Head Over Heels, Something New #5
No amount of spin in the world could save this situation.
Not even a public relations genius like herself could turn this disaster into gold.
Life as she knew it was over.
Sophie Kincaid watched with an odd sense of detachment as the FBI agents swarmed the downtown Chicago office of the formally prestigious multimedia ad company where she worked, digging through files and shouting orders at each other.
Calm as could be, almost as though she watched a movie, she sat on her office chair, drinking her venti Red Eye, observing the proceedings like someone else’s life was being blown up. As though her life, and livelihood, weren’t collapsing around her Stuart Weitzman stilettos.
In retrospect, she supposed she should have suspected something was amiss. Her boss, Walter Poole, had been erratic and paranoid lately. But she’d thought he was stressed because they were pitching a national ad campaign to American Express, and if they won the bid, it would put them in the big leagues.
How was she to know he’d turned into a raging, embezzling cokehead? He had a house in Kenilworth, a sweet beautiful wife, and four postcard-perfect kids. He even had a dog, a cute little cocker spaniel, with adorable floppy ears, that wore red and green bows in their Christmas card.
Honestly, Sophie had no idea people even did coke anymore. It seemed like a throwback drug during a time where popping prescription Oxycontin was the addicts’ vice of choice.
Mind lost in a cotton cloud in spite of chaos reigning around her, she pondered his drug of choice. It was such an inconsequential detail, but she couldn’t stop thinking about it. Had the drug experienced a revival with the rest of the eighties? If people could love neon again, it wasn’t out of the realm of possibility.
Personally, she stuck to cocktails, wine, champagne, and maybe the occasional IPA beer. She was completely out of touch with the drug scene.
“Ms. Kincaid.” A male voice shocked her out of her haze.
She blinked at the man standing in front of her. He was around her age, with close-cropped hair and a blue windbreaker with the letters “FBI” spread across it in yellow. If Sophie wanted to cast an FBI agent, he’d be exactly who she’d look for with his hard eyes, strong jaw, and broad shoulders. Maybe not as the lead, because he lacked a certain amount of charisma, but as the sidekick for sure.
“Ms. Kincaid,” the agent said again.
She took a sip of her coffee. “Yes?”
“We’re going to need to take you down to the station for questioning.” His voice was authoritative but soft.
The words caught her attention. Surely she couldn’t help; she had no information to impart. She straightened and put her hand on her chest. “Why? I had nothing to do with this.”
He nodded, his features impassive and unreadable. She wondered if they taught them that at Quantico. Did they practice in the mirror? Were they tested? Graded?
He crossed his arms over his chest. “We’re questioning all the vice presidents.”
She tittered, and it was high pitched and nervous sounding. She shook her head. “But I’m just the PR girl.”
She didn’t know why she described herself that way, as though she was an intern, but she just couldn’t seem to attach herself to these events.
His blank expression didn’t even flicker and he nodded again. “It’s not a request.”
Suddenly, the gravity of her situation took hold of her. The world blared into crystal-clear focus, knocking her out of her detached apathy with a two-by-four spiked with nails. All the shouting, the people and flurry of paper and boxes screeched around her, rattling her out of her calm. Her heart started to pound a rapid beat, slamming against her ribs as her palms turned sweaty. The magnitude of her situation finally sank in.
She had nothing to do with this, but she was an executive at this company. What if they didn’t believe her? What if she couldn’t prove her innocence? What if she got thrown in jail? She’d just watched the new season of Orange Is the New Black, and she didn’t think she was cut out to be a prison girlfriend.
Okay. She took a deep breath. She needed to think. She wasn’t helpless. Maybe she didn’t have a family she could depend on like most people, but she had people that could help her. She had something better than family, she had powerful friends.
Despite having nothing to do with this, she was smart enough to know she shouldn’t talk to anyone without representation.
She lifted her cell phone. “Can I make a quick call?”
He narrowed his eyes for a second and then shrugged. “Sure, but make it fast.”
She didn’t know which of her best friends to call first, Maddie, whose husband used to be a big-time defense attorney and now worked for the State Department but lived hours away in the small town of Revival, or Penelope, who was connected to practically anyone who was anyone in the city and married to a former Chicago football star turned coach.
In the end she opted for Penelope, who moved with the efficiency scientists in the future would study to replicate. And, Penelope was in Chicago, unlike Maddie, who wouldn’t be able to do anything for hours.
She pushed the number, and when Penelope didn’t answer, Sophie ended the call and dialed again. Penelope was COO of her husband’s brother’s commercial real estate company and always busy. But if she called enough, Penelope would know something was wrong and answer.
