Authors: Amanda Ashby
Dating the Guy Next Door
InterMix Books, New York
AN IMPRINT OF PENGUI
N RANDOM HOUSE LLC
UDSON STREET, NEW YORK, NEW YORK 10014
DATING THE GUY NEXT DOOR
An InterMix Book / published by arrangement with the author
Copyright Â© 2016 by Amanda Ashby.
Dating the Guy Upstairs
copyright Â© 2016 by Amanda Ashby.
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eBook ISBN: 978-0-698-19801-2
InterMix eBook edition / January 2016
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
Penguin Random House is committed to publishing works of quality and integrity. In that spirit, we are proud to offer this book to our readers; however, the story, the experiences, and the words are the author's alone.
Thanks to my agent, Susan Hawk, for being so keen to join me on this new journey, and to Leis Pederson and everyone at InterMix for being so amazing to work with. I'd also like to thank Sally Rigby and Christina Phillips for just about everything, and an extra big shout-out to Rachel Bailey for all the scheming, brainstorming and chocolate.
Kate Mitchell looked up in delight as she heard footsteps entering her small art gallery hidden away in one of Seattle's southeastern suburbs. Footsteps meant customers, customers meant money, and money meant affording to get the big hole in her ceiling repairedâthat was assuming that the contractor decided to call her back. She dumped her paintbrush in a glass jar and stepped over Socrates, her large ginger tabby, who had better things to do than move out of the way for a mere human.
A curtain separated the studio from the gallery at the front and she pushed it open to look for her new customer, but all she could see was the familiar red brick walls, the old wooden counter and the heavy industrial light fittings that hung down low from the ceiling. Disappointment stung at her mouth and she was just about to turn back when she caught sight of a crouching figure hiding behind the window display.
Kate's jaw dropped in surprise. She'd had a lot of strange customers over the last year, but this was the first time anyone had done this. Not to mention the fact that it had taken her ages to painstakingly build the wall of old suitcases and wooden crates to work as a backdrop for her latest artwork. The last thing she wanted was for it to be ruined.
“Um, can I help you?”
“Are they still out there?” a muffled male voice demanded.
“Are who out where?” she said while glancing around to see if anyone had a hidden camera trained on her and this was some sort of joke.
“Women,” the man said. “Lots of women.”
Kate reluctantly peered out the window and saw a crowd of at least thirty women, all aged between twenty and forty, gathered in front of the small converted warehouse next door. She couldn't quite fathom what they were doing, but they seemed to be dressed for opening night at the opera rather than a semi-industrial street in Columbia City at ten o'clock on a Monday morning.
“Yes,” she confirmed. “But, if you don't mind me asking, who are you and what are you doing in my window?”
“Oh,” he replied, and Kate watched in fascination as the man slowly swiveled around, still crouching low on his hands and knees, and gave Kate the benefit of a lethal smile. “I'm Matt Hunter, your new neighbor.”
Kate's eyes widened in recognition. Now she knew who he was. Well, she hadn't known his name, but over the last few days she'd watched as he'd moved in next door. As far as she could make out, he lived on the top floor and had set up a business called Synergy Organizational Consultants down below. She wasn't entirely sure what an organizational consultant did, but it hadn't stopped her admiring him from afar.
“Kate Mitchell.” She took the opportunity to study his face up close. Her artist's eye liked what she saw. Firm jaw, almost square, dark eyes that were framed by sooty lashes and his hair was the shade of her favorite Russian caramel. An Adonis if ever she'd seen one, and suddenly she wished she'd managed to do more than stumble out of bed, throw on her
painting clothes and rush downstairs. As for her hair, she could just imagine how many of her brown curls had escaped from her hair band, while her round face was probably glistening with sweat from working under her bright painting lights, and no doubt every single one of her freckles was now on display.
She'd been in a hurry to get her paintings finished so she could get them to the framer by eleven so they'd be ready for her Thursday meeting with Monica and Calvin Peterson, two of Seattle's most famous restaurateurs. No one had been more surprised than Kate to be invited to pitch for a series of framed paintings and an eighteen-foot mural to go into their latest restaurant. It was by far the biggest opportunity that she'd had in her fledgling art career. Which reminded her, as nice as it was to stand around staring at this Adonis, she really needed to leave soon, considering what the Seattle traffic was like at any time of day or night.
