She never forgot her first love. The one she pushed away. Now he’s back in Alaska . . . and there’s a matchmaker.
Maddie’s home contractor abandoned her and left Alaska with her money. She’s saved for years to build her dream house and can see her dream vanishing. When a friend says she knows an available contractor, Maddie isn’t expecting it to be Mark.
When Mark left for the military, Maddie promised to love him forever, then she sent him a break-up email. Over ten years later, that still hurts, and she’s the last person he wants to be around. The problem is that he accepted the job to take over a house’s construction and the owner is . . . Maddie.
Will their second chance bring them together or push them apart?
If you enjoy Hallmark movies, Alaska, and sweet romance with a dash of fun, Finally Matched and the Alaska Matchmakers series may be right for you. Pre-order today to get your copy of Finally Matched.
“I can’t believe he left!” Madeline McGuire swallowed hard as she struggled to hold back the tears that threatened to start again.
Her friend Jemma glanced around the restaurant. “You may want to say my contractor. Everyone within hearing range, and that seems to be quite a few people right now, thinks your man just left you.”
Madeline glanced around her and groaned. Half of the restaurant was actively watching them, while the other half was still looking at their food but obviously waiting to hear what she’d say next. “Great!” she whispered. Just what she needed, everyone in the small town of Palmer, Alaska, thought she was brokenhearted. In a louder voice, she said, “My contractor left the state with my money and my house half-built.”
The people nodded knowingly and returned to their meal.
“Nice touch there. What are you going to do? Are you going to hire a lawyer to go after him?”
Madeline picked at the meal in front of her. She usually loved the salads here, but not today. She pushed the plate away and leaned back in her seat. “I don’t think I slept at all last night. I technically have a case, but he’s out of the state now. It would cost me money to go after him and to prosecute. The process could take a long time, and that money would be better spent on my house.”
She rubbed her hand over her eyes. “This has not gone as planned. Build the house of my dreams, I thought. Other people do it, so it can’t be that hard. Ha. This has been the most intense situation in the last decade of my life.” An image of her other major disaster flashed into her mind. Before that, life with her high-school boyfriend, Mark, had been the most intense of her life, but in a good way. Then she’d messed it up.
“Earth to Madeline. You seem to have gone somewhere else.”
She nodded. “Remembering someone from my past. The one that got away. The one I let get away.” She waved her hand to stop the conversation. “But that doesn’t solve my house situation.”
Jemma leaned forward and rested her elbows on the table with her chin on her fist. “Oh, no. You won’t get away with saying that and moving on. Before we dive into the house stuff, I want to know about this awesome man you let get away.”
The past rushed in on her. Pain and regret that she had shut out years ago were now sitting at this table with them, probably because her emotions were already high. “My high school sweetheart. I thought we’d be together forever. He joined the military and was shipped out.”
“That’s sad. Was he killed in action?”
Madeline frowned. “No. I let my family and friends talk me into walking away from him because he would be so far away. They all said I was young, and I needed to be free to live my life, that I shouldn’t be encumbered by a long-distance relationship.”
“Did you try to reach out to him after that?”
She shook her head. “No. He received a classic Dear John letter from me through email. I never contacted him after that.” She sat up straighter. “I can’t let myself think about what might have been if only I hadn’t pushed Mark O’Connell away.”
Jemma looked startled. She slowly said, “I grew up in a lot of different places, but I’m from Tennessee. Are you from Alaska, or were you born Outside and moved here when you were young?”
“Juneau. I was born and raised in the state capital.” Shifting gears, she said, “My conclusion about my house, one which came to me just before my alarm went off this morning, is that I need a new contractor. I’m going to have to let my other contractor get away with it. At least for now.” She tapped her foot as she thought about her morning. “I told my boss I needed today off, and I’ve been trying to find a new contractor all morning. It’s the summer in Alaska, the prime building season here, and every one I contacted had a full schedule.”
Jemma watched her carefully. “You need a contractor you can trust. And you should probably have someone look over the work that was done before to make sure it was all done properly. With my design business, I have seen a lot happen between the time plans are created and move-in day. The problem is that the contractors who are amazing are already working this summer. You may have to wait a few months until one is available.”
Madeline closed her eyes and sighed. “Waiting isn’t really an option for me. I sold my condo in Anchorage, sure that my new house would be built, and I even added in a time buffer. The woman who bought it has to leave her apartment, so I can’t change the agreement. I already checked with her. As of two days from now, I won’t have a place to live.”
When Jemma was about to speak, she added, “But wait, there’s more. My six-year-old niece is living with me for the summer while my sister is away at a graduate school program. We discussed it and thought it would be much better for my sister to focus on her work during the day while I take care of Rosie. Easy, right? I’d have a brand-new house with lots of room.” She didn’t even try to keep the sarcasm out of her last words.
