By DK Marie
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Lilith Brooks closed her laptop, cutting off the chipper voice of the plumber from the how-to video. She set the computer on the side table, then picked up the travel-size toolbox she’d purchased yesterday. Time to tackle the sink.
The clay-like scent of fresh paint followed her from the living room to the kitchen, where the pleasant smell was replaced by stagnant water and yesterday’s dinner of perch. The stench wouldn’t last. She’d googled enough tutorials on sinks with their clogs and P-traps that she was practically an expert.
Scooting under the kitchen sink, she turned off the water valves. Pride and satisfaction washed over her. Contrary to Marshall’s belief, she could take care of herself and their daughter.
Wrapping her hand around the slip joint nuts, she twisted. Bits of rust from the ancient pipe fell on her, but it didn’t budge. She tried again, grunting as it shifted a fraction of a millimeter.
“You okay, Mom?” Chloe asked from somewhere around Lilith’s legs.
She slid out from under the sink. “I’m great. Just fixing a clog.”
“When you’re done, can we go next door? To the white house.”
Lilith wiped her forehead with her arm. “Why?”
“I saw a girl my age. I want to meet her.”
“They might be weekend renters,” Lilith hedged, not excited to make idle chit-chat with strangers.
“But maybe not.”
“We’ll see. I have to get a few things off my to-do list.”
Chloe rolled her eyes, tightening her ponytail. “That thing’s longer than Santa’s naughty list.”
Lilith eyed her daughter. Did she still believe? She was ten now, about the age when kids let go of childhood magic.
“How about tomorrow?” Chloe bounced on her tip-toes. “Please.”
Lilith wanted to put it off all summer. There was so much work to be done to get the house ready for weekend renters.
Plus, meeting new people was never fun.
“Mom…” A little bit of whine crept into Chloe’s voice.
“What? Should we march over there right now, demanding to know if they’re permanent residents and the girl will be your friend?” Lilith joked.
“Works for me.” Her daughter wasn’t kidding. “And, of course she’d want to be my friend.”
Lilith would love to have even an ounce of Chloe’s confidence.
She accepted defeat. “Fine. If they’re home when I’m done, we’ll stop by,” Lilith said, looking inside the toolbox.
“Yah! Chloe yelled as the doorbell rang.
“Will you answer that? It’s probably Uncle Tate. Why he wouldn’t just walk in is beyond me,” Lilith muttered, selecting something the person at the hardware store had called Tongue-and-groove pliers.
She returned under the sink, and twisted hard on the valve. All thoughts of her brother and new neighbors were drowned as the part snapped from the wall, water spraying everywhere.
“No!” She tried blocking the rushing water with her palm, and it burst through her fingers, hitting her in the face. “Crap! Shit!”
“Do you need help?” came a deep voice that wasn’t Tate’s.
Scrambling from under the sink, she stood, facing a tall man around her age—which was dangerously close to thirty—in a gray T-shirt and dark shorts.
“Who—” she began, but the splash of water hitting the kitchen floor stole all her questions. He could be the neighborhood serial killer for all she cared. What mattered was his offer. “Yes, please. Help me. The water valve broke.”
“Where’s the main shut-off?”
She held up trembling hands, the need to cry pressing against her throat. “I don’t know.”
He took off, calling over his shoulder, “I’ll find it.”
She didn’t have it in her tight budget for a flood. Sprinting to a nearby drawer, she yanked it open, pulling it clear off its tracks, dumping towels everywhere. She dropped it, pushing the pile toward the rapidly growing puddle. As she debated about grabbing more from the bathroom, the water cut off.
Heavy footsteps grew louder as the stranger returned from the basement. He appeared in her kitchen a few seconds later, filling up the archway with his broad shoulders.
His hazel gaze caught hers, and her heart jumped. Whoa. The man could have stepped off the cover of one of her favorite romance novels. Longish dark blonde hair, a stubble beard that couldn’t hide a strong, angular jaw. And his lips—
Who cares? Definitely not her.
“How did you find the valve so quickly?” she asked.
“I got lucky. I looked where mine is. Yours is in the same place.”
His explanation held no censure, but humiliation flooded her, washing away her earlier pride. She straightened. “I’m an idiot. I should have located it before I started this project.”
What was I thinking? I can’t do this on my own.
He waved away her mistake. “Most people don’t bother. I work in construction and built my house. That’s why I know where mine is.” He offered his hand. “Anyway, I’m Asher Crowley. I live next door. My daughter Raven has wanted to race over since seeing a girl around her age here.”
Lilith laughed, shaking his hand. “That’s my daughter, Chloe. I’m Lilith Brooks. You must be the neighbor with the white house. Chloe is also eager to meet your daughter.”
“I hope you don’t mind that Raven went off with yours.” He let go of her hand, his gaze following the downward motion of her arm. Around chest level, his eyes widened, then snapped toward her kitchen disaster. He rubbed the back of his neck and asked, “What’s wrong with your sink?”
Wondering what caused such an odd reaction, she glanced down and choked on a gasp. The front of her cream tank-top was soaked. And she wasn’t wearing a bra.
Her cheeks flamed hot as she crossed her arms over her chest. “It was clogged. I was trying to clean the P-trap.” She pointed with her chin at the lower cabinet.