“Hello, Kate Mitchell. It's a pleasure to meet you.” Matt cautiously peered around the side of her bright pink deer painting, as if once again studying the crowd outside his business.
“Um, you too. Though I'm still not sure what you're doing in my window?”
“Oh, right. Of course.” He swung back around and craned his neck to look up to where she was standing. “I don't suppose you have someplace a little more private where we could talk?” he said, releasing a roguish dimple on her.
“I guess we could go out to my studio,” she said in an uncertain voice.
“Perfect.” He started to crawl across the floor toward the calico curtain. “The studio it is.”
Kate felt helpless to do anything but follow him and wonder what on earth he would do next. Hang from her ceiling? Sit on the roof of her car? Or perhaps he would like toâ
Too late she realized her daydreaming had caused her to walk slap bang into Matt Hunter, who was now standing on the other side of the curtain.
“So.” He stretched out his arms to steady her, causing a herd of elephants to start trampling through her stomach. “Nice to finally look you in the eye instead of the kneecap. By the way, did you know you have purple paint on your face?”
Kate's stampeding elephants had now discovered skates as his finger trailed across her cheekbone.
“I guess it's an occupational hazard,” she managed to reply.
“I'm sure it can be fixed.” Still smiling, he slipped his arm around her waist, plucked the red bandanna out of her back pocket and started to wipe away the offending smudge with practiced strokes.
, Kate instructed herself as his fingers gently rubbed against the side of her face. But as soon as she did take in a deep gulp of air, she was conscious of the slightly citrus tang of aftershave that was now invading her nostrils. Had she mentioned that this wasn't normal?
“There.” He cupped her chin in his hand and turned it one way and then the other to check he'd done the job properly. “That's better.”
“No problem,” he replied, not attempting to move away. “After all, that's what neighbors are for. Now, where were we?”
“You were going to explain why you were hiding in my window,” Kate croaked as she felt a surge of electricity, possibly enough to power a small town for a week, course through her body. She took a couple of wobbly steps back toward the protective shield of her paint cart, which was stationed next to a half-completed painting.
Matt followed her over.
“It's a complicated story. But you'll be pleased to know that as soon as I kill Keith, it will have a happy outcome.”
“Who's Keith?” She blinked, feeling that she was getting no closer to an explanation than when she'd first spotted his size-ten feet in her window display.
She started to randomly put the caps back on the small tubes of paint, more to mask her confusion than because she felt like tidying up. It had been a long time since anyone had touched her like that and even longer since it had meant anything.
“Keith's my buddy. Or should I say he was my buddy. He does the breakfast slot on WYYZ and decided to announce to all the women of Seattle that I was single,” Matt said as he put the cap on a tube of Lime Lizard green.
“So, are you saying that they're all here because they want a date?” Kate wrinkled her nose. The radio station in question was notorious for running all kinds of pranks. Last year they'd even arranged for a couple of strangers to get married at Niagara Falls, but even by their standards, this was crazy. “Because there were a lot of women out there.”
“As flattering as that might be, I think there's more to it,” Matt said with a pained expression on his face. “When Keith announced the competition he decided to spice it up by throwing in an all-expenses paid weekend at the Talbot.”
“Ah. So they're getting a bachelor and a luxury weekend away.” Kate nodded in understanding. The Talbot was hidden away in downtown Seattle, overlooking the waterfront, and while she'd never been there, her friend Jenny raved about the recent renovations it had undergone. It was also wildly expensive, which perhaps explained why there were quite so many women at Matt's door. Of course, the fact that he was gorgeous probably didn't hurt matters.
“So it would appear. Unfortunately, the radio station has put my photograph up on their website, which means I'll never be able to make it to the front door without being spotted.” A frown started to creep in along his brow.
“Don't tell me you're afraid of a few little women?” she teased as she realized she was flirting with him. Where had that come from? Was it just that he was single? She toyed with the idea before dismissing it. After all, she'd met plenty of single men since she and Harry had divorced a year ago and the only thing she'd wanted to do with them was put them down the garbage disposal. Married at twenty-three, divorced at twenty-four. Her track record really spoke for itself.
“Terrified,” Matt admitted. “Which is why when I saw them all lining up outside this morning I did the only thing a normal guy could do. Run.”
