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Romance isn't an option for Holly Greenwood. With her wedding planner career on the line she needs to stay focused, and that means pleasing her demanding boss, not getting distracted by her mind-alteringly hot neighbor . . .
Ex-Marine Kevin Vandemeer craves normalcy. Instead, he has a broken-down old house in need of a match and some gasoline, a meddling family, and the uncanny ability to attract the world's craziest women. At least that last one he can fix: he and his buddies have made a pact to swear off women, and this includes his sweetly sexy new neighbor.
After one hot night that looks a whole lot like a disaster in the light of day, Kevin and Holly are about to learn that true love doesn't play by the rules . . .
This place is a piece of shit.” Kevin Vandemeer stood in the front yard of the two-bedroom home he’d purchased sight unseen, running his hand over his head.
“Well, of course it is,” his sister, Megan, said.
He turned to her, his mouth dropping open. “You purposely found me a piece-of-shit house? I know I was an asshole when we were kids, but this seems excessive for payback.”
She shook her head in annoyance. “Stop being a drama queen. You said you wanted a flip house. This is a house to flip.”
“That I could live in.” He punctuated the last two words with his hand.
“Noooo, you said to find you a house that would make a good investment.”
He swung his hand toward the two-story bungalow. The bright blue paint had peeled off in massive chunks. The covered front porch ran the length of the front of the house, although the right side dipped down, probably because the right pillar was missing. It had been replaced with several concrete blocks, then a few bricks, and finally, on top, a canned good. He took a step closer. “Is that a can of pork and beans?”
A grin spread across her face. “See? Your first dinner in your new home.”
His gaze swung back to her. “Megan…”
She put her left hand on her small, rounded belly. He hadn’t seen her since Christmas, and he’d had a hard enough time dealing with the wedding ring on her finger, much less the fact that she was pregnant.
“Kevin, look.” The teasing tone was gone, seriousness replacing the merriment in her eyes. “I know it seems daunting, but you needed a project after everything…and this seemed like it would take up a lot of your time.”
He ignored the after everything lead-in. He was starting to regret telling his sister about his latest breakup. “My new job is going to take up plenty of my time. This place is going to take the rest of my life. How did this even pass inspection?”
“Well…” She sounded insulted. “It didn’t.”
“What the hell are you talking about, Megan?”
“It’s a flip house, Kevin. You take what you get and make the best of it.”
“It looks like the whole place is about to fall into a sinkhole.”
“It’s not that bad.”
“Let me be the judge of that. I want to see inside.” He paused, horror washing through him. “Tell me you’ve been inside.”
“Of course I’ve been inside.” But she sounded unconvincing.
Well, shit. There was no telling what kind of mess he was going to find in there. Might as well find out what twenty-two thousand dollars in cash had bought him. Although in hindsight, that should have been a major clue. He’d chalked it up to the cheaper cost of living in the Midwest. Now he felt like an idiot.
Buying the house had seemed like a good idea at the time. He’d come back to his hometown because he needed a change. After twelve years in the marines, his second tour in Afghanistan had been enough to convince him he was ready for civilian life. So it had seemed fortuitous when his lifelong best friend practically begged Kevin to come work with him.
Kevin hesitantly took the executive contractor job even though he felt significantly underqualified. He’d protested that he didn’t know the first thing about overseeing a construction project, let alone one as big as the shopping mall Matt had taken on.
“I need someone who can organize the financial end and watch the overspending. You may not have been a drill sergeant, but you sure as hell act like one. You’re perfect,” Matt had said.
Kevin had accepted the job for a variety of reasons. One, it was as different as he could get from trying to root out the Taliban in small Afghan villages. The horrors he had seen would haunt him to his dying day. And, two, he wanted to be part of his niece or nephew’s life as well as have a chance to get closer to his sister.
After seeing the hellhole she’d bought him, he was reconsidering the second part of number two.
“Keys.” He reached out his hand and she placed two keys in his palm.
“I’m not sure you need them, though. The lock on the front door doesn’t exactly work.”
“Then what exactly does it do?”
