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Authors: Lori Foster

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BOOK: The Guy Next Door
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She laughed softly. “Kind of looks that way.”

Kim had some logical advice, as always. She told Gail that giving Jesse an opportunity to redeem himself wasn’t a sign of her own weakness or gullibility. “The man made a bad call, but that doesn’t necessarily mean he’s a Curtis Chapman clone,” Kim said. “He’s already apologized, right? He knows he screwed up. So whatever you do, don’t get on that plane without talking to him. Hear him out.”

“All right,” Gail said.

“What kind of chocolates? What kind of flowers? You didn’t say.”

Gail laughed at her friend again. “Three dozen yellow tulips and a dozen truffles from a local
chocolatier.

Kim didn’t say anything. Gail couldn’t even hear her breathe. For a moment, she thought she’d lost cell phone reception. “Kim?” she asked. “Are you there?”

“Not Curtis Chapman, not Curtis Chapman…”
Kim
said in monotone. “Just keep repeating that phrase over and over to yourself.”

When they hung up, Gail leaned her head back against the comfortable poolside lounge chair. The sun was hanging low in the sky. She’d be flying back to Philly in eighteen hours.

Gail’s eyes dropped to the hardback book in her lap. As it turned out, Jesse’s first novel was extremely well written. The story was full of double crosses and characters the reader didn’t know if they should trust. It had great sex and witty dialogue and a plotline that made Gail never want to leave the world she’d entered.

In other words, Jesse’s first novel was a lot like the week she’d just spent in his company.

She sighed, twisting around to look up and behind her, trying to see through the thick foliage to Jesse’s house. It looked as if the lights had just come on upstairs.

Kim had been right—he wasn’t Curtis. And Chago had been right—he was a decent guy who deserved another shot.

Besides, there was no point in denying the most important reality of all. Gail had broken the number one rule for any spring breaker. She’d gone and fallen in love.

She was totally sprung.

 

A
LOUD BANGING JARRED
Jesse out of his writing stupor. For a moment, he wasn’t sure if the sound was real or if it had happened in his head, where an entire city block had just gone up in a cloud of black smoke as part of the climactic action sequence.

No. The sound was real, he decided. Someone was banging on his front door loud enough to wake the dead. “Shit, shit,
shit,
” he said to no one. He glanced at his computer to check the time. He was almost going to make it. He’d designated eight hours of his day to rush through one last edit, then he would be emailing the manuscript to New York. He didn’t give a damn how much work it still needed, which was unlike him. Jesse had always prided himself on the fact that he turned in near-perfect manuscripts that hardly ever needed revisions. It was his trademark.

But not this time. If they wanted his manuscript, they could have it. He’d do revisions later. It didn’t matter. He had a life to live.

The woman he loved was getting on a plane in the morning, and there was still a lot to be settled between them. He had a whole lot of apologizing to do. They had plans to make for their future.

The banging continued. “What the fuck do you want from me?” he asked the gods, raising his arms over his head. He couldn’t break now! He’d built in just enough time for a quick shower before he went over there and professed his love to Gail. If he stopped now, there would be no shower, and therefore a much-reduced chance at winning her back.

The truth was, she hadn’t returned his calls or acknowledged the flowers or candy. She might have decided to go out for dinner, ruining his plans for the night, or she might have even taken an earlier flight, ruining his future. But the last time he looked, she was still over there at poolside, her back to him, reading or sleeping, he couldn’t tell which, but obviously not too distraught over their argument. So he simply couldn’t
stop now, no matter who was at the door. He was minutes away from finishing. He was minutes away from emailing this sucker to New York and getting his ass back to Gail.

The banging continued.

“What is wrong with people?” he muttered, getting up from his chair for the first time in at least three hours, shaking his legs to get the blood back in his limbs. “Have you never heard of the sanctity of a man’s home? Do you not realize that some people have fucking contractual obligations? What the fuck is wrong with the world?”

Jesse grabbed the door handle and was about to fling it open and continue his diatribe when he was shocked to his senses. It was Gail. She had a thoughtful smile on her face. She stood on his porch in that same conservative cotton sundress she’d worn the day he met her. But she’d accessorized differently today. His first “Dark Blue” novel was clutched to her chest.

“You’re a very good writer,” she said.

Jesse couldn’t breathe.

“You’re still a dipshit, but I’m going to give you another chance, because I know you had your reasons.”

Jesse’s eyes widened. He must look like hell.

“In fact, you’re quite talented.”