Sophie called her three more times before Penelope picked up. “What’s wrong?”
Sophie was often called spirited, but she certainly wasn’t prone to dramatics. “Sorry to bother you, but I need help.”
“Is everything okay?” Penelope’s voice was all business.
“No.” Sophie’s throat tightened and she shook her head before clearing it. “I’m being taken to the Chicago FBI office over on Roosevelt. I need a lawyer to meet me there.”
There was ten seconds of complete silence before Penelope sprang into action. “What happened?”
“I don’t know.” The agent made a wrap-it-up signal with his hand. “Best-case scenario, I’m out of a job. Worst case, I’m going to be arrested.”
“We’ll be right there.” Then Penelope was gone.
Sophie took another sip of her coffee, set it on her former desk, and stood, smoothing out her black skirt. Sure, her entire life was ruined, but that was no excuse for wrinkles.
Head held high, she squared her shoulders. “I’m ready.”
One Month Later
Flanked by her best friends, Sophie stared at the tiny, thousand-square-foot house on Sycamore Street, located a few blocks away from the small downtown area of Revival, Illinois.
She wasn’t sure how something four blocks long, with absolutely no significant shopping, could be considered downtown, but there it was.
Downtown Revival. This was her life.
No more busy Chicago traffic, no more noise, no more Nordstrom, Starbucks, or late-night clubbing.
Teeth grinding, she listened and heard nothing familiar. She could barely make out the rumble of a car. In fact, there was hardly any noise. How would she sleep without background noise?
Panic whooshed through her veins. What was she supposed to do with quiet? Think about her life? But she didn’t want to think; she wanted to be out there in the busy world, acting. She took a deep breath. Okay, she needed to relax. This was temporary.
All she needed was a positive spin. There were worse fates than spending time in Revival. The small town was certainly better than prison. It was better than crashing in Penelope’s guest room because she couldn’t pay her rent and was a bit . . . unemployable at the moment. And she’d always had fun when she’d visited. The weekends flew by, so how hard could it be? She’d do six months and be back where she belonged.
Eventually people had to forget. Right? After all, she’d done nothing wrong. All she needed was time. The world lived in a twenty-four-hour news cycle; the reporters had to move on sooner rather than later. It would just take a little time before her former company’s name at the top of her résumé didn’t send her email straight into the trash.
Maddie’s arm was around her waist, and Penelope’s was around her shoulders. They both squeezed. They were driving Sophie crazy. Of course they meant well, but all their relentless optimism made her want to scream or break out into uncontrollable sobbing. She did neither. She merely endured in suffocating silence.
Sophie refused to cry. Especially when she was lucky compared to some of her other coworkers.
Yes, her reputation was presently tainted. She’d lost her job and put her Chicago After Dark blog on hiatus. Since her name had continuously been in the papers as part of the company’s executive team, she was a bit like a case of chlamydia. Not permanent, but distasteful enough that people wanted some distance. Given enough time, she’d recover. People had short memories, and when she got back home, she’d be back on top.
She needed to look on the bright side. This whole fiasco had taught her some valuable lessons. Namely, that life could change on a dime, and that sometimes it did pay to be prepared. It turned out designer shoes weren’t actually an investment and money in the bank was important. Go figure. Maybe she wasn’t practical and retirement savvy, but she was smart and wouldn’t make that mistake again.
It wasn’t all bad. While her savings were meager at best, she’d been able to get a job.
Yes, the position was in Revival, working for—she swallowed—the city government, but still. It was something. She wouldn’t be homeless, have to live off her friends or, God forbid, be forced to go join her parents in their meditation commune in India. She didn’t think she’d be good at commune life. She was too selfish. Too materialistic. Too American. She was everything her parents hadn’t wanted her to be.
So she needed to focus on how lucky she’d been to land this job helping the city of Revival, population twenty five hundred, with their town revitalization project. As a bonus, she’d get to spend tons of time with Maddie, and that would be great.
So, see, she was blessed. It wasn’t ideal, but it was work in her chosen profession, and for that she was grateful. She’d have time to regroup and reassemble.
It would be an adjustment, over before she knew it. If she kept busy, she’d blink and be home where she belonged, this whole mess like a faded bad dream.
“What do you think?” Maddie asked, waving her free hand at the frame porch, her long red hair blowing gently in the breeze, making her look like she was ready to film a shampoo commercial in a spring meadow.
Sophie studied what would be her home for the next six months. While the place was small, the white frame house looked like a cottage, with window boxes and a cute small front porch. It was a little run down and needed some landscaping, but it would do.