She gave him a hopeful grin. “Sits there and looks pretty.”
This situation was going from bad to worse. “Am I going to find a homeless man sleeping in my basement?”
She cringed. “More like a family of squirrels in the attic.”
Releasing a groan, he stomped across the front yard, tripping on an exposed tree root and nearly falling on his face.
“Be careful,” she called after him. “The front yard is like a minefield.”
“Thank you, Captain Obvious.”
She laughed, and he made his way up the steps. At least they were made of concrete and looked fairly stable.
He paused, taking in the sight of the first house he’d ever owned. What the hell had he been thinking? His life had gone to shit—there was no denying that—but why had he trusted his sister to find him a place to live?
But, after everything, he’d wanted something familiar. Plus, his sister had recently moved back to Blue Springs, Missouri, after living in Seattle for years. After her entire wedding fiasco, he’d realized he barely knew her. Last summer, she’d shown up four days before her wedding with the man everyone presumed to be her fiancé. But he’d turned out to be a guy she’d met on the plane ride home. Kevin had kicked himself for months afterward, telling himself if he’d been more active in his sister’s life he would have known that the first guy was an asshole and the second was an imposter. She seemed happy now, but he planned to be around to see if it was really true.
Megan called after him. “Be careful on the…second board.”
His foot fell through a porch slat and tossed him forward, the front door breaking his fall, until it swung inward and he fell on his face flat on floor.
“Yeah…the porch has some wood rot. The boards need to be replaced.”
“And my ankle?”
“God, I know men are babies, but you were a marine, Kevin Vandemeer. Isn’t your motto Live free or die?”
“It’s Semper fidelis. Always faithful. And you better be damn glad I’m faithful to not killing my only sister.”
“In case you start to reconsider, just remember I’m giving you a niece or nephew in a few months.”
“In the spirit of this sibling bonding time, I think it’s fair to tell you that’s the only thing saving your ass at the moment.”
“Come on, Kevin. Don’t be so cranky.”
“Cranky?” He rolled to his side and glared back at her. “You think I’m cranky? You just pissed away over twenty thousand of my money!” He realized his voice was rising, but he didn’t give a shit.
“Let’s just go inside and I’ll show you it’s not as bad as you think it is, so stop being so cranky.”
“I’m not cranky!” Somehow he suspected the inside was worse, but he was good and stuck now. And, speaking of stuck, he sat up and jerked his foot out of the hole, pulling off his shoe in the process. “Goddamn it!”
She grinned at him from the bottom of the steps. “Well, if the shoe fits…”
“Not funny.” He crawled over to the hole and pulled his cell phone out of his jeans pocket, shining the flashlight down into the abyss. He found his shoe, but next to it was a pair of black beady eyes that shined back at him before whatever it was scurried for the corner. He jerked backward and pointed to the hole. “What the hell is that?”
She cocked her eyebrows. “It’s a hole. I’m so glad all those years in the marines taught you some valuable discerning skills.”
“There’s something alive down there!”
She leaned back her head and groaned. “You are such a baby. It’s probably a raccoon or a possum.” Then she stomped up the steps and reached for his phone. “Give me that.”
“I don’t think you should be messing around with a wild animal in your condition. What if it attacks you?”
She knelt on the porch next to the hole. “I doubt it’s going to jump out and chew off my face. And even if it does, I don’t need my face to give birth. You’ll just be stuck looking at the grisly scars during the holidays. Now give me your phone.”
He knew that look from when they were kids. She wasn’t budging until he caved, so he saved them both time and handed her his mobile. “Don’t drop it. I’ve heard raccoons are like pack rats.”
“But what if he needs to watch raccoon porn? I wonder what that’s like…do they show lady raccoons doing the nasty in a trash can?” She leaned forward and shined the flashlight on his phone into the space, then she lay down on the porch and reached her arm down into the two-foot-wide space.
“What the hell are you doing, Megan?” he barked out in a panic. “You’re going to get bitten!”