She opened the book and began to read a paragraph from the second chapter, using her now-familiar English professor voice. When she was done with her recitation, she closed the book and looked him square in the eye.

“This is beautifully economic use of the language,” she said. “You don’t resort to flowery descriptions or
melodramatic dialogue. It’s real. It’s raw, and your sentences have a driving power to them.”

For an instant, Jesse worried he might be hallucinating. Maybe he’d gotten himself dehydrated again. It happened sometimes when he was on deadline.

“It almost reminds me of Hemingway.”

Jesse laughed.

“And I apologize for calling your books trash when I hadn’t even bothered to read them. My thesis committee board would cringe if they knew I’d committed such a sin.”

Jesse smiled. “Apology accepted.”

“Are you okay?” Gail asked. “You look pretty awful.”

Talk about economic use of the language.

“Yeah,” Jesse said, rubbing a hand over his rough beard. “I’d hoped to be better groomed when I got down on the ground and groveled before you.”

She nodded, giving him a once-over. He was still in the robe he’d worn during their fight the night before.

“I love you, Gail,” he said.

She looked up at him, her eyes clear and smiling.

“And I’m truly sorry for not telling you everything about me from the start.” The moment the words left him, Jesse felt the weight of exhaustion and relief press down on him. He had to laugh at how ridiculous he was about to sound. “But here’s the kicker—my publisher just moved up my deadline to tomorrow morning. I was racing through my manuscript so I could spend time with you before you go.”

She cocked her head politely.

“And I don’t want you to go, Gail. I really don’t want you to go.”

She stepped through his doorway and placed herself directly in his embrace. He pulled her tight, smelling her, feeling her heat and the beat of her heart, never wanting the moment to end.

“I accept your apology,” Gail said, the words muffled by his robe. “Why don’t you shower while I make you something to eat? Then you can finish up.”

“Seriously?” he asked her, stunned.

“Sure,” Gail said, easing out of his embrace. “You’re on deadline. I understand.”

Jesse stood in shock for a few seconds. “You do?”

She grinned. “Of course. I love you, too, Jesse.”

Jesse gripped her by the shoulders and kissed her hard and fast. “A half hour, tops,” he said, already heading up the steps. “And you don’t have to cook. I have an eight o’clock reservation for us at the Grand Café. I wanted your last night here to be special. If I hurry, we can just make it.”

“That sounds even better.” Gail grinned at him from the foyer. “I have a good book to keep me company in the meantime.”

EPILOGUE

W
HEN THE SMALL PLANE
began to descend, Gail’s stomach dropped with it. Goose bumps broke out all over her body, just like that first time she’d laid eyes on him, naked from the waist up and yelling at his shutter hinge. It seemed like a lifetime ago.

Within minutes she’d be in Jesse’s arms again, where she belonged.

The six weeks had gone quickly, just as Jesse had assured her they would. The days rushed by as they took care of life’s business 1,347 miles away from each other. Gail had been swamped finishing the semester and getting Holly’s admissions paperwork completed for her freshman year at Penn. For Jesse the focus was a two-week book tour and manuscript revisions. After all the deadline drama, his publisher was thrilled with the finished product, calling it his best novel yet.

Jesse had kept his word. Although the rapid-fire texting of the first few days got old real quick, he kept up with a steady stream of emails and phone calls. And even while he was on tour, he managed to mail her a handwritten love letter once a week, in cursive as flowing and elegant as the words on the page. Gail always saved those letters for nighttime, to read once she was in bed and the house was quiet. She would savor his words, letting the rich cadence of the language fall over
her like a velvet blanket. On letter nights, Gail took Jesse with her into sleep, and into her dreams.

Interestingly enough, Gail had decided the separation had been good for them. It had forced them to get to know each other on a deeper level, relying on communication alone to keep the spark alive.

But boy, oh
boy,
had she missed the sex. Since her adventures with Jesse, there was no such thing as being chaste and sane at the same time. Those days were over.

Kim had joked that if she’d known all the good that would come from it, she’d have forced Gail to release her inner harlot years ago. But Gail knew that wasn’t how it worked. Gail had met Jesse at just at the right time in both their lives, under the right circumstances and in just the right place.

She tucked her straw bag under the seat in front of her and took a deep breath to calm her nerves as the plane’s landing gear touched down. Gail then was put through the hell of waiting for other passengers to gather their crap and get out of the plane. She began bouncing around in her sandals, picturing in her mind how far she’d have to walk from the gate to the unsecured waiting area, and Jesse.