“Wow. So the house needs to be finished, and you need a place to live in two days.” Jemma tapped her fingers on the table, then paused. “You know, I can help with one of those, maybe both.”
“If you know of a rental, that isn’t going to fix the problem. Well, it would in the short-term, but I’ve set aside the money I need for the house, and renting for months would take too much of it for me to build now.
Jemma caught the attention of their server, who hurried over. “We need our checks, please.” The server glanced around the table at the plates filled with food but nodded and hurried away.
“You’ve been to my business office, Madeline, the older house across the street from my home that my aunt left me. There are three bedrooms and a bathroom upstairs. You and Rosie are welcome to have two of the bedrooms for as long as you need them.”
Madeline felt the tears welling in her eyes again. She blinked them away. “Thank you.” She barely managed to get the words out. After closing her eyes for a moment to gather her thoughts, she opened them again and said, “I’ll have the movers put my things in storage this weekend. Are you sure you want to have both a child and me in your business headquarters?”
Jemma laughed. “You apparently have not met my twin nieces. One child would be easy in comparison. I imagine you’ll both be away from the house during the day anyway.”
“Absolutely. I’ve enrolled Rosie in summer camp. She’s a budding artist, and I found something that would be perfect for her. She’ll drive in with me each day, and I’ll drop her off. I even have some of the weekends planned out with fun activities.” Life was looking up. “Now, I just need to find a contractor who can start the project right away.”
“I may have someone who can help you.”
“Please tell me it’s someone experienced!”
“Very. I’m not sure about his availability.”
A glimmer of hope flickered in. “Years of experience?”
A smile started, the first one in a week. “Even if he isn’t available, knowing that someone tried to help means a lot.”
The checks came, they paid them, and left, with Jemma promising to get back to Madeline with an update in the next few days.
The following Monday, Madeline sat at her desk, trying to work with the weight of the situation resting on her shoulders. She hadn’t found a contractor, at least not one she knew could do quality work. As she rolled her shoulders to relax them, a text arrived from Jemma:
I found the perfect contractor for you. He’s just moved to Alaska from out-of-state, so that’s why he doesn’t have a client list yet. He doesn’t have a place to stay, so he’s going to be taking the third bedroom in my house if that’s okay with you.
You’re sure he’ll do a good job? Madeline replied.
Her phone chimed with Jemma’s return text. I’ve met him, and I know his family. I’ve seen photos of previous houses that he built, and I even called one of the owners. I think you’ll be happy with his work.
Her shoulders relaxed. She answered, Yes! He can stay there. He can have my room, and I’ll share with Rosie if he needs more space.
I think one room will work nicely, Jemma answered. He should be there Sunday.
As long as she’d found someone competent, she didn’t care how much room he needed. Having someone pleasant to be around would be a nice bonus if it worked out that way. “I get my house!” She shouted and her assistant hurried into her office.
“Did I hear you right?”
“Yes! A friend found a contractor. You’re invited to a Christmas party there. It has to be done by then.”
Her assistant grinned. “That’s a deal. But how did she find a contractor in the middle of the busy construction season?”
“He’s from Outside and just moved here.” She did a happy dance in her seat. “Life will be great now!”
Mark turned off the highway and pulled over to the side of the road to check his GPS. According to it, Jemma’s house should be nearby.
A few minutes later, he found a large, contemporary-style house at that address and across the street sat a charming older home, what Jemma had described as her business headquarters and the place he’d call home for the next couple of months. He’d certainly done worse.
He pulled into the older home’s driveway, then got out and walked across the street to ring the doorbell of the newer home.
Jemma pulled the door open. “Mark! You’re a day early.”
“I didn’t have anything to do in Kenai other than visit with my folks and spend another night in Mom’s shabby chic nightmare.”
Jemma grinned. “I know exactly what you mean. I’ve seen their guest room. Distressed white furniture and a floral upholstered chair aren’t very guy-friendly. I don’t mind it, but I like flowers.”
He liked her. His brother had done well marrying into this family.
She pulled the door open wider. “I would invite you in, but I’m on my way out the door to see a client. Let me get you a key, though, so you can come and go whenever you want.” She returned a minute later and handed it to him. “I keep food in the kitchen for snacking and for my breakfast while I’m working. Anything in the freezer or sitting out should be fair game. Oh, and you have another roommate.”
She said the words she’d neglected to share earlier casually, a little too casually.
“It’s your client. With her house unfinished, and her old house sold, I felt like I needed to offer her a place to stay.”