She sat up, holding a tiny gray kitten in her hand. “I think your data plan is safe.” She held the now mewling animal in her hand and lifted it in front of her face. “What do you think, cutie? Do you want Kevin’s phone?”
She cuddled it close to her chest and gave him the phone. “Get your shoe and I’ll give you the grand tour after I pee.”
“Does this place even have running water?”
“Ha. Ha,” she said in dry tone. “People in Africa would call this a palace.”
“Twenty-two-grand money pit is more like it.”
He was totally screwed.
Holly Greenwood sat in the shade of the trees in her backyard, surrounded by flowering shrubs, her feet in the baby pool her cousin Melanie had bought weeks ago as a joke, saying they were living the good life now that they had acquired a swimming pool for their grandmother’s house—the home they now shared.
Holly had to admit it helped cool her down as she watched Melanie’s rambunctious Chihuahua burn off some energy, and it wasn’t just the late June temperature she needed help cooling down from. Her boss had been in a mood today, especially after Holly had presented her decorating plans for a fund-raiser and Nicole had found a mistake in the budget. Holly had an associate degree in hospitality, but Nicole Vandemeer had experience that was far more valuable.
Holly wanted to own her own wedding-planning business, and after years of working at a local hotel, she’d jumped at the chance to work beside one of the best event planners in the area. Holly told herself the experience she was getting was worth putting up with Nicole, but some days made her question her fortitude.
A bee landed on the Chihuahua’s nose, but the dog batted it away, then gave chase.
“Killer, leave that bee alone. You’re going to get stung.”
The dog ignored her and started to bark.
“Killer, come.” The last thing Holly needed tonight was Mrs. Darby—the neighbor who lived immediately behind her—to call the police because Mel’s five-pound dog was barking. Any other night Holly would try to play peacemaker, but between Nicole’s attitude today and her grandmother’s dementia, she’d lost whatever incentive was left in her.
Her visit with her grandmother at the health-care center after work today was still weighing heavily on her mind. Grandma Barb had been having more and more frequent bouts of memory loss, but completely forgetting Holly was her granddaughter was a new development.
The dog suddenly stopped barking and ran to Holly, sitting next to her chair and waiting for a treat. Holly chuckled. Her cousin had trained Killer to obey commands with pieces of deli turkey. Now he expected rewards for his obedience. Holly only had a bag of Cheetos, so she pulled one out, broke off a small end, and tossed it to Killer while she popped the other end in her mouth. Killer scarfed his treat then barked, begging for more.
Dinner of champions.
On nights when Melanie worked, Holly rarely found the gumption to cook for herself. If she was feeling good about the day, she’d make a sandwich or a salad, but more and more lately she came home exhausted and frustrated, and she resorted to whatever she could grab.
She had eaten several more Cheetos, the crumbs dropping all over her shirt, when her phone vibrated. She almost didn’t answer, not feeling up to dealing with Nicole. She was known for calling at all hours of the day or night, but tonight she was scoping out a competition’s party. What if it was Happy Dale Retirement Community calling about her grandmother? They had given her a sedative before Holly left, but what if it hadn’t calmed her down? Holly sighed in relief when she saw her cousin’s name on the caller ID.
“How was your day, Sunshine?”
She smiled, even if the nickname made her a little sad. Their grandmother had nicknamed them Sunshine and Rainstorm. Holly had been Sunshine for her bright and shiny disposition, while Melanie had been more waterworks and moodiness. “It sucked.”
“I had a feeling your presentation to Nicole would be stressful, so I left you a surprise in the fridge. Did you find it yet?”
Holly hopped out of the lawn chair and padded across the lawn to the house, the dog on her heels. “No.”
“I’m crushed,” she teased. “I made your favorite.”
She gasped when she pulled the refrigerator door open and saw the foil-covered casserole dish on the top shelf. “You didn’t!”
“I did. Lasagna.”
“It’s not that big of a deal. You’ve had a few bad days and junk food is your comfort food. At least eat something with some nutritional value.”
Killer started barking in front of the living room window.
“Killer, be quiet!”
“What’s he barking at?” Melanie asked, sounding worried. “One of the older women on the neighborhood watch said some cars had been broken into. Is the front door locked?”