She smiled at her friend. They were both tiny, and eye level. At five-three, Maddie had Sophie beat by one inch. Her friend had gone through so much trouble to find a place for her; Sophie refused to burst her bubble by whining about how she wanted to go home. “It’s perfect, thanks.”
It wasn’t quite a lie, but it was an exaggeration.
It was charming enough, but Sophie was a city girl. She’d never lived anywhere with grass before. She took a deep breath. “Maybe I could learn to garden. Or at least mow the lawn. That’s a thing, right?”
Maddie pointed to the garage in the back of the house. “The owner said there’s a mower in the garage.”
The grass needed to be cut. Once she’d read in Real Simple people found yard work therapeutic, so maybe it would help her feel better. More like she was at home instead of dropped into an alternative universe.
Penelope laughed. “Please call me when you do, because I’d really love to see that.”
“Hey! Like you’ve ever mowed in your life.” Sophie scowled good-naturedly at Penelope, a tall, willowy brunette and the good girl in their close group. Everyone knew she was the perfect one. The planner. The organized one. The woman that kept Maddie and Sophie out of jail when they were girls and from going off the deep end now as adults.
Penelope smiled. “But I could if I needed to.”
“Well, so can I.” Sophie squirmed, and her friends finally dropped their death hold on her. “How hard can it be?”
“I’ve done it.” Maddie raised her hand like they were back in middle school. “It’s kind of therapeutic. Like active meditation.”
Just like Real Simple claimed. They wouldn’t steer her wrong. Maddie’s confirmation gave her hope.
If Maddie had reformed her wild ways and been domesticated, so could Sophie. How hard could it be? And Maddie loved Revival, had chosen to live here with her hot husband, Mitch, in their big farmhouse by the river. They even had a baby, a nine-month-old girl, Lily.
As the first child in their group of friends and family, she was spoiled rotten and universally deemed the prettiest baby any of them had ever seen. Lily had her mama’s red hair and Cupid’s bow mouth, combined with her daddy’s amber eyes and golden skin. It was an unusual combination, and even now it was clear she was going to be a stunner. Already Mitch fretted over her being a teenager.
See, Maddie had completely adjusted to country life. In fact, she’d never move back to Chicago. If she could do it, Sophie could do it for six months.
Sophie wrinkled her nose. “I guess I’ll find out.”
Maddie gestured at the front yard. “We could put some hydrangea bushes in front of the house and plant the window boxes. It would be really pretty.”
Oh. My. God. She was discussing gardening. How was this happening? She put on a happy face.
“Sure,” she said absently, walking up the driveway. Time to stop avoiding and claim this as home.
“What time are the movers coming?” Penelope asked.
“They should be here within the next hour.”
“We should get started cleaning, then.” Penelope’s voice took on that efficient edge, tinged with excitement. The woman lived for cleaning and organizing. Obviously Penelope was sick and twisted, but Sophie loved her anyway.
“Great.” Her tone was dry. “I love cleaning.”
Back home she’d paid a college girl to clean her apartment. She’d worked so much she wasn’t about to waste her weekends on housework. But she couldn’t afford that now. Her six-month contracted salary covered her rent, essentials, takeout, and one of those mutual funds thingies she was supposed to have by now. Something had to go, and it wasn’t like she was going to start cooking.
She frowned. Did Revival have delivery?
Panic sliced through her and she took a deep breath. She’d worry about it later. Her friends were watching her every move, waiting to catch her the second she fell apart. She appreciated their love and relentless support but wanted no part of their sympathy. She’d freak out when she was alone and not a second before.
She dusted her hands on her jean shorts, smoothed down her red tank top, and squared her shoulders. Time to get down to the business of becoming a country girl.
Just then a loud roar rumbled through the quiet streets, interrupting the tranquility of the neighborhood. A big, black motorcycle turned the corner, the motor so loud it vibrated through her ears, and strummed through her blood, jolting the first signs of life from her.
Yes, of course motorcycles were dangerous, but Sophie had a tiny thing for danger she’d been trying to manage since college, and the Harley looked and sounded as dangerous as they came.
Sophie, Maddie, and Penelope all froze in the driveway, staring at the bike tearing a path through the street. She could tell the driver was a man by the breath of his shoulders, but she couldn’t make him out.
She waited for him to pass, but he pulled into the driveway next to hers and turned off the bike.
Sophie could only blink in shock. Her throat went dry. The driver wasn’t just a man; he was all man.
Who in the hell was that?
The man didn’t get off the motorcycle. Instead he sat there, watching her. At least she thought he watched her, but it was hard to tell behind his mirrored aviator sunglasses. He wore jeans, and the denim stretched over the powerful thighs straddling the beast of a machine. He took his hands off the handlebars, and the muscles in his forearms corded and flexed before biceps filled out his black T-shirt. His shoulders went on for miles, stretching the confines of the cotton.
