The Bad Boy Next Door(4)

By: Jody Holford

Shay grabbed his beer bottle and brought both empties to the kitchen counter. “Oh. Thanks. I’ll see how it all unpacks. Actually, I might just put some of my storage containers down there.”

He ran a hand over his short hair, which made his biceps flex noticeably. “Okay. There’s a shelf with your unit number. We…uh, we had a bit of trouble a couple of weeks ago, but the guy responsible moved out. Still, I’d label anything you put in there with your name.”

Meeting his gaze, she nodded. “If I put anything in there, I will.”

Walking him to the door, Shay waited until he put his shoes on before saying, “I really appreciate your help, Brady.” She took a deep breath. If she wanted her life to be different, she had to make different choices: safer ones. “Once I get settled, I’ll have you over for dinner.”

As soon as the words left her mouth, she cringed. Did that sound like a lame come-on?

He moved aside as she opened the door. “Dinner sounds great.”

Shay stepped back and smiled too widely. “Then dinner it is.”

Brady stared at her for a moment, and Shay waited for her belly to do some sort of flip-flop. It remained as calm as an undisturbed puddle.

“You don’t know anyone around here, so I can introduce you to a few other people in the building. It’ll feel more like home if you have friends close by.”

Was that some sort of hint? “Yes. For sure. Friends are good to have. I mean…I…yes. I like friends.” Shay hung her head, wishing she could disappear. Or invent a rewind button—a magical way to take back the words that flew from her mouth without permission.

Brady laughed, a deep belly laugh. “I like friends, too.”

She looked up through lowered lashes. “Thanks for your help today.”

Brady squeezed her shoulder. “You’re welcome, and you seem like a nice girl, Shay. We look out for each other around here. Which is why I’m going to give you some friendly advice. Steer clear of Wyatt Daniels. He’s dark and not all that friendly.”

Shay frowned. She’d come to that conclusion all on her own but couldn’t say why she wanted to defend her neighbor. Something about him made her feel like people only saw the surface—what he wanted them to see. And if she wanted to see more, it was her choice. Just as a neighbor and friend, of course. Because she wasn’t looking for more with a man who wouldn’t even share his own name.

Shay tried not to let her tone convey irritation over Brady’s not-so-subtle warning. “I’ll take that under advisement.” Her fingers gripped the door handle.

Still smiling, he gave a nod and headed out. “Night, Shay.”

Closing the door behind him, she rested her head on the cool wood. Whatever choices she made, good or bad, from now on, were her own. She hadn’t meant to be flighty, but as the baby in her family, she was pampered and protected, encouraged to do only what made her happy. Shay was taken care of, and when she didn’t like something, her family understood, helped her resolve the problem and start fresh. Their steadfast willingness to smooth the way for her had let her believe the first man she’d fallen in love with would do the same. Despite all their hovering, her family hadn’t been able to protect her from a broken heart. They’d said it wasn’t her fault—she’d been taken advantage of. But Shay knew it was time to own up and be responsible for where her choices led her. In a new city, she could reinvent herself—become who she wanted to be.

As she readied herself for bed, the guilt snuck in about lying to her family. She’d told them she had a job lined up in Boston, but really, she’d found the apartment and taken it as a sign. If they’d thought she was coming here to start from scratch, they’d have tried to change her mind, or worse, her mother would have arranged a job for her through one of her many contacts. If her mom hadn’t, one of her brothers would have.

If she didn’t show them she could stand on her own and follow through, they’d never believe she could, and neither would she. Shay didn’t need Brady’s advice or Wyatt’s grumpiness. She just needed to get settled in her beautiful one-bedroom apartment. And she needed to get her business up and running. Fast. Or she’d have no way to pay for the apartment that was meant to be her new beginning.

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