Kate Carlisle Kate Carlisle
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Absence of Mallets

Absence of Mallets

Chapter 1

Coffee. The aroma was calling my name and nudging me out of a deep, dreamless sleep. Still, I lingered under the covers for a moment, wishing I could stay for another hour and savor the quiet warmth. Through the fog, though, I managed to remember that my day was going to be insanely busy. I had to get up.

Besides, there was coffee.

And there was Mac.

That did it. I threw back the covers and stumbled to the bathroom to splash cold water on my face.

After brushing my teeth and taming my wild mop of red hair back into a single braid, I dabbed on some moisturizer and lip balm, then stared at my image in the mirror. For a few wonderful seconds, I reflected on how much my life had changed over the past eight months. That was how long it had been since Mac Sullivan and I had been living together. I wasn't sure I'd ever be able to wipe that happy smile off my face.

I dressed quickly and rushed downstairs to the kitchen, where I was greeted with ecstatic barking from Robbie, my West Highland terrier, and an affectionate head bop from Tiger, my orange marmalade cat.

"Good morning, creatures," I said, and bent down to give Robbie a brisk belly rub. Mac's silky black cat, Luke, sauntered into the room just then, looking like a tiny panther on the prowl. "I didn't forget you," I murmured, and gave the newcomer a light scratch under the chin.

I stood up and there was Mac. He was leaning against the counter by the coffeemaker, holding a fresh cup of coffee and grinning at me.

He seemed pretty darned happy these days, too. Setting the cup down, he walked over and pulled me into his arms. "Good morning, beautiful."

I wrapped my arms around him and held on, breathing him in. After a long moment, I leaned back to smile at him. "Good morning yourself. And bless you for making coffee."

He reached for the cup and handed it to me. "You're welcome, sleepyhead."

I took a big, life-affirming gulp of strong coffee, then checked the clock on the stove. "It's barely six o'clock. How long have you been up?"

"About two hours." He grabbed his own cup and took a sip. "I woke up with this crazy idea for a turning point and needed to get it written down while it was still in my head."

Mac, also known as MacKintyre Sullivan, was the author of a hugely successful thriller series starring the dangerous and hunky former Navy SEAL, Jake Slater. That was a description I could easily ascribe to Mac as well: dangerous, hunky, and a former Navy SEAL. He had recently started his twelfth book in the series, and this one featured an elaborate plot to kidnap the woman Jake had fallen in love with and ransom her for the American nuclear codes.

Together, we gathered up the makings for a quick breakfast—granola, yogurt, and berries—while he told me his crazy idea, which including a bombing and a car chase. I thought it was brilliant and exciting and not crazy at all. We each had another cup of coffee and then talked about our plans for the day.

"You've got your new writers group arriving today, right?"

He grinned. "Yeah."

When Mac moved in with me all those months ago, he'd made the decision to turn his own home, the historic lighthouse mansion three miles up the coast, into a writers' retreat. The venerable Victorian mansion had been beautifully restored by me and my crew. My name is Shannon Hammer, and I'm a contractor specializing in the Victorian style that our town was famous for. Mac's mansion was a particularly beautiful example, lovingly furnished, with six bedrooms and an idyllic location right on the beach by the old lighthouse. It had a wide front porch with a stunning view of the ocean and was perfect for a quiet getaway for serious writers.

In anticipation of groups of curious writers visiting every week, Mac had asked me to start refurbishing the famous old lighthouse next door to his home. It had been decommissioned last year by the coast guard. Since Mac owned the property, he was told that he could do whatever he wanted to do with it, but he wasn't about to paint it pink or something. Not after all he'd been through with the town's planning commission and the historical society. No, he was determined to keep the lighthouse looking as gleaming white and as beautifully tall and dignified as it always had been.

But the fact was, the old structure needed some serious rehab work.

My foreman Wade and I had gone through every inch of the space with Mac and had made a lengthy list of the repairs and changes we would need to make before the lighthouse could be reopened safely.

I planned to bring the lantern and lens room back to its original rustic style, and rebuild and reinforce the main gallery—otherwise known as the catwalk—that circled the very top of the structure. Mac wanted to have the interior circular stairway walls painted. The stairs themselves had to be reinforced and retreaded. The concrete exterior was pitted in spots from years of salt air and moisture. It needed to be resurfaced and repainted. The old windows, many of which were cracked or broken and permanently fogged over, needed to be replaced.

We had yellow "Caution" tape draped across the main entrance to alert people to keep out. But because the lighthouse had always been an attractive nuisance—we had already caught a few of the local kids sneaking around—I had installed a simple audio-video alarm system that would alert my cell phone if anyone ignored the warning signs and ventured inside.