That was just his body. But his face, holy shit his face. He had a strong jaw, hard features, and short dark brown hair. Sophie couldn’t see his eyes, but he was ridiculously masculine and uncomfortably good-looking.
Sophie had nothing against hot men. In fact, she rather liked them. But she took one look at this one and immediately disliked him, for no rational reason or logical explanation other than he looked exactly like her type. And Sophie knew her type. Her type was nothing but trouble, heartache, and potential jail time. She’d given up her type a long time ago, and while it was a little boring, it was much safer.
She glared at the offending stranger. Why in God’s name wouldn’t he stop looking at her? Why didn’t he get off his dumb bike? Why was he just sitting there?
“Hey, Ryder,” Maddie called out, before giving her a huge, sly smile. “This is Sophie.”
Her friend clearly knew exactly who he was but had failed to mention him.
Sophie frowned as he nodded in her direction before swinging his leg off the bike.
He straightened to his full height, and she gulped. He was a giant. Tall and broad with lean, tapered hips and a flat stomach. She’d bet every last dollar in her meager bank account he had a six-pack under his shirt.
And his name was Ryder. Gag. His mama didn’t like him much, did she?
He walked across the grass.
Sophie scowled as her adrenaline kicked in and she had a sudden urge to flight.
Maddie waved a hand between them. “Sophie Kincaid, meet Ryder Moore.”
He came to stand in front of her, tilting his strong jaw before raising his sunglasses to peer down at her.
Her scowl deepened.
His eyes were like nothing she’d ever seen before. They were gray, light and almost eerie.
He smiled and her heart skipped a beat. “Sophie, I’ve heard a lot about you.”
She crossed her arms over her chest. She didn’t want anything to do with this man. She didn’t know what he was doing here, but she wanted him gone. “Why’s that?”
He jerked a thumb over his shoulder. “I’m your neighbor.”
Oh no. Why, God, why? Could this get any worse? What was Maddie thinking? She didn’t want to live next to him.
He grinned down at her. “And your landlord.”
Oh. My. God.
All those years of Catholic school, and this was how the heavens repaid her.
The tiny blonde stared at him as though he was a bug under her shoe. Arms crossed, she stood there, glaring at him like his very existence irritated her. Which, considering the deal he’d given her on rent, he didn’t understand at all.
She should be grateful.
She should at least smile at him.
But she did none of those things.
Instead she glowered.
Maybe Maddie Riley had told her something bad, but that didn’t seem right. He’d been a practical saint since moving to Revival. Maddie, her friends, and her family had been nothing but welcoming since he’d moved from a couple of towns over. Besides, he doubted they even knew about his trouble that had been the catalyst in his decision to start over fresh.
But the cute blonde he towered over clearly wasn’t a fan.
Too bad, because she was a pretty little thing. With her hair pulled back in a ponytail, those big brown eyes of hers, and that sweet mouth, she should look soft and compliant. She didn’t. She looked fierce, with a defiant tilt to her jaw and the set of her shoulders.
At six-four he stood more than a foot taller than her, but his height didn’t appear to intimidate her, despite the disparity between them. Standing there, she was so small he had a sudden urge to pat her on top of her head. Certain that move wouldn’t win him any favors, he resisted and said, “Rent’s due on the first of the month.”
Her frown deepened. “Fine.”
He was intrigued. Rubbing women the wrong way wasn’t really his thing. In fact, he had the opposite problem; women always liked him too much. With the right smile, he could get away with almost anything.
Not with this one, though.
He tried again, putting on his most charming grin. “Utilities are included.”
She raised her brows. “Yeah, I know. I read the contract.”
She had a bee in her bonnet, now didn’t she? He jutted his chin in the direction of his house. “If you need anything, I’m right next door to help you out.”
“I won’t need anything.” She huffed, waving a hand. “You won’t even know I’m here.”
He crossed his arms and mimicked her posture. “Somehow I doubt that, honey.”
If anything, her stance grew more formidable. She locked her legs and slammed her hands on her hips, giving him the first clear view of a very nice rack. She had quite the chest on her for such a little thing. Not huge, not porn-star material, but soft, rounded, and full.
The snap of her voice refocused his attention back on her face. “My name is Sophie.”
She really was cute all riled up. He raised a brow. “Are you sure you don’t want me to call you Ms. Kincaid?”
She narrowed her eyes. “Since you won’t know I’m here, you won’t have to call me anything.”
