THE BAD BOY NEXT DOOR
“What do you think?”
I blinked as I turned in a slow circle before looking up at her. The walls were a crisp white and the floor looked like they hadn’t been swept in a couple years, but there was no way this place was within my budget. Sure. I would have to do a lot of work to get it where I needed it, but it was by far the nicest place I had looked at in the two years I had been looking.
And I had seen a lot of places.
The good, the bad, and more often than not, the ugly.
“Mrs. James.” I looked down at the listing that I had just printed off my computer this morning, “I think there must be some sort of miscommunication.”
“Dear God. Please do not call me Mrs. James. I’m Livy.” She pointed at her chest, and for the first time since I had walked in, I took in the woman in front of me instead of the square footage. She was young, probably the same age as me, and she was gorgeous.
“Okay, Livy.” I took a deep breath. “The ad says that you are leasing this place for a thousand dollars a month.”
She nodded her head before cocking it to the side as if she was trying to figure out where I was going with this conversation. Join the club, sister.
“Are you crazy?”
A bit of surprise filled her eyes, and I realized that I probably should have kept my mouth shut. But my momma always taught me that when things looked too good to be true, they more than likely were. But this place was far too good, and I needed to know how the other shoe was going to drop before it hit me square in the face.
“No. This place has just been sitting here empty for years.” She rolled her eyes as if she was exasperated by the thought. “My husband and Brandon purchased it initially to extend the tattoo shop, but they haven’t done it. It’s been used as nothing but a storage room all this time.”
I looked to the wall that separated the space and tattoo shop next door and tried to imagine what laid behind that wall. I had never even stepped foot inside a tattoo shop, and I could admit it to myself that it intimidated me just a bit.
Or a lot.
“I’m just looking for the right person to lease to. We want something that will fit in well with the shop being next door. You know?”
My heart sank a bit at her words.
“There’s a space back here.” She motioned for me to follow her, and I did. “It seems to be set up for a kitchen space, but it could be changed into anything.”
I looked around the large space, and she was right. It was set up perfectly for a kitchen. There were white cabinets already set up along one wall with a large sink in the middle. The spot for the stove was empty, but that could be easily fixed.
“What are you wanting to lease the space for?” She ran her hand over the countertop before leaning back against it. “You may have already told me, but I’ve had so many inquiries about the space that I can’t keep up.”
“It’s uh…” I hesitated. She’s had a ton of inquiries? That meant that I needed to stop myself before I became attached. I had been down that road before, and I wasn’t looking to get my hopes up for them to just get shot down. “I’m going to open a bakery.”
I waited for her to laugh in my face, for her to tell me that a bakery was by far the last thing on this earth that would belong next to their hip tattoo shop, because let’s face it, it was. But what I got was far from what I expected.
She just stared at me.
I tucked my hair behind my ears and contemplated whether or not I could beat her to the door if she turned out to be a serial killer.
“You mean to tell me that you want to open a bakery here.” She pointed down at the floor.
I looked around at the white walls to avoid her gaze. “Yes?” I don’t know why I said it like a question, but I suddenly felt like an idiot for even coming here.
I should have thought of something much cooler to say like, “This isn’t a normal bakery. We have a DJ at night, and the kids are calling it the hippest place since Dave and Busters.” But that would all be a lie, and she would figure it out sooner or later.
“A bakery,” she said mostly to herself as if she was contemplating what I had just said, and I cringed.
She looked up at me, as serious as an STD, and she asked, “Do you always have cupcakes available?”
“Of course. It would be a pretty crappy bakery without them.”
A giant smile formed on her face as she pushed off the countertop and held her hand out toward me. “If you promise that I can get as many free treats as I want then it’s yours.”
My hands shook at my side as I stared at hers that was still outreached toward me. “Are you serious?”
This had to be the weirdest viewing I had ever been to, and I went to a few in some sketchy neighborhoods.
“Babe, there is one thing you should learn about me now,” she said without an ounce of humor in her voice. “I don’t joke about icing. Ever.”
