Home > Tools of Engagement (Hot & Hammered #3)(3)

Tools of Engagement (Hot & Hammered #3)(3)
Author: Tessa Bailey

If she continued to razzle-dazzle them with proof of their own amazingness, maybe they wouldn’t realize she was long overdue to add her own triumph to the board. Oh, she’d made a lot of noise about branching out from the family business on her own.

I want to swing a sledgehammer.

At the time, she’d meant it. Even now, she meant it. The actual swinging was yet to happen.

Bethany clicked her heels together, holding the marker like a mic. “I’ll start.” She made a show of clearing her throat, garnering a few chuckles from the room. “Lady balls, lady balls, we’re not on short supply . . .”

Everyone picked up where she left off. “If a challenge seems too tough, just poke it in the eye!”

“Olé!” Georgie finished.

With the notes still hanging in the air, Bethany tapped her fingernails on the whiteboard. “Who would like to go first?” She squinted at Cheryl, who’d been struggling with her new job hunt. “How did the interview go this week?”

“Well.” Cheryl pressed her lips together. “Very well, actually. The firm made me an offer and I used it to leverage a raise from my current employer. So . . . I booked a trip to Barbados.” She slapped her hands to her cheeks. “Is that crazy? I haven’t had a vacation in four years.”

“Not crazy!” Georgie called on her trip back from the fridge, a fresh bottle of chilled champagne in her hand. “You’ve definitely earned the right to lounge on the beach and drink rum out of a coconut. Or a scuba instructor’s navel. Dealer’s choice! Three cheers for Cheryl.”

Clapping and whistling filled the room.

Bethany wrote “leverage/Barbados/navel drinking” on the board and turned back to the room. “Who is nex—”

“What about you, Bethany?” Cheryl asked, still flushed from the applause. “You were so excited to try and flip a house by yourself, without your family breathing down your neck. You applied for those construction permits months ago, right? Have they come through?”

Bethany retained her wide smile, but a screw seemed to loosen in her belly button, dropping her stomach to the carpet. In her mind’s eye, she could see the thick envelope where she’d stashed it inside her suitcase and shoved it to the back of her closet. It had been there for weeks, taunting her.

What were you thinking, striking off on your own?

Since graduating college, Bethany had been staging houses for Brick & Morty, but there was a part of her that had grown restless with paint swatches and shiplap and tasteful greenery, while having no say on layout.

She’d been so sure she wanted that to change.

“No, I haven’t received the permits yet,” she breathed, her thumb biting into the dry-erase marker when her voice didn’t sound quite natural enough. “But you better believe I’ll hear back soon. I didn’t want to resort to calling in favors, but desperate times . . .”

A bead of perspiration slid down her spine.

“Would someone else like to—”

“It’s a little odd, isn’t it? Stephen seems to get his permits so fast,” Cheryl continued, referring to Bethany’s older brother. Also known as the CEO of Brick & Morty, who wanted to keep everything—including Bethany—in her place. Cheryl gestured toward the front window. “The house across the street only went on sale last month. I heard they’re already starting demo on Monday! He must be bribing someone at the permit office.”

A buzzing started in Bethany’s skull. “I’m sorry. Did you say Brick and Morty is starting a flip on Monday across the street from my house?”

“Mom might have mentioned during my final dress fitting,” Georgie said from her lean against the wall, wincing. “Sorry, Beth. I thought Stephen told you.”

“He did not, but it’s fine. I mean”—Bethany let out a casual laugh, tucking a loose strand of hair behind her ear—“with a construction crew across the street, I guess I’ll have to start wearing pants to the mailbox. A little annoying, but I’ll cope.”

Laughter spilled out around the room and Bethany used the moment to divert focus from herself. Carrying on the rest of the meeting was not easy, however, because her mind kept returning to two very alarming facts.

One: she couldn’t stall any longer. Either she started her own flip or she backed out—and the latter wasn’t an option if she wanted to retain her pride.

