too precocious for words.
"I've got to get back to work." Jill backed slowly away, halfway afraid that Troy would grab her again but halfway wishing he would.
The man's black eyes followed her, watching like a hungry tiger might watch its prey.
"My phone was in the house," he told her. "Why don't we both go somewhere where we can make some calls. You don't mind if I use your phone, do you?"
Troy might have phrased it as a question but his tone didn't leave any doubt that he expected her to agree. Well, Jill decided, she owed him at least that much. Even if he was going to put her out of business.
She led the way back to her truck, parked half a block away, and handed him her cellular phone. "If you want privacy, I'll step away."
"Stay. What I have to say concerns you too."
Boy did it.
She listened attentively as he tried to explain the situation to his insurance agent, without much luck, it seemed.
"It fell down the cliff, I tell you. If your insurance doesn't cover that, what the he. . . da . . . what the heck does it cover?"
Whatever answer Troy got, he didn't like. After what he'd told her, she was surprised he hadn't called a lawyer first and the insurance company last.
He hung up the phone after a full minute of silence. "I was right. They say they've lost too many of these cliffside houses already. My coverage explicitly excluded properties that fall into the ocean." He leaned against her truck. "You'd think I would have noticed a gotcha like that. Of course my copy of the policy is with my other papers down there in the surf. It could say anything for all I can prove."
A concerned look crossed his face. He slapped the back pocket of his jeans. "My wallet seems to be down there too. Sh--" he shot a glance at his daughter, "ah, shoot."
"Maybe you'd better call and get a new credit card sent out," Jill suggested. "I hear some of the companies will actually courier them to you." She sure as heck wasn't lending him money.
"I don't have a credit card."
Her jaw dropped. What kind of person spends close to a million dollars on a house and doesn't even have a credit card? "How did you manage to stay in a hotel last night?"
"Troy always carries around a big wad of cash," Annie explained. "In his wallet."
"I didn't know you could actually live in America without a credit card any more," Jill said. She managed to bite her tongue before adding if you aren't a drug smuggler.
"I've been out of the country for most of the past fifteen years," Troy offered grudgingly. "Some of the places I've lived don't take American Express. Or any other credit card."
Despite the gravity of the situation, Jill couldn't help the giggle that escaped her. What was it about to-die-for guys that made her act like an idiot? Especially when it was a guy with a kid in tow and, almost certainly, a wife waiting somewhere.
"Shouldn't you call your wife?" she asked.
"My mommy is dead," Annie said with seeming indifference. "She died three weeks ago."
Talk about putting her foot in it. How awful! "I'm terribly sorry," she said, expecting to see some telltale sign of grief first in Anne's face, then in Troy's. She didn't find any.
Troy caught her looking at him and gestured toward his child. "Tell Annie you're sorry, not me. Her mother and I were divorced before Annie was born."
"Oh." Well, he could still be in mourning. Maybe she was the one true love of his life. Maybe that was why he'd gone off to countries so remote that even VISA didn't make the trip.
"I'm sorry, Annie. You must miss her a whole lot."
Annie shook her head so strongly her dark curls were thrown straight out from her head. "I'm a brave girl. I put the past behind me and move on."
The sentiment shocked Jill. She crouched down in front of the child, putting their eyes at a level. "When my grandmother died, I cried for weeks," she admitted.
"Well, Troy and I are too brave for that."
Talk about negative messages for a child to bear. Jill promised herself she'd have a brief conversation with Troy later, out of Annie's earshot.
"You know, there's nothing wrong with being sad," Jill said. "It's like being happy or being mad. Emotions aren't right or wrong. They're just feelings. When your mother dies, it's okay to feel sorrow."
Annie gave Troy a quick glance but obviously she didn't find the answer she was looking for there. "My mother always told me not to get mad. She said it was better to get even."
"I think that might have been just a joke," Jill said. She cast her own sideways look at Troy where he leaned against her truck, trying to discern whether he approved of this conversation. He was paying attention, that was for sure, but his expression stayed carefully neutral.
Jill decided to continue. "Was your mother as pretty as you are?"
Annie flushed. "Everyone said she was the most beautiful woman in the world. 'Course she had to get up so early in the morning, I hardly ever got to see her."
"Still, you must miss her a lot."
Annie's composure crumpled. "I want her back. I'm sorry I asked about my father. I wish I had just left things alone. Now everything is ruined."
Slow tears trickled down Annie's cheeks, falling unheeded onto the pink dress Jill had admired.
Then she threw herself on Jill, her thin arms wrapping around Jill's neck in a grasp worthy of a drowning swimmer clinging to a life preserver.
Troy couldn't believe his eyes. He'd spent the past two weeks trying to elicit any emotion at all from his daughter. And now she was pouring out all of her feelings, fears, and thoughts to a perfect stranger. A perfect stranger who had just destroyed the house he'd bought to raise Annie in.
