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Authors: Sarah Title

Two Family Home

BOOK: Two Family Home
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A girl could dream.
And this girl maybe did dream. About an angry man in boxers.
Oh, Lord, those boxers.
She shook her head. No. No no no no no. She was on a Fresh Path to Independence, not a Do-dumb-stuff-with-your-landlord-even-if-it-looks-super-fun Path. And taming that angry bear who lived next door would definitely be trouble. She didn't want trouble. She didn't want to reform a bad boy. That stuff was not for her. If the bad boy wanted to change, he would change. A person can only be who he is. That's how she'd ended up getting anxiety hives when her last boyfriend talked about marriage. She was not a homebody. She was not a stay-local kind of gal, and she had been living her whole life as if she were.
She had enough trouble trying to figure her own stuff out; she didn't need to try to figure out someone else's.
No matter how tempting it was.
No amount of head-shaking could convince her that she did not want to see what those flexing muscles looked like up close. Fortunately, he was clearly a jerk.
But what a hot jerk.
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Love isn't complex... it's a duplex.
 
 
 
 
 
A Southern Comfort Romance
SARAH TITLE
LYRICAL PRESS
Kensington Publishing Corp.
www.kensingtonbooks.com
All copyrighted material within is Attributor Protected.
For Shar,
For your friendship, support, conference partnering-in-crime, and
your name. Next, I shall ask for a piece of your soul, but you're so
generous I think you won't even flinch.
ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
Firstly, I must thank Dana Smook, (a) for having the best dog ever in Bruno Copperpot (RIP) and (b) for giving me the idea for this book, even though I think you were maybe just joking. That'll show you! I also received some art-world expertise from Kelly S. Williams, and if I got anything about the art world wrong, please punish me by buying one of her paintings. Because it ain't her fault. Her dog is also quite groovy (Hey, Miss Rizz!). Tallulah Tinklepants gave me some much-needed guidance on the inner workings of a small nursing home, which was very helpful because I was going to have, like, one nurse do the whole thing. The Jell-O was all my own doing. (And guess what, she has a really cute dog, too!) Also to Pam May (who does not have a dog . . . yet) for making the connection, and for helping me figure out plot stuff as we whiled away an idyllic summer afternoon on a pool noodle in the Elk River.
I also want to thank my editor, Alicia Condon, for having such faith in my work and for seeing the potential in the half-written gobbledygook I gave her in New Orleans. To be fair, the half that was written was utterly charming. Also, a big thank you to Louise Fury and the growing Team Fury at the Bent Agency. We are mighty, and we will take over the world.
Finally, thank you to Brock Savage for the Skype sessions that helped me solidify my plot (ugh, I hate plots), for the tag line, and for finding my dog as charming as I do.
Love isn't complex . . . it's a duplex.
Prologue
H
is nose was driving him crazy. There was something in the bushes around the big white house that he needed to get at. But no matter where he sniffed or dug or marked (the marking was really just for the heck of it), he couldn't get to that
thing
. His nose led him to the back yard. He had to pause a minute to find the loose part of the fence—okay, the part of the fence he might have broken in his enthusiasm to get into the yard. But this was no time to stop and feel guilty. He was afraid he would lose the trail of whatever it was he was tracking.
He followed his daily route. Start at the loose (okay, broken) part of the fence, then secure the perimeter by smelling every corner and making sure to mark anything that smelled like a bunny or a cat or any of the other furry creatures he sometimes saw back here. When that was done, he could venture farther into the open. Sometimes he would find something delicious to snack on—even though sometimes that didn't make him feel so good—but today he was determined to stay focused. The scent seemed stronger than ever—but what was it? Where was it? It had to be nearby . . .
The back door opened and the big guy stomped into the yard. That was the end of searching for now. The big guy would always stand in the yard for a while and look around. Sometimes he thought the big guy was looking for him. But he was really good at hiding and eventually the big guy would go into the garage. He'd make a lot of noise in there, then come out when it was dark. Plenty of time.
Whatever he was tracking, it was close. He was gonna find it.
Chapter 1
“I
t looks . . . nice.”
Lindsey tried her best not to roll her eyes. She was twenty-six after all. Surely eye-rolling at her mom's not-so-subtle snobbery was something she should have left behind in Phoenix with her prom dress and her John Mayer poster.
It was affectionate eye-rolling, she told herself. And it was less out of annoyance, and more for the benefit of Mary Beth Brakefield, surely the most patient realtor in the country. They were only looking for a rental.
And this was the third apartment Mary Beth had patiently dragged Lindsey and her parents to. From the outside, Lindsey thought it looked like the best. Only a few stairs up to the front porch, unlike the last one that had three narrow flights up to the admittedly gorgeous top-floor apartment of a building that reminded Lindsey of an old-timey brothel. Plus, this one had a porch, and the porch faced some very cute storefronts across the street, and rolling hills beyond that. A wonderful place for morning coffee. The house was a duplex on a quiet street, which was a marked improvement over the old-and-not-that-charming apartments near the campus of Pembroke College.
