Absence of Mallets

Chapter 1 continued

Read the beginning of the excerpt here

The nail gun went abruptly silent. I looked up and saw Sean pulling off his safety glasses. He grinned down at me and Johnny. “Is this the best job in the world or what?”

“The best, for sure,” I said with a laugh, feeling lucky to have crew members who loved the work as much as I did. It helped that they also appreciated the importance of this massive project. “And you rock that nail gun.”

He smiled coyly. “I do, don’t I?”

I laughed.

Setting down the nail gun, Sean descended down the ladder.

Billy arrived in his pickup truck and parked on the new sidewalk in front of the house where we were working. He jumped out and slammed the door shut. “Morning, guys.”

Sean joined Billy, and together, they hoisted an extension ladder from the back of his truck. This particular ladder had an electrical lift attachment that would carry heavy bags of shingles up to the roof.

For most jobs, we used a conveyor belt to move shingles from a larger truck straight onto a roof, but these houses were compact enough that the electric ladder lift was easier to manipulate in and around the village.

I glanced up and saw that Johnny was standing on the roof now. He had rolled out one panel of the waterproof underlayment and begun to attach the material to the OSB with his staple gun.

“The man’s a machine,” Sean said, following my gaze.

All of them were amazing, I thought, then said, “Let’s get going on the next roof.”

“For sure, boss,” Billy said, and the two of them walked ahead of me to the next house in line.

“Hey, girl.”

I whipped around and saw my friend Julia Barton walking toward me with another woman.

“Hi, Julia.” I smiled at the older woman.

“I don’t know if you remember Linda Rutledge,” Julia said. “She was in my class in high school.”

“I don’t think we’ve met,” I said, smiling as we shook hands. “But you look familiar.”

Linda grinned. “I remember you, Shannon. You were always so friendly and helpful.”

I was pleasantly taken aback. I’d been on the hospitality committee back in high school and figured I should be warm and welcoming to everybody. It was nice to know that some people noticed. “Thanks.”

“We were seniors when you were a freshman,” Julia said with a grin aimed at me. “So you’re forgiven if you don’t remember us.”

Linda patted Julia on the shoulder. “It’s been a long time since high school. And yet, you still look fabulous.”

“You can see why I’m friends with her,” Julia said.

At first glance, the two women couldn’t have been more different. Linda was lovely, tall and blond with a classic peaches-and-cream complexion and big blue eyes. She wore a loosely woven fuchsia sweater over a long skirt in a rainbow tie-dyed pattern with pretty sandals. When I looked at her, the first word that came to mind was serene. She came across as someone who would listen and care very much about your life and struggles.

Julia was short and curvy, with curly dark hair and a dynamic personality. Today she was in total boss mode, wearing a sharp-looking black pinstriped pantsuit with a crisp white shirt and three-inch heels. Despite the business attire, she always came across as the life of the party. She was cute, perky, and fun.

“The funny thing is,” Julia continued. “We barely even spoke to each other in high school. It wasn’t until we met up in the army that we got to be good friends.”

“In the military, you find out quickly who you can count on,” Linda explained. “I could always count on Julia.”

Julia leaned her head on Linda’s shoulder. “Back at you, sweetie.” She straightened, and with tongue in cheek, she added, “Although I have to admit, it was lowering to realize that every guy I ever liked always developed a crush on Linda.”

“That’s not true,” Linda insisted. “They all fell for you because you were so much fun.”

They smiled at each other and I could tell that their teasing was all in fun.

“Anyway, Shannon,” Julia said, “I wanted to introduce you two because Linda would like to take your class.”

“Oh,” I said. “That’s great.”

The class she was referring to was a construction skills class that I had volunteered to teach as part of the Homefront occupational program. Their mission was to provide courses for the residents and other local vets in the hope that the knowledge and skills they gained might lead to jobs and income. So far, the courses included cooking, writing, auto mechanics, retail skills, and construction basics. They would be adding others as time went on.

Julia ran a nonprofit organization that was partly underwriting the construction class. Her aim was to inspire more women to train for careers in construction. Her father had been a carpenter who had occasionally worked with my dad. And Julia had been trained in carpentry by her father, who always believed that women were as talented as men when it came to working with wood. Supporting this class was one way for Julia to pay it forward.

I turned to Linda. “Have you done any construction work before?”

“Not exactly,” Linda admitted. “I’m a mosaic artist, so I do a lot of work with tiles and glass. I’m hoping to be able to use my artwork in a more constructive way.”

“You should see her work,” Julia said. “She’s an artistic genius.”

Linda beamed. “And now you see why I’m friends with her.”

“I do,” I said, smiling at them both. “I’m happy to add you to the class, and I’d love to see some of your work sometime.”

“The first class is tomorrow night, right, Shannon?” Julia said.

“That’s right. Seven o’clock in the meeting room. We’ll start with a conversation about tools and rules and go from there.”

“Tools and rules.” Julia grinned. “I like it.”

“I’ll be there,” Linda said enthusiastically. “And I can bring some of my work with me, if you have any time to look at it.”

I brightened. “That would be great.”