Maddie cleared her throat and came to stand next to her. She gave Ryder a huge, aw-shucks grin that raised the fine hairs on the back of his neck. Never trust a redhead with a too-innocent smile; they’re almost always up to something. “Thanks so much for giving Sophie a short-term lease.”
“Not a problem,” he said, slowly. “You know I’m always happy to help.”
She turned a pleading expression on Sophie. “Ryder gave you a great deal and did me a huge favor.”
Sophie narrowed her eyes on him before tilting her chin even higher. “Thank you. I appreciate it.”
Somehow he doubted that too. He glanced around. “Are your movers on the way?”
Before Sophie could speak, Maddie interjected, “They’ll be here soon.”
“You girls have help?” He scrubbed a hand over his stubble-covered jaw. It had been a hell of a night, and all he wanted was a shower and bed.
Sophie rolled her eyes. “We don’t need help.”
She was a sassy one. He shrugged one shoulder. “I wasn’t offering, baby doll.”
She gave him a disgusted huff. “Oh God, you’re one of those.”
Now this he had to hear. “One of what?”
“One of those guys that calls women insipid endearments like honey, and baby, and sweetie, instead of humanizing her with an actual name.”
Maddie opened her mouth to speak. “We—”
Sophie cut her off and kept right on going. “But I suppose with a name like Ryder Moore, I can’t blame you.”
He raised a brow. “What’s wrong with Ryder?”
She rolled her eyes. “Did your mom watch too many soaps?”
“It’s my granddaddy’s name.” He smirked. “I’ll tell him you don’t approve.”
“Whatever.” She waved a hand. “We’ve got work to do. Come on, girls.” Without waiting to see if they followed, she turned around and sashayed her little ass away from him.
When she hit the top step of the porch, he called out helpfully, “Don’t forget rent’s due on the first, darlin’.”
Without even looking back she gave him the finger, then stalked into the house, the door slamming behind her.
He looked at her two friends. Maddie he knew well, but the composed brunette, Penelope, he’d only met a few times. She was the wife of Evan Donovan, former wide receiver turned coach.
He cocked his head at them. “Well now, isn’t she a hostile one.”
Maddie shook her head. “Oh my God, I’m so sorry. I have no idea what got into her.”
Penelope gave him a level stare. “She’s had a hard go of it recently.”
He nodded. “I see.”
“I’m not sure she’s a fan of the pet names.” Penelope flashed him a smile that dazzled him for a second. He’d always thought her quietly pretty, but then she smiled or did something that made her heart-stopping. He’d heard bits of the story of her courtship with one of Chicago’s most notorious football players, and when she hit Ryder with one of those looks he could see why Evan had fallen in love with her as a teenager and never fallen out.
He chuckled. “Really? What was your first clue?”
Penelope laughed. “I’m good at reading subtle body language.”
Maddie shook her head. “Again, I’m really sorry. We’ll talk to her.”
He shrugged one shoulder. “No worries, she doesn’t need to like me.”
“She’s really great, I promise,” Maddie said, her voice a bit too cheerful.
“This is a big adjustment for her,” Penelope added.
City girls were always the highest maintenance. He tilted his head in the direction of his house. “I’m gonna get some shut-eye. It’s been a long night.”
Maddie and Penelope exchanged one of those secret female looks that set his instincts on high alert.
Penelope cleared her throat. “We promise she’ll be good.”
Ah, now he saw what was going on.
Sophie Kincaid was a troublemaker.
A hellion living right next door. Well, wouldn’t that make the neighborhood interesting?
At least he wouldn’t be bored.
The kitchen was nice enough. Nothing modern or fancy, but at least it was all white, so she could add her own touches. The wooden cabinets were plain, the appliances antiquated, and the counters some sort of boring ceramic tile. A blank slate she could make her own.
She went to her big laundry basket full of cleaning supplies—Penelope’s idea of a house-warming present—and pulled on a pair of rubber gloves before grabbing the cleaner.
Might as well start with the sink. She tested the water, and it came out in a blast, surprising her. Back home she’d rented a brand-new condo where everything was low flow. She hadn’t seen water pressure like this since the nineties. Clearly Revival didn’t care about water conservation.
She sprayed down the sink and started to scrub, contemplating what she could do with the space. That would give her something to fill the time. She’d never considered herself a workaholic like Penelope, but until she’d lost her job she’d never realized how much actual time she’d spent working.
She needed projects to work on. Yes, she had the projects with the city, but the hours didn’t come close to what she was used to, so this house would have to do.
She hoped her landlord would appreciate her efforts.