The front yard could use some work, but it was so small that she wasn't sure if it even mattered. Maybe a shrub. A shrub and a lawn gnome.
“The owner of the house lives next door,” Mary Beth said, gamely ignoring her mother's attitude. “He's very quiet.”
“What does he do?” Lindsey's father had his measuring tape out, ready to assess.
“He's an artist.”
Lindsey's mother's eyes lit up, then down. “Oh?” Her mother had some artist friends in Taos. Lindsey imagined she was concerned about her daughter living next door to a free-spirited, bad-at-responsibility guy. What kind of bad influence would he be on her impressionable daughter? Her impressionable, twenty-six-year-old, professional nurse daughter who had repeatedly demonstrated her sound and responsible judgment?
But that's what happens when you grow up in the bosom of a tight-knit family, Lindsey mused, and never leave that bosom. Her mom had spent so much time thinking she was making Lindsey's decisions for her, she didn't realize Lindsey had been perfectly capable of making her own.
Bad decisions aside, a free-spirited artist sounded kind of cool. Not at all what she was expecting from small-town Kentucky.
Good. She was ready to be surprised by life. That was why she was doing this.
“He keeps to himself,” Mary Beth said. “I think he converted the garage into a studio.”
“You think?” her mother asked. Lindsey pursed her lips to keep her eyes from rolling.
“Well, like I said, he keeps to himself. I don't think anyone but he has actually been in there.”
“I don't like the sound of that . . .” Lindsey's dad began.
“Oh, he's perfectly safe. And very nice. I've known him for a while.” Lindsey hadn't known Mary Beth for long, but she recognized a fib when she heard one. “He's just kind of secretive about his work.”
“I don't like the sound of that, either,” Lindsey's mom muttered, and Lindsey did roll her eyes this time. Because she knew her mom didn't mind that the guy was secretive; she didn't like the fact that her daughter was impossible to keep secrets from.
So what if Lindsey had dogged determination and unflinching curiosity? Wasn't that part of her charm?
Even if the enticement of a mysterious garage artist hadn't been there, when Lindsey walked in, she knew this was the place for her.
The hardwood floors were old, but in pretty good shape, and just begging for a small, bright area rug. The walls were a pleasant, neutral color—eggshell, if she remembered her paint samples correctly. Not very exciting for an artist's apartment, but serviceable for an artist's tenant. Besides, she was no artist. The living room and kitchen were divided by a half-wall that also served as a very charming breakfast bar. Upstairs was a good-sized bedroom with a giant closet (yay), and a bathroom with a giant claw-foot tub (YAY). Mary Beth pointed out the laundry room downstairs—not coin-operated, Lindsey was very pleased to see. Laundry “room” may have been generous, but there was enough room for the washer and dryer and a small shelving unit, and it apparently had its own closet.
Her dad tried the door. “Locked. What's in here?”
“Oh, that leads next door to Walker's apartment. The landlord.”
Her mother's eyebrows shot up in alarm.
“It stays locked,” Mary Beth reassured her. “And you can keep the chain on. Walker insists he's never used that door. It's just one of those peculiar things in an old house.”
“That's perfect for you, Lindsey. You and your peculiar old houses.”
Her mom was still a little sore that Lindsey hadn't gone for the newer, modern apartment building. But it had no character, and it was awfully close to campus. Lindsey got the feeling she would be the oldest tenant there. And then there was the sharp smell of someone smoking something that was not legal to be smoking in Kentucky. Mary Beth, whose husband was the Willow Springs Chief of Police, had rushed them out of there pretty quickly. It was pretty much the only reason Lindsey's mom hadn't gone out and signed the lease for her right then and there. Even though Lindsey was an adult and could make decisions on her own, Mom.
Lindsey did love a peculiar old house. Especially because this one was so different from the modern houses of their neighborhood outside of Phoenix, the McMansions, with their high ceilings and big, blank walls. This Kentucky house was humble and, divided in half, felt cozy.
These things were great, but Lindsey was really sold by two features: the fireplace in the living room, which reminded her that she was at last going to live in a place with seasons, and the view from the kitchen window out onto a small deck and a big backyard.
It looked like there was some semblance of a garden in the backyard. Lindsey had always wanted to try gardening, and this one looked like it could use some work. Mary Beth told them that the garden was the bailiwick of the previous tenant, and she was sure she would be able to convince Walker to let her try to restore it.
“Tomatoes,” Lindsey said dreamily.
“You have to admit,” her dad said to her mom, “the place does seem to suit her.”
They followed MB out into the yard to get a closer look at the future home of Lindsey's tomatoes. And, though Lindsey kept this thought to herself, to sneak a peek at the garage-studio behind the overgrown garden.
 