Her. If Jemma was trying matchmaking, he was certainly up to the task of ignoring it. His mother had taught her sons from an early age to avoid matchmakers. She thought of herself as the master and had made numerous attempts. Fortunately, she’d left him alone once he’d found Maddie. And being in the Army and then Colorado had meant he hadn’t had to deal with it as an adult.
“I think she and her niece, who is staying with her for the summer, should be out of your way most the time.” She glanced at her watch. “I’m sorry, but I do have to run. Why don’t you come to dinner tonight? Nathaniel, my husband and chef extraordinaire, took Chloe along for the ride and is stopping at the grocery store. He’ll be making something delicious.” She laughed. “I have no idea what it is, but everything he makes is delicious.” She gave a small wave and shut the door.
Mark stood there, staring at the closed door and wondering about the next couple of months. He turned around and went across the street. His potentially quiet refuge had turned into a place with not only a woman who happened to be his new client but also a child. He might have been better off in the shabby chic nightmare.
As he walked up the steps, Jemma called out from a black SUV on the street in front of the house. “Mark! Do you know anything about fixing a leaky kitchen sink?”
“I can at least tell if it’s something simple I can fix or if you need a plumber,” he shouted back.
“Fair enough. Text me if it needs a plumber or if you need me to pick up any parts on the way home.”
With a final wave, she drove off down the road, and Mark walked into his new home. His hopefully peaceful abode.
Madeline pulled into the driveway of Jemma’s office, her home for the near future. A black pickup truck had the tailgate down, and among other things in the bed of the truck, there was an open tool chest. Jemma must be having some work done on the house, but she was surprised they’d work on a Saturday.
She’d grab a quick lunch and eat on the front porch so she didn’t bother the worker. After moving out of her house and into this one this week, she was grateful for a day with no real commitments. At dinnertime, she would carry her cake across the street to her birthday party. Not that anyone knew it was her birthday.
Jemma and Nathaniel had invited her to come for dinner in their beautiful newer home across the street, and she’d said she would bring dessert, which would be the cake she’d made for her birthday. It might be a little odd to make your own birthday cake, but baking helped her relax after a hectic day. She loved her job as the human resources manager for a major cargo company in Anchorage, but that didn’t mean there weren’t stressful days, and yesterday had been one of those.
Madeline stepped onto the porch, then through the front door into the living room and heard clanking sounds. When she walked into the kitchen, she froze in her tracks. The backside of what appeared to be a well-built man stuck out from underneath the kitchen sink. Plumbers must be working out these days because this was not the rear end she would have expected.
As she admired the view, she noticed the chocolate cake on the counter that she’d made late last night and frosted this morning. And the giant missing wedge of it.
Someone had been eating her cake.
This was Jemma’s business address, and she certainly couldn’t fault her for having a snack, but that was a really big piece, and that was a big guy under her sink. She turned toward him. “Did you eat my birthday cake?” She said the words with more emphasis and a little louder than she’d intended, but this had her riled.
He jerked upward, she heard a thump, and then “Ouch!” He scooted out, and as he cleared the cupboard, reached up and put his hand on top of his head. Then he sat down and leaned forward, gently touching the spot where he’d apparently smacked it
“Jemma said—” He winced. “That’s going to be a knot, but not my first. The construction business can leave you with a few bumps, bruises, and scars.”
The plumber’s voice somehow sounded familiar. She dismissed the thought because that wasn’t possible. She did not know a single plumber in Palmer. In fact, she knew almost no one here. She’d have to make friends once she got settled and hoped Jemma would help with that.
He stood with his back to her and turned on the water at the sink. The plumbing industry was turning out some handsome specimens. Broad shoulders tapered down to a narrow waist.
“Everything works here.” He got down on his knees and checked under the sink, feeling around on the pipes. “And everything’s dry down here. No more leaky faucet.” He stood. “Now what did you say about a birthday cake? Jemma told me that anything in the cupboards or sitting out should be fine for me to snack on. I thought I’d struck the mother lode when I found that cake.” He gathered a few tools in his hands and then turned to face her. “I’m sorry if it was your birthday—”
He froze when he saw her.
Over a decade had passed since she’d looked into those eyes, the eyes of the only man she had ever loved. They seemed sadder now, world-weary.
“I must be hallucinating.” He reached up and put his hand on the place he’d bumped. “I hit my head harder than I’d realized. I’m sorry, but you look exactly like a girl I knew a long time ago.”
He stared at her. “If you know my name, then I’m not seeing things. Maddie, is that you?” A smile began and grew wider.
She gulped. Here before her stood the man she’d let get away. As she took a step forward, he took a step back, and his expression changed from happiness to anger.