Forget walking. Gail ran. Within seconds she saw him standing beyond the security scanner, a huge bouquet of flowers in his hand and the biggest, widest grin on his face. His earring flashed in the fluorescent lights.

She jumped on him. He crushed her body to his and spun around, kissing her hair, her cheek, her neck, while Gail kept repeating, “I missed you so much. I
missed you so much…” The feel of his stubble on her skin made her cry. She was with him. Finally.

Jesse let her slide down the front of his body until her sandaled feet returned to the floor. He grabbed her face in his hands and studied her.

“You’re real.”

Gail laughed. “Of course I am.”

When the tears began to form in Jesse’s blue eyes, she felt a tidal wave of tenderness and love for him. It had been a rough go, but he was sure about her and she was sure about him. There were no more doubts. Now, all their focus was on the future.

Their plan was for Gail to spend a month in Key West, while Holly stayed with Hannah’s family and got ready for school. Then Jesse would return with her to Pennsylvania, where they’d all spend the autumn together. Beyond that, who knew? Gail was even looking into positions at the community college in Key West. Jesse was willing to live part of the year in Beaverdale. Anything could happen. Everything was possible.

He kissed her quickly then retrieved her bag and the bouquet from the tile floor, where they’d been tossed in the heat of the moment. Jesse slid his arm around Gail’s waist as they walked to baggage claim.

“Holly sends her love,” Gail said, looking up at him.

Jesse laughed. “Tell me about it. She’s been texting me all day, warning me to be on my best behavior.”

“No!” Gail said, surprised. “What did she say?”

“Well, I believe her exact words were—” Jesse pulled his phone from his pocket and clicked to his messages—
“Try not to be such an asshat this time.”

Gail gasped. “I don’t even know what that means!”

Jesse laughed as he shoved the phone back in his pocket. “I get the general drift.”

“She thinks you’re great, you know,” Gail said, grinning at him. “She told all her friends that I’m dating a famous writer.”

“A famous asshat,” he said, and they both laughed.

After they waited for her luggage, they walked out to the parking lot together. Gail felt the heat slam into her.

“It’s so good to be back!” she said, stretching her arms out in the humid air.

“Have you thought about what you’d like to do while you’re visiting Key West?” Jesse’s eyes were full of humor as he tossed her suitcase into the trunk of his car.

“Of course. I made a list,” Gail answered.

“Is it a long list?”

“Very. An entire month’s worth of activities.”

Jesse came toward her, his grin getting bigger as the distance between them disappeared. He nudged her until her butt hit the side of the car then pressed his hard and strong body against hers.

“Do we have to do them in any particular order?” he asked.

“That won’t be a concern.”

“Oh? And why’s that?”

Gail gazed up into his dark blue eyes, wagging her eyebrow teasingly. “Because there’s only one item on my list, but I want to do it over and over again.”

Jesse laughed, moving in for the kiss. “I’m sure that can be arranged, my wild one.”

JUST ONE TASTE

Victoria Dahl

This story is for Tara. Thanks for bringing me back to Boulder.

Dear Reader,

Welcome back to Colorado! The first time I saw Boulder I couldn’t believe it was a real place. For a girl who grew up on the plains, Boulder looked like a magical town plucked from a television show. (Specifically,
Mork & Mindy.
It was set here.) But the real town is even better than anything you’d see on film. Boulder is a stunningly beautiful place. There are mountain peaks, aspen groves, ice-cold creeks and gorgeous neighborhoods. And there are the people of Boulder, who are smart and creative and take pride in being a local.

I hope they don’t mind that I’ve added a few more locals to the mix with the Donovan family. This family of three siblings runs Donovan Brothers Brewery right in the heart of Boulder. Tessa is the youngest of the family and the only sister, but she keeps her brothers wrapped around her little finger…while she keeps them in the dark about her extracurricular life. Jamie runs the front room at the brewery with ruthless charm and a devastating smile, though he can’t manage to get control of his love life. And then there’s the oldest brother, Eric…

Eric Donovan took charge of the family and the brewery at the age of twenty-three, and he doesn’t have a rebellious bone in his body. He’s the soul of responsibility…until the night he meets Beth Cantrell in a hotel hallway and decides there’s something to be said for an occasional walk on the wild side. Even the most straitlaced guy needs to loosen up once in a while, and Beth is a woman experienced in small-town discretion.

I hope you come to love Boulder and the Donovan family as much as I do. Happy reading! And I’ll see you back in Boulder soon!

All my best,

Victoria

BOOK: The Guy Next Door
11.76Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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