Walker kicked the mud off his boots as he entered the pass code, then stepped back as the garage door opened. His eyes took a moment to adjust to the dim light, but he didn't turn the overheads on. It was sunny out, which was a nice change after a week of rain. He wanted to use the natural light today, and stepped carefully toward the curtains covering the big window. He took another grateful moment to appreciate this weirdly laid-out property, and the peculiarities of the previous owners. Who put big windows in a garage? Besides someone who wanted to convert it to an art studio.
Thank goodness for weirdos.
Before he could completely throw back the curtains, though, a movement in the yard stopped him.
People.
Oh, right.
Mary Beth had left him a message saying she was going to show Myron's apartment. He hadn't called her back, but they had already established that if he had a problem, he'd call. If not, assume it was okay.
Which worked great when he didn't forget about appointments.
He didn't need to meet the new tenants, anyway. He trusted Mary Beth's judgment. He trusted her to find someone quiet; beyond that, he didn't really care. He just wanted them to pay their rent and leave him alone.
Mary Beth told him that she was not comfortable with that level of responsibility, so he compromised: if he were home, he'd meet the tenant.
He shut the curtains.
He was not a petulant misanthrope, he reminded himself.
Despite what Myron said.
He just didn't like meeting people, not if he didn't have to. What was the point? These people might not even move in and then he would've wasted precious facial muscles forming a smile he did not mean.
But maybe they would move in. That piqued his curiosity. Not enough to go out and meet them, but enough to peek out the corner of the window.
He recognized MB, wearing those ridiculous high heels of hers, leading a middle-aged couple down the deck stairs to the yard. The woman followed closely behind MB, her mouth pinched in disapproval. Probably at the mess that was left of Myron's garden. So Walker wasn't good with actual plants. What was he going to do, pave over it?
He tried not to picture Myron's reaction to that.
The man of the couple paused on the middle step and jiggled the handrail. Walker knew it was solid—he had reinforced it a few months ago, when he thought Myron would be staying. Apparently, the guy was satisfied because he followed his wife into the yard, all while fiddling with a measuring tape.
He was so distracted by the couple's interaction that he didn't see her come out of the house at first.
She was small. When she got down the steps to stand next to MB, she was the shorter of the two. And she was curvy, which he knew because the wind picked up and pressed her flowy sundress against her body. It also blew her long, brown hair into a tangle, and Walker watched, impressed, as she pulled the mass over her shoulder and twisted it into a quick braid.
Three was kind of a crowd for that apartment. But he trusted MB, so either they were an exceptionally quiet family—unlikely, as the daughter's laugh echoed through the yard—or the parents were helping the daughter pick out housing. Which was kind of weird, since she looked like an adult. Maybe they were one of those families who did everything together, and the daughter's best friend was her mother. As if to confirm that, the daughter put her arm through her mother's and rested her head on her shoulder. The mother's pinched expression relaxed a little.
He was going to be living next to Pollyanna.
Sexy Pollyanna.
He let the curtain drop.
 
He had never seen so many people at the house before. It was exciting. He could just imagine how interesting all of those feet would smell. The thought set his tail wagging, and it almost set his legs jumping, but he held back. Sometimes people weren't very nice, and they made him stay locked up in a tight spot and he was not going there again. He would just stay hidden beside the little house, let his tail wag free, and bide his time. He could go out again later, when all the people had gone.
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