Checkmate, p.5
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       Checkmate, p.5

         Part #3 of Neighbor from Hell series by R. L. Mathewson
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  Things probably wouldn't have gotten out of hand if their dates had just stayed out of it, but once Mary Lee decided to get in her face and Jeff took it as his cue to get into Connor's face, things kind of went downhill quickly. Okay, so she may have started trouble when she dumped the bucket of juicy mashed strawberries over Mary Lee's head, but in her defense, she could only hear '”stupid bitch” so many times before she snapped.

  She still didn't understand why the festival committee banned them for a year, especially after they paid for all those strawberries they'd wrecked. At least she was still allowed to have a booth at next year's festival for her business, Shadow Construction. Granted, one of her brothers would have to man the table and that probably wouldn't go too well, but at least her company would be represented during the town's biggest event.

  Connor shifted in his chair next to hers, probably just as nervous as she was. A thought occurred to her, annoying the hell out of her. If he actually went along with this and tried to outbid her, she was going pants his ass on the way out.

  Her lips twitched at the memory of the last time she'd done that. Granted, it had been a week after he did it to her, but at least she hadn't been wearing pink boxers with hearts on them at a bar like a certain someone. It really had brought such joy to her and her brothers' lives as they watched guys hit on Connor all night and send drinks his way. She'd been sixty percent sure that he was going to kill her with his bare hands that night.

  "As you both know," Mr. McGill started, bringing her attention back to him, "we've had problems getting permits and the heavy rain season pushed our plans back by six months. "

  They both nodded.

  "I know you're both probably very confused as to why I've asked Shadow Construction and Highland Construction for a joint meeting. " Thankfully, he didn't leave them in suspense. "My partners and I would like Strawberry Fields Hotel up and running by November. "

  "That's five months," she blurted out before she could stop herself. Connor threw her an annoyed look, probably for stating the obvious. Not that she cared if she aggravated the bastard. She could care less about that. What she did care about was the fact that there was no way her company could get Strawberry Fields Hotel up and running in five months. A year? Yes, and that was after hiring ten extra men and going overboard with overtime. Five months was not doable.

  "Yes, it is," Mr. McGill agreed with a nod of his head. "As you know, Strawberry Fields Manor needs a bit of work. " Rory just barely stopped herself from snorting her disbelief out loud.

  Strawberry Fields Manor was going to need a complete overhaul. It was going to have to be completely gutted, have an electrical and plumbing overhaul. Those were just a few of the major things that needed to be fixed. She had a fifteen page list in her office of all the small problems that needed attention.

  "I know this is highly unusual, but we'd like to hire both your companies to work together and finish the project," he said, shocking them both into utter stillness. She wasn't even sure she was breathing or knew how to at that moment.

  He really couldn't expect the two of them to work together? Could he? They'd kill each other! The entire town knew that. Hell, there were several betting pools over who would kill who and how.

  This could not be happening. As much as she'd love to work on Strawberry Fields Manor she really wasn't sure-

  "If you're both able to do this and meet our deadline, you will each be paid a bonus of fifty-thousand dollars on top of the twenty percent we already decided to add to your bids," Mr. McGill announced. "As long as you both believe that you can work on this together without any problems," he stipulated, giving them a hard glance.

  She looked over at Connor to find him looking at her. They narrowed their eyes on each other, deciding if that amount of money would be enough to stop them from killing each other. After several tense moments they both nodded, slowly.

  For that kind of money she was more than willing to do a lot of unpleasant things like let the life ruining bastard live.

  * * * *

  Connor walked into O'Malley's tavern, grinning. He really couldn't help it. Not only had he landed the most sought after project of the decade, but he was going to be getting a very nice bonus at the end. He spotted five very large men sitting to the far right, glaring openly at him and he was reminded of the little problem he would have to quickly rectify.

  No doubt the little tomboy thought they were really going to work this project together. That was just sad, because really at this stage of the game she should know better.

  This was his project and the sooner she figured that out the better off everyone would be. Sure, he'd keep her around for appearances' sake. She could fetch his lunch or something to make herself useful, but she would be staying away from his project. The use of her men was certainly a nice little bonus.

  Even he had to admit that he hadn't been looking forward to hiring temporary workers. There wasn't time to sort through applicants right now and this project was definitely not something he wanted anyone green to work on. He needed seasoned workers and he'd reluctantly admit that Rory's crew was good. His eyes darted over to the five men, who looked torn between kicking his ass and eating their appetizers.

  Having the James brothers working this project was like winning the lottery. Not that he would ever admit it, but the James brothers were the best, even better than his team. They worked hard, always finished their projects on time, and their work was unquestionably the best in the area. He'd never admit any of that of course. Not when he was their main competition. His boys were good, very good, but they didn't have that extra edge the James boys brought to each job.

  What he wouldn't give to have even one of them on his crew, hell, running his crew. Over the past five years he'd seriously considered risking war with Rory and going after one of her brothers on more than one occasion. If he could get one, just one, he could probably lure the rest of them over to his side. His eyes moved over to the oldest brother, Craig. He was the clear leader of the group. If he came over the rest would follow.

  How they managed to end up working for their baby sister, he would never know. Any of those men could easily have started up his own company and given Connor a run for his money, but they hadn't. No doubt they worked for Rory out of fear of old man James. His boys might be grown men, but he still ruled the family with an iron fist. He probably told the boys to help their sister and they jumped to do it, afraid the old man would kick their collective asses. Hell, even Connor didn't turn his back on the sixty year old man. He wasn't stupid.

  Of course if any of the James brothers decided after working this particular project that they'd rather work with him, who was he to argue?

  "Did we get it?" Andrew, one of his oldest friends and one of his foremen, asked as Connor joined them at the round tavern table. The four other men stopped talking and sipping their beers to watch him expectantly.

  "Oh yeah," he said, grinning, looking towards the James brothers. "Maybe even more. "

  * * * *

  "Did you know Connor was g*y?"

  That question had Rory stumbling even though she'd changed into her work boots, jeans, and customary gray tee shirt. Before she went head first into the brick wall, Sean reached out and grabbed her by the arm to steady her, which was actually impressive since he never took his eyes off the huge plate of food in front of him.

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