I couldn’t contain the small laugh that escaped from my lips as I put my hand in hers. “I can’t believe this is happening.” I was starting to freak out and practically jumping in place while jerking her hand with me.
“Me and you both. When Parker told me that I could rent this place out, I never thought I would get this lucky.”
I dropped her hand so she didn’t think I was the weirdest person she had ever met, and I spun around like a ballerina as I took in the space one more time. “This is mine,” I said out loud. “This is really happening.”
“Oh. It’s happening.” She started walking toward the back door. “Now let’s go sign a contract before you change your mind and ruin all my dreams.”
I wiped the splatter of paint off my forehead as I stood back and took in the wall that I had just finished painting robin’s egg blue. My ratty jeans practically blended into the wall due to the amount of paint I had managed to get on myself. My white tank top was even worse.
But I didn’t care.
I had been dreaming of opening my own bakery since I was eighteen years old. I had gone directly into culinary school as soon as I finished high school. I didn’t have any confusion over what I wanted to do with my life. College was out. I didn’t even have an ounce of interest in going.
I wanted to bake, and I wanted to do it in a bakery that I owned. I just hadn’t realized that it would take ten years before that would actually happen.
But it didn’t matter.
I was here. In my bakery.
I had brought my parents by last night to see it, and I lost it when I saw a tear run down my mom’s face. I had the most supportive parents ever, and I knew that it killed them that they weren’t in a position to help me financially when it came to this. If they could have, they would have made this dream come true for me far before now, but it just made this moment that much sweeter. I had worked my butt off for this. I had done the grunt work in too many restaurants and bakeries to count over the years. I had put in long hours, and I had saved every penny I could spare.
And all that hard work had finally paid off.
I set my paint roller down in the tray and rested my hands in my hips as I stared at the walls that were now painted a color that I had chosen. Me. No one else. As soon as I finished painting, I would start moving stuff in. I had ovens to buy and supplies to organize.
I was giddy just thinking about it.
It was going to be a ton of work before I could actually open my doors, but it was all worth it.
I would make it worth it.
A loud knock on the glass storefront made me jump, barely missing stepping in the tray of paint. Livy was at my door and there were three others with her.
I smiled at her as I took in the small woman beside her that looked like she had more badass in her little finger than I had in my entire existence.
I clicked the heavy lock before opening the door and letting them inside.
“Oh my God. It looks so cute in here,” Livy said as she walked through the door.
“Thanks.” My words got stuck in my throat as I took in the two men that walked in behind her. Everything about me seemed to freeze up.
I was awkward on a normal basis. Put me in front of a hot man and I was awkward times one thousand. You didn’t even want to know what happened when I got in front of two insanely hot men.
“This is my husband, Parker.” Livy pointed to the guy, no man, he was definitely a man, who now stood next to her. He was hot. Hot as hell. But he wasn’t the one who had my attention.
It was the man who still stood near the door, near me.
That man looked like dirty sex.
The thought shocked me. I wasn’t interested in having sex with anyone right now, not even allowing it on my radar, but there was nothing else I could think of as I took him in.
Not that I actually had any idea what dirty sex actually was. Every guy I had ever been with before had been sweet. Tame even. Boring.
This man did not look boring. He looked like the kind of man who would wreck you, and I didn’t mean your heart. Although, that was probably true too. He looked like the kind of man who ruined you for every other man that would come after him. The kind that threw you against the wall and fucked you until your voice was raw from screaming.
Holy crap. They were talking to me.
Livy let out a small laugh and I realized that I was still staring at dirty sex guy and had no idea what the hell anyone just said.
“Brandon.” He stuck his hand out to me with an amused smile on his face. My hand was practically swallowed whole by his, and I couldn’t stop the jitters in my stomach as I felt his skin against mine.
“Nice to meet you,” I managed to say.
Brandon pulled his tattooed hand away from mine and looked down at his palm as if I had branded him. But it was in that moment that I realized that I had, because bright blue wet paint stood out against his skin.
“Oh my God. I’m so sorry.”
