The Bad Boy Next Door

By: Jody Holford

Chapter One

If researching, enrolling, and dropping career prep programs were an Olympic sport, Shay Matthews could have taken the gold. Which was why, this time, she was going to follow all the way through. Everyone else may have let her off the hook, but Shay was done making excuses for herself. Standing in the lobby of what would be her new home, she tapped her pen against the countertop in quick succession. A new start in a new city would give her what she needed.

“Antsy to get going?” Brady, the acting building manager for her new place, asked. He had a wide smile and a handsome face that reminded her a little of Simon, the youngest of her three older brothers.

“Like you wouldn’t believe,” Shay answered. “I feel like I’ve been waiting forever.”

Brady held two keys on a ring, letting them swing back and forth teasingly. “Sorry about that. I’m not really in charge of the building. I’m only helping out, and I have to do it around my real job.”

Shay’s cheeks warmed. She’d always suffered from foot in mouth disease. “No, sorry. I wasn’t complaining. Really. I’m just anxious to get settled.”

She followed him down the well-lit hallway toward the elevator, shifting her long-strapped purse so it slid behind her back.

Brady gestured for her to go ahead of him when the doors opened. “Your application said you’re from Burlington? Relocating all by yourself?”

“Yes to both. It was time for a change.” More than time.

He didn’t push for more, which she appreciated. She’d need to unload the U-Haul and return it by morning, which meant she had a long night ahead. The elevator stopped on the third floor, and Shay’s stomach filled with butterflies. A fresh start. And this time she wouldn’t mess it up.

Brady stopped at 302, her new home. From the online ad, she’d learned hers was one of eighteen units in the building. Brady had offered to show her around, but she just wanted to get inside her apartment.

He handed over the key, his blue eyes all but sparkling. “I have to head in to work—I own an auto repair shop about fifteen minutes from here. But I’ll be home in a few hours. If you need help with your boxes or anything, just buzz unit 202.”

Shay held the keys tight in her hand, closing her fingers around them like they were precious gems. She smiled up at him, and her gaze locked with his, pleased that his offer sounded genuine. There was no pressure in the statement or any hint that he didn’t think she could handle it. She stared at him a moment longer, taking in his handsome features and friendly nature. He was exactly the kind of man that would mesh perfectly with the new life she was building for herself. Safe. Sweet. “That’s really nice. Thank you.”

“No problem. And if you ever need work done on your car, I give all the tenants a 10 percent discount,” Brady said. Then he winked and added, “But I’d make it 20 for you.”

Biting her lip, Shay tried to decide if he was being serious, silly, or flirting. After what she’d just been through, she knew better than to trust her own judgment on intentions. Brady’s flirting seemed to be as much a part of him as his dark blond hair. “I’d need a car for that. I only have a bike.”

His eyes widened. “Oh. Okay then. If you need some wheels, I have connections.”

The keys dug into her palm. Wheels were not something she could afford right now, but it was a nice offer to put on her “someday” list. “Cool. Thanks again for your help.”

“My pleasure. Welcome to the building, Shay.” He gave a mock salute and ambled down the hallway, back toward the elevator.

Shay pressed an open palm to the dark wood door and just let herself breathe. In time, she’d not only be settled, but she’d have her event coordinating business up and running and she’d be able to tell her family the whole truth.

But for now, she had some heavy lifting to do.

Despite the chill in the underground parking garage, sweat dampened Shay’s back. She yanked the elastic out of her hair and pushed back the strands that escaped, securing it into a ponytail once more. The bed and couch she’d ordered online would hopefully arrive within the week. Shay had been wary of spending the money to buy them new, but at the moment, with her breathing labored, she was glad she didn’t have anything too big to carry. The small U-Haul held boxes, shelves, a coffee table, her TV, and her computer. Not a lot, but enough to start.

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