Melanie was prone to exaggeration, but Holly had heard rumors of the break-ins, too. She walked over to the window and noticed a U-Haul parked in the street. “It looks like someone’s moving in next door. I didn’t know that junk pit had sold.”
“Seriously?” her cousin asked, annoyed. “I told you about this last week. Hot single guy. Remember? You were busy working on that wedding proposal and you kept nodding and saying, ‘Uh-huh.’ I knew you weren’t paying attention.”
“Wait.” Holly shook her head, trying to remember the conversation. Her cousin had been rattling on and on about the house next door, but Holly had been so focused on the McHenry wedding design she’d tuned her out. “You met him?”
“Okay,” Melanie conceded, “so I don’t know that he’s hot, but I do know that he’s single. The Realtor made sure to tell me.”
“So? You need to get back into dating world. Your vagina’s probably shriveled up by now.”
Holly groaned. “Not this again.”
“Maybe you should burn off some of that work frustration in the bedroom,” Melanie teased. “They say hate sex is hot.”
“I’m pretty sure you’re supposed to hate the person you’re having sex with, not someone else. And I’m not having sex with anyone.”
“So you’re becoming a nun?”
“No, I’ve been reconsidering my priorities.”
Melanie laughed. “Maybe you can piss off our new neighbor and then have sex with him. Have you seen him yet?”
“No. Oh, wait.” Holly looked out the window again and saw movement in the trees. “A guy just walked from the van into the house.”
“Is he hot?”
She craned her neck to look, but the limbs from the overgrown trees in the yard obstructed her view. “I have no idea. His back is to me and the trees are blocking him.”
“Go out and get the mail.”
“Walk to the curb and get the mail!”
“I can’t do that!”
“Why the hell not? You walk to the street, get the mail, and walk back in. And you just happen to cast you gaze over to the house next door. You have to look somewhere. Play it cool, Holly.”
“I’ve never played it cool in my life. When I get embarrassed, I can’t make eye contact. You’ve lived with me for nearly twenty-five years. You know this.”
“What’s there to be embarrassed about? Getting one’s mail isn’t a criminal offense. That’s only if you steal someone else’s. Oh! You could take his mail out of his box and take it to him to introduce yourself. Say it was delivered to us by mistake.”
“I’m not going to do that!”
“Well, you don’t have to—yet. We’ll save that as a last resort. I can’t see you committing a felony without a few drinks first.”
“Are you getting the mail yet?”
“No. I’m still inside talking to you.” If she craned her neck any more she’d have to visit the chiropractor to get her spine realigned, but it was all for nothing. She couldn’t see a thing.
“That’s good. I’ll provide your cover. Then it won’t be awkward if he catches you staring at him. You just keep talking to me on the phone and lift your hand in a tiny wave. Now go!”
Holly opened the front door. “I hate you right now.”
Melanie laughed. “No, you don’t. I made you lasagna.”
Holly had a feeling she was going to regret this, but she walked down the front steps anyway. “Aren’t you supposed to be working?”
“I’m on break.”
“You just started your shift an hour ago!”
“Never mind me—have you gone outside yet?”
“I’m halfway to the curb.”
“Do you see him?”
“How could I see him?” she whispered, hoping her voice didn’t carry. “I’m walking away from our house.”
“Ever hear of looking over your shoulder?”
“I thought the whole point of this endeavor is to spy on our new neighbor without making it look like I was spying on him.”
“Holly.” Melanie groaned. “Why do you have to be so literal?”
She stopped at the curb and opened the mailbox door, keeping her gaze down.
“I’m getting the mail, Melanie!” She held the phone to her ear with her shoulder and pulled the stack of envelopes from the box.
“Will you just look at his house already?”
“Yeah…Oh!” she squealed in excitement.
“I knew it! He’s hot, isn’t he? Does he have his shirt off?”
“No. I just got a fifty-percent-off coupon to Bath and Body Works.”
“Oh, my God, Holly. You’re killing me.”
