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Inheriting her aunt’s old Maine cottage has led Avery Baker down a new career path—home renovation. Finding a property’s hidden potential has rewards and challenges—not to mention certain unanticipated dangers. Like murder…
Avery and her hunky handyman boyfriend Derek Ellis are renovating another house in Waterfield, Maine. But it’s not just any house. It belongs to local news anchor Tony “the Tiger” Micelli—and it’s a quaint cottage with limitless possibilities. Even more exciting is that the makeover is going to be filmed as part of a home renovation TV show.
Unfortunately the road to cable TV fame is a bumpy one: this DIY spins into a DOA when Tony’s corpse is found at the cottage, flat on his back and not from natural causes. Turns out there were a few people who wanted Tony dead, and that the murderer might have his sights set on a few more Waterfield residents. That means it’s up to Avery to nail the killer. Before someone yells “Cut!” and it’s all over.
When my stepfather, Noel, asked my boyfriend, Derek, and me to participate in an episode of a renovation show his TV network produced, I didn’t think it would be a problem. Derek and I had renovated four houses together, starting with the 1870s Second Empire Victorian I had inherited from my aunt Inga a year earlier. After that, we had bought and restored a supposedly haunted midcentury ranch, and then turned a decrepit carriage house at the back of my friend Kate’s property into a romantic retreat for two just in time for her wedding to Waterfield Chief of Police Wayne Rasmussen. For the past few months, we had worked our fingers to the bone on a 1783 center-chimney Colonial on Rowanberry Island. By the time the TV crew was set to arrive on the coast of Maine, it was mid-July, but contrary to my first blithe impression, there was indeed a problem.
“There’s no way!” I told Derek, and not for the first time. “No way at all we can renovate a whole house in a week!”
When Noel first approached me about taking part in a renovation show, I hadn’t realized we’d be dealing with a time constraint. There are so many shows out there, with so many gimmicks, that I figured we’d be redoing something small, like a kitchen or bathroom. Something we could easily do in the five days the crew would be in town. But as it turned out, the program we would be participating in was called Flipped Out! and for good reason.
Anyone who has ever renovated a house can tell you it’s not usually a quick and easy process. As Derek had warned me during the very first conversation we’d ever had, more than a year ago now, it always takes longer and costs more than you think it will.
And that’s OK most of the time. When you’re just working for yourself and not on a schedule, it isn’t the end of the world if it takes you a few extra days, or even a few extra weeks, to finish the job.
This time, that wouldn’t be a possibility. The television crew would arrive in Waterfield Sunday night and would depart again the following Saturday morning, and we’d be expected to finish a whole house by the time they left. They’d shoot “before” footage bright and early on Monday morning, and God help us if they couldn’t shoot “after” footage at the end of the day on Friday. When I’d asked Noel what would happen if we weren’t finished by Friday night, his answer had been, “Just make sure you are.”
“We’re gonna be fine,” Derek said now, in answer to my lament. “Don’t worry, Tink. I’ve got it covered.” He grabbed his hamburger in both hands and took a bite.
We were sitting in a booth at the Waymouth Tavern, a restaurant on the outskirts of Waterfield. An imitation Tiffany lamp burned above our heads, and out the window, we had a view of the Atlantic Ocean and a few of the islands dotting the coast of Maine. Rowanberry was one of them, although it was too dark by now to see anything but a low shape in the water with some lights on one end, where the little village was.
My name isn’t Tink, by the way; it’s Avery. Avery Marie Baker. Tink, or Tinkerbell, is Derek’s nickname for me. It started out as sort of a joke, supposedly because I’m little and cunning—Maine-ish for cute—with lots of bright yellow hair I keep piled on top of my head when I’m working. And also because (Derek said) I pout a lot. At that time, I daresay I did: This was just after we met, and we spent our days butting heads over how to renovate my aunt Inga’s house. Derek, being a traditionalist and a restorer at heart, wanted to keep as many of the original features as possible. I—native New Yorker and educated textile designer—wanted to squeeze in as many modern amenities as I could.
He’d won, of course. He’d made a convincing case for preservation and authenticity, and besides, I have a hard time saying no to him. It’s those blue eyes, and that lazy grin, and just the whole adorable package.
I’m crazy about him. That’s why I ended up staying in Waterfield and going into business with him instead of selling Aunt Inga’s house for a tidy profit and scurrying back to Manhattan at the end of last summer.
At the moment, he wasn’t endearing himself to me, however, and yes, I’m sure I was pouting. The one-week time limit for renovating the little cottage on Cabot Street was freaking me out, and he wasn’t giving me the sympathy I craved.
“Derek.” I pulled the plate with the rest of his supper out of reach, thereby forcing him to look at me. “How can you tell me not to worry and that you’ve got it covered? How do you expect us to be able to do all the work in five days and not lose our minds? Just not sleep?”
“That’s one possibility.” Derek reached across the table to put his burger back on the plate before pulling it towards him. He has longer arms than I do. I sighed. He added, “I’m serious, Avery. We’ll be fine. All the materials are bought, and we’ve got a schedule laid out day by day, if not hour by hour. We know exactly what we’re supposed to be doing at any given time.”
“That’s true,” I admitted. We’d spent the past week preparing so we’d be ready to launch into action tomorrow morning, as soon as the crew had arrived and had shot their “before” footage of the cottage.
The house we were renovating was a little 1930s cottage, roughly eleven hundred square feet, with two bedrooms and one bath, a living room, a dining room, a kitchen, and a tiny laundry. The current owner had been using it as a rental, and as a result, it was pretty basic, with few or no frills. It was also a little beat up. But it had lovely oak hardwood floors—or would have, after we had applied three or four coats of polyurethane to them. The ceilings were fairly tall, and whoever owned the house in the 1970s had resisted the temptation to spray them with texture back when popcorn ceilings were all the rage. Scraping texture off a ceiling isn’t a big deal—all it takes is a spray bottle full of water, a putty knife, and stamina—but it’s messy and time consuming, and again, time would be at a premium this week.
In the living room there was a gorgeous natural-stone fireplace that had never been painted—no paint we had to strip, yet another reason to rejoice. It’s a crime to paint natural stone, but that doesn’t stop some people. And there were wonderful casement windows on either side of the chimney. They’d been painted shut, the way many old windows are, but we had taken the time to break the seal and force them open as part of the prep work. The kitchen was original but well made, and as I’d learned when we renovated Aunt Inga’s house and Derek had insisted on keeping the old kitchen cabinets, they could be made to look wonderful. The current owner had covered the outside of the house with vinyl siding, which wouldn’t have been my choice, but it had been done recently enough that the vinyl was still fairly clean, and it meant we wouldn’t have to paint the exterior. A good hose-down with a power washer would do wonders. And the curb appeal was outstanding, with a pretty little porch with stacked-stone pillars and an original front door with matching sidelights. Drab now, but it would be cute as a button when we were finished. All in all, we would have had to look long and hard for a better candidate for a quick flip.
Still, five days wasn’t much time to get the job done.
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