Monday, July 8, 2024

Frozen Pipes (the story behind the story) by J. S. Marlo


Undeniable Trait
is available now!
Click here



Many years ago, I lived in military housing on a northern Canadian Air Force Base. The house, which dated back to... to too many decades ago, was insulated so badly that the pipes running inside the outside wall in the kitchen froze every time the temperature dropped below -20C.

In order to solve my many complaints about frozen pipes before one of them crack and explode, the maintenance plumber made a hole at the back of one of the cupboards and installed a grill so the warm inside air could go into the wall and stop the water in the pipes from freezing. As long as I kept that cupboard door open, it worked, but it wasn't fool-proof below -30C. When it got really cold, I also had to let the water running all night, so the constant flow would prevent freezing. And in case you wonder... yes, there was lots of cold air coming out of that cupboard.

In my newest novel Undeniable Trait, Willow 'Mitch' Mitchell is a plumber, a good plumber who thinks outside the box, just like my military maintenance plumber from long ago. One day she's called to thaw the frozen pipes in the under-insulated trailer rented by the town's new doctor. Here's a preview of Willow and Dr. Zachary's second encounter:

Zachary took advantage of his lunch break to visit the patients’ wing where Susan and her fourth child rested in a double room. Her husband sat on the second bed cradling his infant daughter while his wife slept.

Unwilling to disturb them, Zachary backtracked and bumped into the female guard. “Sorry, Mandy.”

“I was looking for you, Doc.” She smiled a heartwarming smile framed by deep dimples. “The plumber will be at your house in ten minutes. I’m sorry I couldn’t get your pipes thawed any sooner, but there’s no queue jumping, not even for a doctor. Would you like me to go unlock the door?”

He’d never expected special treatment because of his profession. Besides, nobody was home. It didn’t matter when the plumber showed up to fix the pipes.

“Thank you, but the timing is perfect.” Zachary lived five minutes away and his next patient wasn’t scheduled to show up for another twenty-five minutes. “Going home gives me an excuse to enjoy a few breaths of fresh air.”

The breaths of frozen air he took between the entrance of the hospital and his SUV chilled his upper airway. He didn’t mind the cold, but from what he heard on the radio, the Arctic front that had settled over northern Ontario intended to overstay its welcome.

A white utility van was parked in front of his trailer and an individual bundled into a yellow hooded parka and carrying a toolbox knocked on Zachary’s front door.

He pulled into his driveway then rushed outside. “I’m coming.”

The individual spun around and the hood of his parka fell backward, unmasking the plumber’s identity. “Doc?”

The look of surprise on her pretty face matched Zachary’s.

“Willow?” He suddenly recalled their conversation from last night, and her occupation hit him. In retrospect, he should have clued in when she mentioned the toilet tank. How did I miss that? “Thank you for coming to my rescue.”

She raised a brow. “You’re my important client?”

Embarrassment threatened to redden his freezing cheeks. “Client, yes, but no more important than any of your other clients. I had a patient in labor, so Mandy offered to call. I apologize if she tried using my profession to get faster service.”

“I never gave her a chance to give me your name—or your profession. You ended up at the bottom of my list the moment she said nobody was home.” A mischievous smile blossomed on Willow’s lips, wrinkling her eyes. “Are you going to let me in? It’s your fair turn right now, but if it makes you feel better, I could push you further down my list.”

“I like fair.” Amused, he unlocked and invited her in. “How’s your hand?”

“It’s sore.” She took off her boots. “I only had time to change the bandage once since I thawed my first pipe. I’m guessing my crazy day resembles yours at the hospital.”

“Crazy sounds about right.” Yesterday she’d mentioned a hot water tank during her visit, which was another clue he’d missed. “Have you replaced that water tank yet?”

The dubious look she served him answered that question. “I have three more clients after you, then I’ll tackle the tank, assuming no other emergencies arise. So, which pipe froze? The one in the kitchen, in the bathroom, or both?”

“Kitchen only.” It never occurred to him, until now, that shaving and enjoying a hot shower had been a luxury he almost missed this morning. “I shut off the main valve and turned all the faucets on to release the pressure.”

“Good.” She disappeared down the hallway. Moments later, pipes rattled in the walls and water rushed into the bathroom but nothing in the kitchen. Then silence filled the air.

The frozen water hadn’t thawed, but it didn’t sound like any pipes had burst. All in all, Zachary supposed it could be worse.

Willow entered the kitchen where she opened the cupboards beneath the sink. “The insulation in the walls is minimal. If Chester wasn’t such a scrooge, he’d winterize his trailer properly, but since he’s not the one living in it, he doesn’t care.” She pointed a flashlight at the space underneath the sink. “If you bend down, you’ll see there’s a vent on the back panel.”

He knelt beside her. Her shoulder brushed his, prickling his skin. Confounded by the strange feelings she stirred up, Zachary forced his mind to focus on the cupboard. The light shone on a grill covering a large hole. Cold air escaped the opening.

“Who installed a vent there?” From his position, he couldn’t see any dial or knob to close it.

“I did.” She leaned the flashlight in a corner then retrieved a screwdriver from her toolbox and proceeded to unscrew the grill. “To stop the pipes from freezing you need to keep the cupboards open when the temperature drops below minus twenty.”

“Good to know.” The open doors allowed the ambient air to enter the vent and warm up the pipes, preventing them from freezing. That makes sense. “Why do I have a feeling my heating bill will cost me a bundle?”

“Because you’re smart?” A sassy smile played on her lips. “Actually, it’s not fool-proof. Below minus thirty, you also need to let the water run in the kitchen sink, the bathroom sink, and the tub. And don’t forget to open the cupboards in the bathroom as well.”

The continuous flow would stop the water from freezing in the pipes, which meant he needed to pay particular attention to the weather if he worked all night or if he went on vacation. “What about the washer?”

The grill tumbled in the cupboard.

“Those pipes run in an indoor wall.” She plugged in a heat gun, a tool he’d used in the past to remove paint, and she pointed it at the hole. “They’ve never caused any trouble, that I know of.”

“That’s not reassuring me.” No wonder Chester was so eager to sign the lease.

* * *

Undeniable Trait received a 4-star review from Amy's Bookshelf Reviews last week. Click here to read.

Undeniable Trait is available in ebook and paperback. Click here to purchase.

Have a great summer & Happy reading!

J. S. 


  1. I enjoyed the original meet cute. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Love Canadian stories, and this looks to be the start of fine romance!


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