She huffed. God, he rubbed her the wrong way. Realistically she didn’t have a good reason other than gut instinct warning her off him. He just reminded her too much of the kind of man she’d given up a long time ago. She was older now. Wiser. She didn’t care how good-looking he was. She didn’t want to live next door to him, but she had no choice.
She was stuck. This was what she got for letting Maddie take care of all the details because she wanted to avoid the reality of her situation. What she should have done was come check out the place herself, but how could she have predicted Ryder Moore?
She scoured around the drain. She’d do what she always did and make the best of it. Of course she’d avoid him at all costs. It was only six months. And while she wouldn’t be working seventy hours a week, she’d keep busy.
There was plenty to do. She had to come up with ideas on how to effectively utilize the new town square, to ensure new and existing businesses saw the positive effects and increased traffic and revenue, and she had two major events to plan and make a smashing success. The town square grand kickoff coincided with the Fourth of July, and that left her two months to make it so spectacular people would come from all over just to see it.
The mayor of Revival, Griffin Strong, had already given her the current plans, and she’d prepared a list of suggestions to make it a thousand times better. Then she’d have the Pumpkin Festival to keep her busy, and she’d be back home by Thanksgiving.
This might be a disaster, but she needed to remember to be grateful, because she was lucky to have a place to go, with friends to support her and work to do while she waited out the shit storm tainting her reputation back in Chicago.
She’d be grateful. Do her job. Keep away from her neighbor and go back home without causing a ripple.
Ryder Moore was a minor blip of annoyance she wouldn’t pay any attention to.
Maddie and Penelope came barreling into the house, tumbling into the small kitchen. Sophie realized she’d been scrubbing the sink furiously for the past five minutes and stilled her frantic movements.
Maddie screeched. “What was that?”
Sophie flicked on the faucet and again marveled at how the water blasted out. She splashed the water around to get rid of the cleaning solution and said calmly, “What was what?”
“Now, Sophie,” Penelope said in her calm, “let’s discuss this reasonably” voice.
Sophie turned off the faucet and faced her friends. “What?”
Maddie, the more high-strung of the two, blew out an exasperated breath. “Why were you so unpleasant to Ryder? You need to be nice to him.”
“I wasn’t unpleasant.” She picked up the cleaning product again. Sure she’d given him the finger, but her friends hadn’t seen. Penelope gave her that look and Sophie grinned at her. “You know you’re going to make a great mom someday.”
Penelope shook her head. “Don’t change the subject.”
“What’s the subject?” She didn’t see what there was to talk about. She didn’t want to spend one second of energy on stupid Ryder. Okay, yes, she was being a touch . . . unreasonable about him, but so what? She didn’t have to like everyone, and she certainly didn’t need to apologize.
Maddie ran a hand through her long red hair. “He’s your landlord, and your neighbor, it’s best if you keep him on friendly terms. I don’t even understand what your problem is. Ryder is a great guy. Everyone thinks so.”
Of course they did. She couldn’t imagine a single woman in Revival that wouldn’t have heart palpitations when he walked by, but she wasn’t so easily charmed. Her hormones were too smart to be fooled by all that testosterone. She was a South Side city girl; she could spot bullshit a mile away. She raised her hand and held up three fingers. “He called me pet names three times, Maddie. Three times! That’s so obnoxious.”
“He was clearly antagonizing you,” Penelope said, as though that explained everything in a perfectly logical fashion.
Sophie threw up her hands. “Duh. That’s my point.”
Maddie sighed. “Only because you were being so snippy with him.”
Sophie shrugged. “It doesn’t matter. It’s not like I’ll see him.”
Maddie chewed on her bottom lip. “He’s a friend of ours. He’s new in town. We invite him to things.”
“It’s no big deal. It will be fine.” She’d avoid those things if he were around. Easy solution to a non-problem. The benefit of moving to the boonies was she didn’t have to deal with anyone she wasn’t interested in.
“Just remember, he gave you a great deal.” Maddie put her hand on her chest. “As a favor to me.”
Sophie wanted to stop talking about him. He made her itchy, and she had a million things to do today. She gave Maddie her best smile. “I promise I’ll be good, Mom.”
She was saved any more discussion when Mitch, Maddie’s husband, called out from the foyer, “Anyone home?”
Maddie called back, “We’re in the kitchen.”
A second later Mitch Riley, Penelope’s husband, Evan, and Shane, Maddie’s oldest brother, stood in the foyer.
Maddie spun around and looked at her husband’s empty arms. “Where’s Lily?”
Mitch cocked his head and grinned. “What? Is she too young to be left alone?”
Maddie put her hands on her hips. “Where’s my baby?”
Shane scoffed, “Relax, Mads. Cece’s got her.”