Kate cocked an eyebrow in surprise. From her experience, most normal guys would embrace the situation with their arms wide open. Harry certainly had. Then she frowned. That was the second time in as many minutes that she'd thought about her ex-husband. Enough to give her bad luck for the rest of the week. Like she needed that
“But don't you live above your office?” Kate picked up a paintbrush and began to fiddle with it. “So how come you were outside trying to get in?”
“I wasn't at home last night.”
“Oh.” She flushed as a wave of understanding flooded through her. Of course he wasn't at home last night. Matt Hunter was far too good looking to be sleeping alone. What had she been thinking? Suddenly she felt foolish for even trying to flirt. No wonder she'd decided to drop men from her agenda. She was better off with her paints and her cat.
“What I meant wasâ”
“You don't need to explain,” Kate interrupted. The last thing she wanted to hear about was how he spent the night at Caroline's house. Not that she knew if there was a Caroline. But the man in front of her looked like a Caroline-dater.
Caroline probably had straight blonde hair, cheekbones that could slice paper and lips that pouted on command. And no doubt Caroline would never get paint on her face (or her nails and clothing for that matter). Kate frowned as she realized how far removed she was from the Carolines of the world. And she bet thatâ
“I was babysitting for my sister. Emma,” he emphasized, a small grin hovering around his lips. “And I stayed the night.”
“Oh. Well that's nice.” Kate suddenly lowered her eyes in panic. He couldn't read her mind, could he?
Don't be silly
, she scolded herself while at the same time feeling a bit perkier. Emma. His sister. Still, it shouldn't make any difference. She had far too many things to worry about without adding a man into the equation. “But you know that you can't hide out in my studio forever, right?”
“Of course I can't,” he assured her as he began to look around. Then he turned back to her and gave her a warm smile. “I don't suppose you have a back door around here?”
“Sorry.” She shook her head. “No back door.”
For a moment he frowned before retrieving his cell phone from his pocket. “Okay, so that changes my plans slightly. But I'll tell you what. I'll call Keith right now and as soon as he's fixed the problem, I'll be gone. It shouldn't take more than half a day at the longest.”
She felt the wooden stem of the paintbrush snap and wondered if she'd been wise to stay up all night working. And with oils as well. She'd always suspected her studio wasn't very well ventilated (apart from the gaping hole in the ceiling) and now here was proof. She was hallucinating. No doubt about it. Because there was no way he'd just said he was going to spend the day in her studio.
“I'm sorry,” she said slowly. “But I really don't think that would be such a good idea. I don't even know you.”
“Sure you do.” He gave her a reassuring grin. “I'm the guy next door.”
Kate tried again. “The thing is that I have lots of work to do. I'm really busy and Iâ”
“Don't worry, Kate, I won't get in your way. You won't even know I'm here.”
Doubtful. Her eyes were drawn back to his crisp white shirt and, more important, the wide chest that was propping it up. He'd been in her studio for fifteen minutes and she'd already experienced more emotions than an Oprah guest. Having
Matt Hunter in close proximity was definitely not a good idea. Not for her and not for her business. She took a deep breath and resisted the temptation to gaze into his rich brown eyes.
“I wish I could help, but I can't let you stay. Besides, I'm just about to drop some things off at the framer. Sorry.”
For a moment she thought he was going to protest, but instead he just shrugged his shoulders and smiled. “I'm sorry too. But all the same, it was nice to meet you, Kate Mitchell.”
“You too,” she said as she watched him stride back out through the calico curtain and into the gallery. She let out a small sigh.
Don't think about him
, she commanded herself.
Think about getting your paintings to the framer on time.
However, before she could put it into practice, the phone rang.
“This is Bernie,” a man said in response to her greeting. “You called about some asbestos in your ceiling.”
Last week, Kate wanted to retort. However, she knew better than to say it out loud. Instead, she plastered a smile on her face, hoping that it would translate down the phone line.
“Thanks for returning my call. I was hoping you could do an inspection and give me a quote,” she said.
“I'm just about to finish a job, so I can be there in half an hour.”
“Oh.” Kate gulped as she looked over at the three paintings that needed framing. “Er, could we make it this afternoon? You see, I really need to get across town andâ”