"Go ahead," Jill urged. "Let it out." Her amber eyes welled with a pain that echoed his daughter's.
"It's all my fault," Annie complained.
"It isn't your fault," Jill responded. "I'm sure your mother wishes she could be with you. But sometimes you can't have everything you wish for."
Troy reached down and tugged free a strand of Annie's hair that her tears had stuck to her face. "Mrs. Villars is right, sweetheart," he said in a soothing voice. "Your mother died because somebody drank too much and was careless on the highway. She didn't die because of anything you did."
Annie shook her head in denial. "I thought I wanted to see you. But I didn't know I wouldn't be able to see my mother anymore."
Jill drew Annie in closer, enveloping her in her arms, pressing her against those high firm breasts.
Troy shook his head. How could he even notice Jill's breasts at a time like this. "Do you think we should have her see a psychologist?"
Jill looked at him as if he should be the one seeking professional help. "Grief is a normal reaction. She's going to be all right. Aren't you, sweetheart?"
"I don't know. I just don't want to spend another night in a hotel."
"Ah, just as well," Troy broke in. "All my cash went down in my wallet so we'd have a hard time checking in tonight. I'll tell you what, though. We can camp out here. Jill's construction didn't quite wipe out all of what used to be the front lawn. I'll get some cash wired here tomorrow."
"I don't want to camp out. You promised me a house. I want a house." Annie's face purpled with anger.
"I'm sorry, sweetheart. And I'll buy you another house. But it's too late today." Where he'd get the money for a second house, he had no clue. Still, Liz's parents would have the court over him like peanut butter over bread if he didn't provide Annie the type of housing they thought their granddaughter deserved. Not that he blamed them. For the most part, they wanted the best for Annie just as he did.
Where they differed was in thinking that Troy should play no part in Annie's life. He couldn't go along with that. He'd been excluded from too much of it already.
"No hotel. No camping." Annie's scream pierced his heart. "We'll fall over the edge. Like the house did."
"Why don't you two stay with me tonight," Jill offered. "It's the least I can do after what happened."
Troy wasn't sure he could stand being cooped up in the same house as Jill. He hadn't been this aroused by a woman since he'd been in high school.
"Could we, Troy? Please." Annie grasped one of his hands, holding on to Jill with the other. "She understands. I want to stay with Mrs. Jill. She won't let me fall off the cliff."
"We can't just move in with a perfect stranger," Troy reasoned. "Besides, camping out will be a lot of fun." It had been fun a million years ago when he'd been a kid. Since then, he'd spent far too many nights in enemy territory, unable even to light a fire because it would attract artillery shelling.
"You won't be an inconvenience," Jill said.
Annie tightened her grasp around Jill and Jill picked her up, holding her as naturally as if they'd known each other all their lives. As if Jill could be her mother.
"Of course it will be inconvenient," Troy said.
"Please," Annie wheedled.
He frowned. "I'm sure Mrs. Villars is just being-"
"I'm not just being anything," Jill interrupted. "You can't sleep here. The police will make you move. If you don't have any I.D., who knows what they'll do to you, or to Annie? I really think my place is the only answer. Tomorrow we can see about getting you new papers and some money." She gave him a half-smile he might have thought shy if he'd seen it on anyone else. "And it's Miss Villars, by the way. But call me Jill."
Learning that Jill was single shouldn't have caused the rush of pleasure that swept over him. It only made things more complicated.
"I suppose you do owe us," Troy said, his words less sharp than they would have been a few minutes ago. She might be incompetent with dynamite, but she did great with his kid.
Jill frowned, then nodded. "It's settled. I'll need a few minutes to get my crew settled down and make some phone calls of my own. Then you can follow me to my place."
Jill bounced her truck through a pot-hole and pulled up in front of her trailer. She really hadn't had any choice but to let Annie and Troy stay with her, she reassured herself. It wasn't a matter of her hormones getting her into trouble. That she found Troy more enticing than Godiva chocolates had nothing to do with her offer.
"Is this where you live?" Annie couldn't have sounded more dubious if Jill had pulled up to a large shoe with doors and windows.
"Uh-huh. It's real handy. I can hitch it to the truck and move it from place to place when I find work."
"But it's tiny."
Admittedly her trailer wasn't large, even by trailer park standards, but it was home. If Annie reacted like that, she wondered what Troy, sitting in his car behind them, was thinking. Maybe she should have warned them that this wasn't exactly the Plaza Hotel.
"Think what fun you'll have here. It's almost like a play house. Everything has its place and there's more room than you'd think." She stepped out, then walked around to give Annie a hand down from the high pickup.