Cecilia was Shane’s wife, who also happened to be Mitch’s sister, and was five months pregnant herself. Sometimes their complicated family gave Sophie a headache, and she felt one growing at the base of her skull right now. They were all so intertwined in a way that eluded her.
Like Penelope, Sophie was an only child. Unlike Penelope, Sophie had always liked it that way. Connection and attachments were complicated, and she liked to keep things simple. She’d grown up with decent parents who loved her and gave her a stable home and a roof over her head, despite a permanent case of wanderlust. Yes, they were a bit eccentric and flighty, and oh so new agey, always looking for the next step in an enlightenment they never seemed to find. As soon as they’d done their duty and she’d become a legal adult, they’d taken off to explore to their hearts’ content. Her parents were hippie throwbacks, and they made their way around the globe by being international house sitters, living in communes, and taking on charity expeditions. Sometimes they stayed in a place for a month, sometimes years. Right now they were three months into their year in India. They left her alone to live her life, which was fine. Sophie wouldn’t be able to handle the way Maddie’s family always hovered over her.
Sophie talked to them once every couple of weeks on Skype, and occasionally they came home. As far as she was concerned, seeing them once a year was the perfect amount of parent time.
Sophie liked her freedom and had no desire to be tied down. She had no idea how Maddie put up with constant family involvement. It would drive her crazy.
The only people in this world she felt bonded to were Maddie and Penelope. Yes, she loved the rest of the group too, loved the Donovans and their big, crazy family, even though they were pains in the asses. But Maddie and Penelope were her rocks. The ones she’d do anything for.
They were more than enough for her. She didn’t need more entanglements in her life. Sure, sometimes at Christmas when everyone was busy with celebrating with family she experienced a sense of wistfulness, but she solved that with nonstop activity. And they always included her, so it worked out.
Maddie’s tension didn’t seem to abate with her husband’s reassurance. “Do you think she’s okay? Maybe I should call Cecilia and make sure she knows the schedule.”
Mitch walked over to his wife and put his hands on her shoulders, kissing her on the top of her head. “Maddie, relax. I took care of it.”
Maddie worried her bottom lip. “I’m sorry I’m so paranoid. I just don’t want anything to happen to her. She’s so small and precious.”
Evan snorted. “Please, that baby is a monster.”
“Evan!” Penelope glared at her husband.
Maddie gasped, swinging in the direction of her brother. “You take that back.”
Evan shrugged. “You are all smitten, but that kid is plotting world domination. You can see it in her eyes.”
Sophie laughed. Evan was right. Lily Riley was a force to reckoned with. She took spirited to a whole new level.
Maddie scowled. “Don’t say that about my sweet baby.”
Evan pulled Penelope in front of him, like she could shield him from his sister. “Penelope and I took her to the park, and I swear she was holding court in the sandbox. One of the babies threatened to crawl away and Lily cried until the poor kid came back. And then she smiled at me, all cunning.”
“He might be exaggerating a touch,” Penelope said, given she was required to be the most logical person in the room.
Mitch, however, chuckled. “That’s my girl.”
Maddie put a hand on her chest. “Our daughter is not cunning.”
Everyone gave the proud mama a smile but remained silent.
There was a knock on the front door and Sophie sighed. Who could that be? Nobody she knew would knock. Everyone she knew would just walk right in. Bright pink gloves still on her hands, she took them off and excused herself, slowing as she saw who was at her door.
Ugh! It was him.
Their eyes met. And without all the distractions of other people, a spark of heat flared between them.
Yeah, screw that. Not in this lifetime.
When she reached the screen she gave him a narrow-eyed glare, but determined to do right by her friends, she said sweetly, “Can I help you, Mr. Moore?”
He opened the door and stepped inside like he owned the place. She went to call him on the invasion only to realize he actually did. Thinking of Maddie, and peace, she politely said nothing.
“Mr. Moore, huh?” He gave her another one of those wicked smiles he seemed to favor. A smile Sophie was sure got him anything his little black heart could desire.
“You’re my landlord.” She crossed her arms and huffed. “I’m supposed to be respectful.”
“Ah, darlin’, I wouldn’t want you to go changing on my account.” God, his voice was ridiculous. Like dripping honey.
Sophie bet he made more than one thing drip all over town. She put her hands on her hips. “I’m not rising to the bait.”
Then he had the nerve to let his eyes take a long, leisurely stroll down her body. “What fun is that?”
The challenge, the spur of competition and thrill of banter raced through her blood, swift and sudden. She’d always been a sucker for sharp, witty repartee. It was like crack, and it made him a hundred times more attractive. Which was unfortunate considering he was far too attractive already.