Meanwhile, Mac's writers' retreat plan had been an instant success. As soon as he started putting feelers out on social media, the reservation requests began to pour in. He had hired Frank and Irma, a local couple, to manage the retreat operation, including scheduling, cooking, and housekeeping. They lived on the property in the gorgeous attic suite in the mansion my crew had renovated for that purpose.

Needless to say, Mac and I had a lot going on. But we liked it that way.

I gazed at him. "Did you check out this latest group?"

"You bet I did," he said decisively.

I smiled. Mac never asked our police chief to run the names of the people in his groups through the various law enforcement systems. No, these days it was easier to simply look up their names on social media, check out their websites, and google them. Social media tended to reveal a lot about a person. And Mac didn't like to be surprised, especially when these people would be living unfettered in his home for a week or two, sometimes longer.

So far, the visiting writers had been completely respectful of Mac and his property. They had been friendly to our townspeople, and they spent their money in our shops and restaurants, which made the entire enterprise a win-win for everyone. Every single one of the writers had seemed interested in anything Mac suggested in terms of places to eat or things to do around town.

It made sense that they would hang on Mac's every word. After all, he was a bestselling novelist whose books had been turned into blockbuster films. He was often a guest speaker at conferences, where he would teach workshops or give seminars on writing. So it figured that any visiting writer would be smart to follow his recommendations. Besides that, Mac was simply a good guy. He was smart and funny and generally made himself available to the groups for writing advice on any subject they could come up with.

As I loaded dishes into the dishwasher, I turned to study his expression. "You don't have to hang here with me. I can tell you're itching to get back to the book."

He grinned. "Am I that transparent?"

I had to laugh. "You're the most nontransparent person I've ever met. But I know you."

"Yeah, guess you do," he murmured.

The first time I'd ever seen Mac deep in the writing zone, I had decided to put together a lovely basket of snacks and goodies and brought it over to him while he was working. It was a shock I wasn't prepared for. His hair was sticking up in every direction. His beard had grown out. His clothes were so wrinkled, I was pretty sure he had slept in them, and he stared at me as though he'd never seen another human being before. Then suddenly, he grinned wildly, grabbed the basket, and closed the door in my face.

So that was Mac on a deadline. We could laugh about it now, but I wouldn't make the mistake of climbing into that cage again.

He gathered up our pets' water bowls and took them to the sink to clean and refill them. Robbie scurried over to check things out, and Mac leaned down and gave him an affectionate scratch behind his ears.

When he was done with the task, he said, "Guess I'd better get back to blowing up stuff so I can be ready when the group arrives."

I wiped off the counter. "What time do they get here?"

"They should be here by two o'clock. They left early to drive up here from San Francisco."

"How many are coming?"

"There's six in this group. They're here for two weeks."

I raised my eyebrows. It was unusual for a group that size to stay for two weeks since most people, including writers, had day jobs.

Mac noticed my reaction. "Yeah, kind of different, right? But maybe they're all independently wealthy."

"Nice for them."

He chuckled. "Anyway, I'm going to show them around town and then bring them over to Homefront this afternoon. That way, they'll be able to navigate their way back to the writing workshop tonight."

"Then I'll see you there." I leaned in close and gave him a kiss. "Can't wait."

He touched my cheek and kissed me back. "Likewise."



I drove into the parking lot of Homefront and found an empty space in front of the community center. Looking around, I had to marvel at how all of this had come together in such a short time.

It had been a dream of Mac's for as long as I'd known him, and probably years before that, too. He had heard about veterans' villages in his travels and when he got together with old friends. Every time he went on a book tour, he would take time to visit a local veterans' group.

Mac brought the best ideas home to Lighthouse Cove, and finally last year, he and a few of his local Navy SEAL buddies purchased five acres of land on the outskirts of town. This marked the beginning of the veterans' project they had been planning for years. When our police chief and former marine, Eric Jensen, got wind of Mac's plans, he asked to join the team.

It was always a good thing to have the chief of police on your team.

The plan was to create a village of fifty tiny homes for the benefit of veterans in the area who needed housing and other kinds of help. Mac and his pals had teamed up with a national veterans' group who would guide them through the process and help them manage the property and the numerous services to be provided. The national group also advised our guys on legalities such as zoning issues and security.

I was thrilled when my construction company won the bid to build the tiny homes for local veterans in need. It didn't hurt that I already had several veterans on my crew, and we had years of experience building custom tiny homes. However, we had never built more than one home at a time—until now.

After numerous meetings with the town council and the planning commission, we had brought in various experts for advice on utility placement, land grading, and water management. Once sewer lines were dug and utilities were run, we began construction on a contemporary-style, three-thousand-square-foot community center that promised to become the heart of the development. It would provide a gathering place and would house an industrial kitchen, a dining room, and a gymnasium, along with offices and meeting rooms for all the various services they planned to offer: a visiting nurse and a dentist, a legal aid advisor, a veterans' benefits expert, mental health professionals, a vocational counselor, even a unisex barber shop. These services would also be made available to any veteran in the area, not just the residents of Homefront.