Troy swaggered up. "You okay, pumpkin?" He tousled Annie's hair.
Annie twisted away, throwing her arms around Jill.
Troy pulled his hand back as if it had been burned. He forced a smile but his dark eyes reflecting the pain he must feel. Despite herself, Jill's heart went out to him. What could he have done to make his own daughter avoid his touch?
"Come on in." Jill unlocked the door and held it open.
Annie pushed her way in first. "Hey, this is cool."
Thank goodness she'd cleaned up that morning. Letting Troy into a house littered with lingerie might not have bothered him, but it certainly would make her uncomfortable.
Troy held the door for her, then followed her in.
Instantly her trailer closed around her. Before now, it had always seemed ample, if cozy. Troy stood at least six-two but that wasn't the worst of it. His shoulders were so wide he had to turn sideways a little just to make it through the door.
"Do you want a beer?" She opened her fridge, looking for something she could give Annie.
"Why not? Mind if I sit down?"
She gestured toward the couch. "Make yourself at home. Annie, how about a lemonade?"
"Is it real?"
"Ah, no. Powder."
She hadn't noticed before, but Annie's accent was pure New York.
Troy's was from somewhere in the south, although it lacked the slow cadence of many southerners.
Jill dug around in her refrigerator until she found a can of beer buried near the back. She popped the top, then handed it to Troy.
"You aren't worried about breaking your nails?" Troy sounded genuinely mystified.
To Jill's surprise, Annie looked as shocked as Troy. Because she'd opened a beer can? "I work in construction, remember? If I worried about my nails, I'd never get anything done."
Without thinking, she held her hands out for their inspection.
Annie grabbed one. Troy looked as if he'd rather spit than do anything so personal as to touch her. She must have imagined that hint of desire she'd seen in his eyes when they'd first met. Most likely it was horror at losing his house.
"Ew. They're so ugly," was Annie's reaction. Well, she'd already guessed that Annie's mother hadn't raised her with an emphasis on tact.
Jill pulled her hand away in spite of herself. It looked a little battered but not nearly as bad as Annie's reaction made it sound.
"Why don't you have a seat and I'll get the lemonade." Troy stood, again filling her tiny living room with his presence. "Annie, don't say mean things about people."
Annie's face fell. "I didn't mean to hurt your feelings." The little girl pressed her face against Jill's waist, grasping both of her hands.
Troy looked at the two females, his face a study in frustration, then took a big swallow from his beer. His Adam's apple bobbed up and down. To Jill's surprise, just watching it was one of the sexiest things she'd ever done. What was wrong with her?
Troy put the beer down on her coffee table, catching her looking at his body. Talk about an embarrassing moment. She probably looked like she was about to throw herself at him.
For an instant, his hand moved toward her, almost like he would reach for her. Then he shook his head and walked into the kitchen.
Jill collapsed on the couch. Her body ached like she had been caught in the blast that afternoon rather than merely setting it.
Annie plopped onto Jill's lap. "Did I really hurt your feelings?" Her voice shook with sympathy.
"Nah." She touched her forehead against Annie's. "I never pretended to be a beauty queen or a model or anything."
A loud thunk came from the kitchen. It sounded as if Troy had dropped the plastic lemonade pitcher into the sink.
At the same time, Annie pulled back, her eyes looking somewhere far away and filled with sadness.
"What? Did I say something wrong?"
"My mommy was a model." She sniffed, then quickly recovered.
"Her mother was Liz Sebhra," Troy added from the kitchen.
Jill pressed her hands into her forehead. The supermodel's death had been on TV and in all the papers. She'd had no idea Sebhra even had a child.
It figured that a hunk like Troy would go for one of the most beautiful women in the country. He was totally out of her league.
A few moments later, Troy carried a couple of filled glasses into her living room pulling up a coaster for each of them. "I thought you might like a glass too."
He looked around at her living room, taking in the entire seven- by eight-foot dimensions.
"Troy, you can sit with us," Annie said.
He gave his daughter the sardonic half-grin that sent shivers down Jill's spine every time she saw it. "Doesn't look like I have much choice."
"I know this isn't a palace," Jill said. "But it is mine."
Troy sat as far as he could from her on her small couch. Even so, he was close enough that Jill's temperature rose a couple of degrees.
"There've been a lot of times when I wished for something half this size and half this weatherproof," he said.
She glared at him, sure he was being sarcastic.
His eyes met hers without the slightest hint of an insult. Troy hadn't volunteered much information about himself other than that he'd been out of the country a lot, and Jill couldn't hold her curiosity back. "You like roughing it, do you?"
He shook his head gravely. "I prefer a comfortable bed to
sleeping on the hard ground." He paused briefly, looking straight
into her eyes. "Speaking of beds, just what are the sleeping
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