She raised her chin and said in her most haughty tone, “I’m not here for fun. I’m here to work, keep my head down, and serve my time before I go back home.”
He chuckled. “I’d bet good money you haven’t had a quiet day in your entire life.”
“Since you don’t know me, you have no basis for your claim.”
“I’ve got good instincts.” He stepped closer and he was so big, so broad, and so freakin’ gorgeous.
It was like every cell in her body came to startling, angry life. Why couldn’t he be slow? A bit dim-witted like men who looked like him were supposed to be? She rarely met a tongue as sharp as her own, and she was enjoying this a little too much. Her vagina had terrible taste in men and notoriously steered her wrong, which was why she’d stopped listening to it years ago.
So instead of a retort that would send them further down the rabbit hole, she said, “Can I help you?”
His attention shifted to her mouth, settled for a bit before moving back up to her eyes. He held out a ring with three keys on it. “These are the rest of the keys.”
Well now, he actually had a purpose that didn’t include sparring with her. Great. She held out her hand. “Thanks.”
He didn’t drop them into her palm; instead he raised the first one. “This is to the basement.” He flicked the other one. “The back door.” And the third. “This is to the garage.”
He dropped the ring into her palm and she put the keys in her pocket.
Their gazes caught and held a little too long.
In his honeyed voice he said, “The garage can stick and be a little stubborn, so let me know if it gives you problems and I’ll show you my tricks for easing your way in.”
Was that dirty? It sounded dirty. She should be good. Say thank you and send him on his way. But instead, she smirked. “I’m a big girl, I assure you I know how to ease my way in just fine.”
“I’m sure you do, honey.”
What were they talking about here? Because it sure as hell wasn’t keys.
She needed to put an end to this. She cleared her throat. “So are we done here? ’Cause I’ve got a lot to do.”
He nodded. “You know where to find me in case you need help with how something works.”
She flashed him her most winning smile. “I’ve been living on my own a long time. I promise you, your door is the last place I’ll show up.”
“Didn’t your mama ever tell you not to make promises you can’t keep?”
She put a hand on a cocked hip and wiggled her fingers. “Good-bye, honey.”
He laughed, not remotely insulted. “Try not to make too much noise, I’ve got to get some sleep.”
She huffed. “It’s the middle of the day, you deadbeat.”
He opened the door and said over his shoulder, “Late night.”
“Those hookers wear you out?” Okay, she had to stay away because she couldn’t seem to control her mouth.
He spun around and held out his arms. “Like I have to pay for sex. I mean, come on.”
Then he turned and jogged down the stairs and across the front yard before she could get in the last word.
“I’m fairly certain he doesn’t have to pay for sex,” Penelope said, somehow standing next to Sophie.
When had she shown up? And why hadn’t Sophie realized she was there? She put her arms over her chest. “You just shut up.”
Penelope rose to her tiptoes trying to get a gander at his disappearing form. “Good God, that man is hot.”
Sophie turned and glared at Penelope. “You’re married, and everyone knows Evan is the most gorgeous man ever, so stop that.”
“I’m married.” Penelope grinned. “But I’m not dead.”
“Well, I don’t want to talk about him.” She shook her head. “What was Maddie thinking?”
“I don’t understand why you don’t like him.”
“Because I don’t.” She took off back toward the kitchen, determined to put Ryder out of her mind and not think about him again for the rest of her natural born life.
I hop you enjoyed this sneak peek.
Head Over Heels
Series: Something New #5
Published by Kensington
Release Date: September 26, 2017
Average rating on Goodreads: 3.98 stars
Number of Reviews: 63 (on Goodreads)Order: Amazon |Barnes & Noble |Kobo |iTunes |Google Play
Country and city, strapping and petite—these new neighbors have literally nothing in common. Are the fireworks crackling between them pure irritation—or something a whole lot hotter?
With her professional reputation in tatters—and her boss in jail—Sophie Kincaid has no choice but to move to small-town Revival, Illinois, until the dust settles, where her best friends have arranged a job and a house for her. For six months, she’s pretty sure she can handle anything—even her new landlord and neighbor, Ryder Moore. A magnetic 6’4” deputy sheriff, Ryder’s good looks and habit of flirting with intent to seduce are an infuriating distraction—and, to Sophie’s alarm, an undeniable temptation.
Ryder knows Sophie’s type—entitled city girl—and it’s not one of his favorites. Add in her snarky sass and her propensity for trouble and she’s not exactly his ideal tenant. But something about the curvy little blonde fires Ryder’s imagination, not to mention his desire. Soon enough their verbal sparring seems like a prelude to something much more physical—and far more pleasurable. Is love right around the corner—or just right next door?