“Okay, this is working out,” Julia said, clapping her hands together. “I promised Linda a tour of the center now, so we’ll see you later, Shannon.”

“Sounds good.”

“Nice to meet you, Shannon,” Linda said, and waved goodbye.

I watched them stroll down the new sidewalk toward the center. Then I jogged over to the next house on the schedule to see how my crew was doing.


A few hours later, I was up on the roof of house number thirty-two, rolling out a sheet of heavy black underlayment and quickly tacking it down with my pneumatic staple gun. I had offered to take on the job because, why should my guys have all the fun?

It was the stapler that made me want to do the work. I could take out all my deep-seated aggressions with a simple click of my finger. Not that I had all that many deep-seated aggressions, but whenever I did, I grabbed that staple gun and went to work.

I supposed a nail gun was good for that, too, but a nail gun was way too serious. And much heavier. You didn’t want to get caught daydreaming while using a nail gun—not that I ever daydreamed on the job! But seriously, you could kill someone with a nail gun. Plus, it was a lot louder. But a stapler was . . . friendlier. Don’t get me wrong; it was a serious tool and it could definitely leave a mark. But it probably wouldn’t kill you.

In between staple shots, I heard someone shout, “Hey, Irish.”

I looked up, then gazed down at Mac and smiled. “Hi, Mac.” He had called me “Irish” from the first day we met. It had something to do with all this red hair of mine.

He was surrounded by six people I’d never seen before. They had to be the new writers’ retreat group. There were four men and two women, and they looked up at me with polite interest.

“Everyone,” Mac said, glancing around the group. “This is Shannon Hammer, the contractor in charge of the Homefront construction.”

“You’re a contractor?” a tall, well-dressed guy asked, sounding incredulous.


I still got that reaction a lot, which was another reason why I had gladly signed on to teach the construction class. We could use more women in this business.

“Shannon,” Mac continued, “these are the members of the writing group that just moved into the lighthouse mansion.”

I waved. “Hi, everyone. Welcome to Lighthouse Cove.”

“Thanks,” a few of them murmured.

“It looks like a cool little town,” one of the women said.

I smiled. “We like it.”

“How’s your day going?” Mac asked.

I took a quick look at my wristwatch. It was one-thirty. “Pretty well. I have to finish the underlayment on this roof and start another. I’ll should be done around four-thirty.”

“Good. I’m going to show these guys around the plaza and then head on home to do some work,” Mac explained. “They’ll check out the shops and the pub and then come back here to sit in on my writing workshop.”

“That should be interesting,” I said.

“Are you kidding?” one of the guys said. “It’ll be awesome.” He gazed at Mac with such reverence that I had to smile. It wasn’t every day that young writers like these could hang out with someone as famous and talented as MacKintyre Sullivan.

“Okay,” Mac said to the group. “I’ll walk you guys over to the parking lot and give you directions back to the town square. It’s just a few blocks away and the pub is right on Main Street.”

“That’s really nice of you,” one guy said. “Thanks, Mac.” He seemed to be the most outgoing of the group, as well as being the tallest and the best looking, with wavy blond hair like the classic surfers wore. He was dressed conservatively in a blue-and-white-striped shirt with a button-down collar and—wait. Were those pressed blue jeans he wore? Yes, they were.

I was being judgmental and silently smacked myself. It came from hanging out with construction workers my whole life, guys who would no more iron their jeans than dance the Lambada on top of the bar at the local pub.

“We’ll try not to get lost,” the dark-haired woman said with a smile.

“You won’t. Let’s go.” Mac glanced back at me and winked. “Be back in a while.”

“I’ll be here.”

I watched the group walk away, but then the tall blond guy turned back around. He held up his cell phone, aimed it at me, and clicked it. Then he grinned.

What the—? He was taking a picture of me? That was just weird. But then he wiggled his eyebrows and winked at me.

One of the other guys turned and saw what was going on. This guy was pale and thin with rounded shoulders and dark eyes. “Lewis,” he said as he strode back and grabbed the taller fellow’s arm. “Time to go.”

Lewis looked ready to argue, but his shorter friend simply narrowed his eyes. It took a few seconds, but then Lewis grinned at me. “See you around.”

I was honestly flummoxed. Had the blond guy been flirting with me? Or was he mocking Mac? Whatever he was doing, he was a fool to be doing it to MacKintyre Sullivan’s girlfriend. The very same girlfriend who was currently gripping a powerful pneumatic staple gun in her hand. I could hurt him with that.

And what about his friend, the guy who had pulled him away? I assumed they were friends, but it was almost as if he had some kind of control over Lewis. That moment of confrontation between them left me wondering.

And what was with the picture taking? It was sort of like an invasion of privacy. But maybe I was being overly sensitive. Either way, I wasn’t happy with the idea that some stranger staying in Mac’s home would act like a jerk behind Mac’s back.

I sighed. I was probably overreacting. And to be honest, Mac would probably laugh it off if I told him about it. So I mentally shoved the pressed-blue-jeans bleached-blond clown out of my head, picked up my staple gun, and got back to work.

© Kate Carlisle