The Bad Boy Next Door(11)

By: Jody Holford

“No worries. I’ll do it. Mistakes happen,” he said. He pressed the elevator button and smiled wearily.

She stepped in, biting her tongue. She didn’t want to tell him how often mistakes happened in her presence. She was the self-proclaimed queen of two things: organization and making the wrong choices.

“Still. I’m sorry.” Sorry with a side of mad at herself. She looked down at the dull carpeting.

He nudged her with his shoulder. “Shay. Stop. It’s not a big deal. If you feel really bad, I can try to think of something you could do to make it up to me,” he said. His eyebrows danced up and down comically and she laughed, the discomfort in her chest loosening. He was easy to relax around.

Swatting him in the rock-hard stomach, she shook her head. “How about dinner? I can make you something?”

The elevator opened, and she stepped out alone. He held the door with one hand. His biceps strained slightly, and Shay took a moment to admire the sight. He pulled her attention back when he sighed deeply. “I can count on one finger the number of times I’ve turned down a gorgeous woman for dinner, but I’m bagged. Rain check?”

She held his gaze, trying to read him and figure out if he meant it or if he was just being kind. He was exactly the kind of man her brothers and her parents would love to see her with: safe and sweet. He’d called her gorgeous and had great arms. A win-win if she was concerned about pleasing herself and her parents. “Sure. Whenever you have time,” she said. “Let me know about any costs.”

“You got it, New Girl,” he said, winking at her just before the doors shut.

She groaned again, using the spare key he’d given her to let herself in. Well, that’s one way to make an impression. But not the only way.

Multitasking was another specialty. Shay chopped vegetables and garlic, sautéed some chicken, and slipped a casserole into the oven. While she waited for it to bake, she returned her mother’s texts—assuring her she was fine and just settling in. She kept her responses about her “new job” vague and hoped her mother would let it go. She unpacked her books and set up her computer. By the time the oven timer went off, she’d finished organizing her workspace, had checked her emails—happy to see a request to plan a small author’s event at the local library—and tweaked her website. She added a tab for Virtual Personal Assistant and listed the services she could offer from the comfort of her own living room. It was something that would tie in nicely to the book event and any connections she made there.

Since graduating as valedictorian six years earlier, Shay had enrolled in, prepped for, and dropped out of programs for Early Childhood Education and Paralegal Training. When those hadn’t worked out, she’d tried a different route and received a diploma in Business Administration and Marketing. While it interested her—and pleased her to finish it—she wasn’t sure what to do with it, which had led her to enrolling in a Hotel Management Diploma program. After six months, she’d dropped the program, for a variety of reasons. None of which she wanted to think about right now.

As she’d tried to put herself back together, she had worked as a nanny for a lovely couple with two adorable little boys. She’d probably still be doing that if they hadn’t moved. Which was for the best. The nanny position had been a safety net. Now that it was gone, it was time to grow up.

She was done flitting around from one thing to another, trying to find her place. And done with disappointing her family—all of whom had solid and steady careers or at least a fixed destination for where they were heading. They also had far better judgment than she did. Not that they ever held her choices against her—in fact, they indulged and encouraged her to live at home and fall back on their support. Ian, her second oldest brother, offered her a job in his real estate office after the nanny gig, but she’d known it was time to move forward. It was time to make her own place and put down some roots that others hadn’t started on her behalf.

The knock on the door startled her. It was nearing ten o’clock, but an eagerness to do something made energy, or restlessness, rush through her.

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