Then we started building the homes themselves. It was going to be amazing. I was so proud of Mac.

Glancing around at the brand-new blacktop parking lot in front of the center, the sidewalks, the landscaping, and the twenty-five homes that had already been completed and were now occupied, I had to admit that I was also proud of myself and my team.

I might've mentioned it before, but Mac and I seemed to thrive on keeping busy. He had set in motion the veterans' village project long before he ever decided to invest in the Gables development. But then, when he found out last year that I had signed on to turn one wing of the old insane asylum—now known as the Gables—into a small, elegant hotel for my friend Jane, Mac had decided to make that investment, too.

Both the Gables job and this veterans' project were long-term commitments that would keep us busy for the next year or so. I couldn't complain. Not when it would keep my crew employed and happy.

I climbed out of the truck and locked the door. After pulling my tool chest out of the truck bed, I walked toward our work site.

The rapid-fire blast of a nail gun suddenly ripped through the air. Despite the constant mini explosive bursts, I had to smile. This was the sound of stuff getting built, and in my world, nothing was better than that. I moved along the sidewalk, past a dozen tiny homes that were already built. Each was unique in design and embellishments and paint color.

Rounding a corner, I spotted a ladder leaning against the frame of house number thirty-one. I climbed twelve feet up to the roof to watch Sean Brogan, my head carpenter, nailing thick layers of plywood sheathing to the rafters of the tiny house.

He finished a row and stopped nailing. The abrupt silence was almost shocking.

"Hey, boss," he said when he noticed me.

"Didn't want to interrupt," I said. "Just wanted to see how it's going."

"It's going great. This is the second roof of the day."

"No kidding? What time did you start?"

"I got here about six thirty."

I smiled. "I'm impressed."

He glanced around the property, then shrugged. "I get a good feeling working here."

"I know what you mean. I'll let you get back to it." I climbed down the ladder, and the nail gun blasts started up before I reached the ground.

"Hey, Shannon."

I turned and saw Johnny Schmidt walking toward me, hauling a thick roll of waterproof black underlayment.

Both Sean and Johnny had been on my crew since I'd first taken over the company from my father about seven years ago. That was when Dad had a mild heart attack and decided to step back. Of course, he couldn't quit altogether, and I expected to see him show up here one of these days.

"Hi, Johnny. You need help with that?"

"Nah. I'm good." He leaned the thick roll against the heavy, exposed plywood wall. "These homes are so small, it doesn't take much of this stuff to cover the roofs."

"Good point."

Once Sean and his nail gun were finished, Johnny would take over, carefully rolling out the water-resistant underlayment and using a staple gun to affix it to the plywood layer that Sean had just laid down. Once those two layers were completed, Billy, the third man on the roofing team, would climb up and complete the job by nailing composite shingles to the underlayment. The job also entailed installing flashing along the edges of the roof and around the kitchen and bathroom vents. "Flashing" was a thin metal strip that was necessary to redirect water and prevent leaks from occurring.

Early on, faced with the prospect of completing fifty tiny homes over a six-month period, I'd had to sit down and figure out a way to streamline the system. Together with my two foremen, Wade Chambers and Carla Harrison, we had devised an assembly line of sorts and settled on a plan to work on five houses at a time. One newly paved road—dubbed the Parkway—ran from the community center to the end of the property. Five short lanes branched off of the Parkway in opposite directions and five houses would be built on each lane. Eventually we'd have fifty homes.

Our assembly line started with a team of four working to lay down each concrete slab foundation. Wade supervised because he was a genius when it came to pouring the perfect slab.

Once five slabs were poured, another team moved in to begin framing the houses and adding the rafters. A team of three worked on the roofs. At the same time, our electrical and plumbing teams began running pipe and wiring through the frame and into the different parts of the house.

I had another team working on the interiors, first insulating the walls and hanging drywall, laying down subflooring, tiling the main rooms, bathrooms and kitchens, installing sinks and appliances, and painting. Another group was taking care of business on the exteriors, first applying the oriented strand board, or OSB, to the frame. OSB was like plywood, only stronger and cheaper, and it contained resins and wax that made it water-resistant. The outside team also installed the siding and finally the paint. And still another team of three handled the windows, doors, and vents for heating and air-conditioning.

While those five houses were being completed, the slab foundation team would start on five more. And so on. Occasionally, a team would switch a member or an assignment in order to keep from getting bored—or worse, developing a repetitive strain injury.

So far, I was thrilled that things were running like a well-oiled machine. So far.

© Kate Carlisle


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