“I’m almost out of Wild Honeysuckle shower gel. And obviously you love it, too, since you’ve been using it.”
“Will you focus? Look at the freaking house!”
Holly darted her eyes up and saw a pair of denim-covered legs walking out the front door and toward the truck. The view of the top part of his body was obstructed by the tree limbs. “I can see him,” she whispered, her face feeling warm. “He’s got long legs.”
“Don’t get me wrong, legs are nice, but at the moment, I’m more interested in the top half. What’s he look like?”
“I can’t see his face,” she hissed, standing in the street with her shoulder shoved up to her ear. She watched him hoist a box out of the truck. “The overgrown trees are hiding him. Can I go inside now?”
Melanie groaned. “No. That’s not enough. We need more information.”
“He drives an old truck and wears jeans that hug his butt,” Holly said as she took several steps toward her house. He was carrying the box through his front door. “He has a very nice butt.”
“I knew it!” Melanie shouted in her ear. “And it’s an ass. Even twelve-year-olds are too mature to say ‘butt.’ What else do you see?”
“Nothing. He’s gone inside and so am I.”
“That’s a great idea! Follow him inside.”
“Not his house. Ours. Are you crazy?”
“No, I suppose you wouldn’t. That’s okay.”
Holly pushed out a breath of relief that her cousin was going to let this go.
“You need an excuse.”
“Melanie!” She shouted as she walked through the front door.
“Oh! I know! The lasagna. Take it over as a welcome to the neighborhood offering.”
Holly gasped. “You traitor! You didn’t make that lasagna for me! You made it for me to take to him!”
“Calm down. I had no idea he was moving in today—only an idiot would move into that house—but why not use it to your advantage?”
“If you think he’s an idiot, why do you want me to meet him?”
“Maybe he’s an adorable idiot…with a rippling six-pack. I mean, he is flipping the house. Hot construction guy…no shirt…”
“Am I meeting him for me or you?”
“You, Sunshine. I’m with Darren right now, remember? Besides, no one said you were looking for your future husband. You’re just looking for a good time. Now go.”
Holly tossed the mail on the kitchen counter. “I’m not sharing my lasagna.”
“It’s a huge dish, Holly. You don’t have to take him the whole thing. Just take part of it.”
She didn’t answer.
“Come on. You know you want to…”
She did. Kind of. But the thought of walking over with a casserole filled her with dread. All she needed was a large L painted on her forehead. The whole move reeked of desperation.
“I’ll clean up the dishes for a week,” Melanie said.
She leaned her butt against the kitchen counter. “Two.”
“Are you kidding me?” Melanie asked in disbelief. “Why am I paying the price for you to meet a guy?”
“I’m perfectly fine sharing my lasagna with Killer.”
“When I come home I’m taking that lasagna over to him myself. All of it.”
She would, too. Holly let out a guttural growl. “Fine. But if I do this, you can’t bug me about not dating for an entire month. I’m marking on the calendar in the kitchen in case you forget.”
“Okay. One month, but you have to make an effort to talk to him, otherwise you can’t hold me to the date part.”
“And how do you know I won’t just tell you that I did?”
“Because you’re a terrible liar. I’ll know.”
Holly pushed out a sigh. “Melanie…”
“Text me when you get back.” Then she hung up.
Grumbling, Holly pulled the thirteen-by-nine casserole dish out of the fridge. The question was how to take it to him. Cut some out and put it on a plate? That would look tacky. She could give him the entire thing.
No freaking way that was going to happen.
- "Swank's fluffy, feel-good storytelling proclaims the primacy of love as a force to which everyone should surrender-the bachelors destined to star in future installments haven't got a chance."—Publishers Weekly (starred review)
- "Warm and funny, the first book in the Bachelor Brotherhood series reads like a great Hollywood rom-com."—iBooks Best Books of June
- "Right from the beginning, readers will be cheering for this couple to find their happily-ever-after...The story is well-written and paced in a way that readers will have a hard time putting it down."—RT Book Reviews
- On Sale
- Oct 25, 2016
- Page Count
- 368 pages