“I have a replacement valve at my house,” he said. “I’ll grab it and fix it for you.”
Lilith rocked on the balls of her feet. He’d already rescued her once, and she didn’t want to take advantage of his neighborly hospitality. However, she was afraid to touch the sink after the current disaster, and hiring a plumber was out of her budget.
As if sensing her hesitation, he said, “I’ve put them in and replaced a ton. It will take me less than ten minutes. Then you won’t have to go without water while waiting for a plumber.”
“Are you sure you don’t mind?”
“Not at all.” He nodded toward the stairs. “Do you mind if Raven stays here while I run to my house to get the valve? She went downstairs with your daughter.”
“That’s fine,” Lilith replied, pointing to the hallway. “I’m just, um, going to change into dry clothes.”
After he left, she trudged to her bedroom. She slouched on the edge of the bed, kneading a kink in her shoulder. The urge to crawl under her comfy blue quilt and bury her embarrassment in its soothing softness was fierce.
Instead, she changed, and this time she made sure to put on a bra. Then made a quick stop in the bathroom to wash her face and brush out the wet tangles. She glanced in the mirror. Her red, chin-length hair stuck to sides of her head, the wetness making it look almost brown. She poked at the faint circles under her eyes. They highlighted her sleepless nights—the worry, but also the excitement of being free.
Shutting off the light, she returned to the kitchen, stopping at the entrance. Asher was scooting out from under her sink, holding the P-trap. When he saw her, he held it up and said, “I hope you don’t mind. Fixing the valve was quick, so I took this off.”
She was impressed. “I don’t, and thank you.”
“Something’s stuck in it. It’s probably why your drain was clogged.” He rose from the floor and shook the curved pipe over the sink.
A bright pink object made of hard rubber or silicone, shaped like a large acorn on a stand, rolled across the counter, stopping next to the drying rack.
“I think someone was playing a practical joke on the previous owner,” Asher said, sounding like he was trying not to laugh. “Seems fitting.”
“What do you mean?” Her chest tightened, feeling exposed but not sure why.
“Well, this couldn’t have accidentally ended up in the pipe. The strainer body would have to be removed, then this dropped into it. And,” he scratched his cheek. “The guy you bought this place from, was um, on the wild side. I could see a disgruntled guest doing this.”
Bought the place from? It was her vacation home. Before that, it had been her dad’s. He’d given it to her as a wedding gift. Who the hell had been squatting here?
“What did this man look like?”
“The owner? A white guy. Tall with black hair. Lean. Why?”
He was describing her soon-to-be ex-husband, Marshall. So, this was where he was during some of those supposed ‘business trips.’ There was no shock, only dull disappointment. He’d sullied her childhood summer home with his many affairs.
Not wanting to admit who the man was to her, she said, “I don’t see the point of dumping this kitchen tool in the sink’s pipes.”
Asher snorted, and she looked at him. “What?”
His smile slipped a little. “It’s not anything you’d use in a kitchen…”
Her brows furrowed, unease running alongside her confusion. “What is it?”
“Um.” He shifted slightly from side to side, as if his feet ached to leave.
It made her more curious and anxious. Was it dangerous? Something to do with drugs? She repeated her question, needing to know. If it was hazardous, she had to ensure there weren’t more Chloe might find.
“Please tell me.”
He stared fixedly at the sink. “It’s, umm, a sex toy,” he said.
Double fists of embarrassment and humiliation sucker-punched her hard enough to make tears well in her eyes.
“Oh,” was all she could manage.
The desire to be alone was powerful. This was why she didn’t like to be around people. She was the last to get the joke. Or was the joke.
Inhaling her mortification, she exhaled sadness. She was supposed to stay at her vacation home for the summer while she figured out what to do with her disintegrating life. Now she’d see her shame and inadequacies reflected in her neighbor’s eyes every time they spoke. She needed him out of her house, and the fastest way to get rid of him was with the truth. No one wanted to hang around in the mess that was her life.
“This house has been in my family since I was a kid.” She met his eyes. “That guy is my husband.”
Asher groaned, the color draining from his handsome face. “I’m such an asshole.”
“Hardly, and believe me, I’m an expert. I’ve been married to one for a decade.”
Grabbing the dishtowel hanging on the stove, she picked up the offending item and tossed it into the garbage next to the sink’s cabinet door. She wrapped the towel around her fist, staring at it.
The quiet became heavy. Oppressive.
He drummed his fingers on the counter. “My daughter. She’s with yours. Is it okay if I get her?”
Her mortification deepened. He had at least one kid and was probably happily married, with a perfect family. The poor man had just wanted to introduce his daughter, not get pulled into her mess.
“I’ll see if they are in Chloe’s room,” she said.
“If you’d rather put your sink back together, I can find her,” he offered.
“Sure. Sure.” Please anything. Just leave. Remembering her manners, she added, “Thanks for your help.”
“Anytime,” he said, backtracking from the kitchen.
She knew it was a bad idea, but perverse curiosity held her tight. She reached for her phone on the counter and googled ‘sex toys’, then clicked ‘images.’
She slumped against the fridge. “A butt plug. Christ.”
It was official. She was going to hide in her house until the end of summer.
Excerpt From: DK Marie. “Making Waves”