Two: Wes Daniels, the man who drove her insane with his Texas twang and eyes that scrutinized her far too closely, would be working across the street for the foreseeable future. She saw him on job sites during the final stages, when measuring for furniture or instructing painters. But across the street from her home, Wes would be impossible to avoid.

A twist in Bethany’s belly told her World War III was on the horizon.

Bring it on.

Chapter Two

Bethany stared down at the paperwork spread across her bed.

Every time she started to gather up the construction permits, she dropped them again and paced instead.

It was now or never. Put up or shut up. Shit or get off the pot.

If she waited any longer to commence her solo flip, people were going to grow suspicious. They might not peg Bethany as a coward, but they were going to keep asking questions. A couple of months ago, she’d announced to the family that she would be striking out on her own, since Stephen refused to let her run a solo flip.

They’d been aghast. And she would be lying if she said that hadn’t shaken her already shaky confidence.

Bethany understood their desire to maintain the status quo. After all, she kept everything, from her thoughts to her sports bras, in neat little categorized compartments. It was a family trait and she’d been given the biggest dose of control freakitude.

So why was flipping a house alone so important to her?

Why had she made such a massive issue of the whole thing?

Why not stick to staging, a practice in which she was actually skilled?

Bethany sat down on the floor and arranged herself in a meditative position. She rested the backs of her hands on her knees and breathed in deeply, desperately trying to exhale the stress of what she needed to do this morning.


See yourself walking across the street where Brick & Morty have already banged the company’s signature sign into the front lawn and started demo.

See it happening and then do it.

Wes Daniels’s smirk appeared in her head and she fell backward onto a cloud of fluffy white carpet with a groan. The younger man always seemed to make it his mission to needle her until her cool, calm, and collected demeanor faltered. His presence was going to make this already-terrifying morning worse.

“Why?” She scratched at the spot on her neck. “Why am I doing this to myself?”

She knew the answer, but her moment of courage had been buried by the passage of time. Making her forget the tingling sensation in her belly, the scary excitement of deciding to test herself. Yes, she was a great stager. Yes, it was still something she enjoyed, but . . . did she have to remain in one lane forever?

Staying low to the ground, Bethany got on her hands and knees and crawled to her bedroom window, peeking over the sill at the house across the street. In the short amount of time since the crew arrived, there were already tools strewn across the lawn, a sawhorse in the driveway, noise. So much noise.

Construction was not neat.

She’d been an idiot to visualize herself with a perfect ponytail and high-waisted jeans, sashaying her way into a fixer-upper and demolishing walls in style. Real life was not HGTV. There was no thirty-second take of the host burying an ax in a wall before the director yelled “Cut!” and the real crew took over again. When she headed her own flip, she would be making all the decisions, doing all the work.

And it might turn out less than perfect.

It might turn out terrible.

Bethany turned away from the window and leaned back against the wall, pressing her fingers tightly to the center of her forehead and breathing, in and out. In and out. Maybe it was time to talk to a therapist. Knowing one’s worst faults didn’t mean one could fix them alone.

Bethany was a prime example of that.

When she was thirteen, she’d bought a pair of uncomfortable Mary Janes with a wedge heel. Her mother had warned her not to wear them to school without breaking them in first. Had she listened? No. But she’d come home with a smile on her face, danced up the stairs, and closed herself inside her bedroom—before falling to the floor with a gasp of pain and prying off the shoes to reveal twin, bleeding blisters. Then she’d bandaged them up and worn the shoes again the following day.

She was one stubborn bitch. And the thing she was most stubborn about was always, without fail, getting everything just right.

If this flip ended up less than amazing, she wouldn’t be able to slap a Band-Aid on it. She’d have to face everyone’s inevitable disappointment. She’d have to watch the dawning realization on their faces that she wasn’t perfect.

It took Bethany a few more bracing breaths to climb to her feet. She stood in the center of her room for a moment, the crisp, white décor and tasteful Tiffany picture frames making her feel slightly more in control.


If she was going to make a statement this morning, she’d better look good doing it. With a resolve she didn’t necessarily feel, Bethany threw back her shoulders and marched into her walk-in closet, silk robe fluttering in her wake.

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