I looked around the room for something for him to clean his hands with but came up empty. I looked down and winced when I took in my clothes.
I looked like hell.
Here he stood in front of me looking like sex on a stick with his jet-black hair and tattoos that seem to cover every inch of his skin. And I looked like the paint can had exploded on me. My red hair was in an unruly knot on top of my head, and I was sure there were plenty of speckles and streaks of paint running through it.
“Here.” I lifted the bottom hem of my shirt and reached it out to him. “You can wipe your hand here. I don’t have anything else.”
I shrugged my shoulders when I took in his laughing eyes.
“Charlie, the place seriously looks so good.”
“Thank you,” I said to her, but I didn’t take my eyes off Brandon’s hand as he brought it toward me and slowly pressed it against the already muddied fabric of my shirt. It bunched around the middle of my back, and I could feel the gentle pull toward him as he took his time cleaning off his hand. It didn’t help. The paint just smeared across his skin, but at least it was dried now.
“When are you planning to open?” I looked over at… Shit. Did they tell me her name already?
“It will take me a few weeks just to get everything in here and set up. I’m thinking maybe a month from now?”
Her and Livy exchanged a look.
“What they really want to know is when are you going to start baking?” Parker chuckled from between them. “These two have a bit of an addiction.”
I chuckled. “I’m going to start testing some recipes for my menu at home. I’ll make sure to bring you all some.”
Livy stuck her hand out and the woman whose name I was going to have to find out discretely high fived her.
“Staci’s addiction is worse than mine.”
Staci rolled her eyes at Livy, and I thanked the gods that I wouldn’t have to ask her name like a complete idiot.
“Don’t worry. I’ll hook you girls up.”
“We can exchange goods.” Staci walked around the room and took in my painted walls. “Sweets for tattoos.”
“Oh.” I ran my hands down my jeans. “That’s not necessary.”
“Do you have any?” My gaze jerked to Brandon at his question.
“No.” I shook my head.
I had never even considered getting a tattoo. The thought had never even crossed my mind.
Brandon took a step toward the far wall, walking directly past me, and I swore that I could feel his body heat as he passed.
“I do piercings too.” Staci shrugged her shoulders.
I took in all four of them. “I don’t think I’m the kind of girl who can pull off facial piercings.”
I didn’t mean it offensively, but I wasn’t. I would look like an imposter. I only wished I could pull it off.
“I can do them other places.”
“Where?” My mouth opened before my brain caught up. “Oh.” I turned bright red as she smirked at me.
“Stop scaring her, Staci.” Livy shoved her with her hip before looking at me. “You don’t have to get anything pierced.”
I tucked a stray piece of hair behind my ear while shifting on my feet. “Thanks for the offer, Staci.”
Staci winked at me, and I swear the woman was making me blush.
“Do you need any help painting?” Brandon’s deep voice caused those damn jitters in my stomach to start again. “I don’t have any appointments for the next hour or so.”
“Oh no,” I said quickly. Too quickly. His damn eyebrow shot up and I could feel him holding in his laughter. “I was actually just finishing up. My display counter is coming in tomorrow, so I wanted to make sure that I got it finished first. It would suck to have to paint around that thing. Right? It’s so pretty though. Just wait until you all see it.”
Dear God, make me stop talking.
“It would indeed.” He smiled down at me, and I knew. I knew that he was completely aware of the effect he was having over me. I guess it was pretty impossible for him not to. Everyone in this room was watching me make a fool of myself.
“Well, we have to get back to work.” Parker pulled Livy into his side. “If you ever need anything, just come next door. One of us is always there.”
“Thank you.” I tucked my hand in my back pocket to stop from fidgeting.
Parker opened the door for Livy and she ducked around him to point her finger at me. “Tomorrow. Me, you, and Staci, lunch.”
I wasn’t sure if I had a choice by the way she said it.
“Yeah.” I nodded.
It definitely wouldn’t hurt me to spend time with them. I had exactly zero girlfriends. Not because I didn’t like other women. I just never had time to do anything other than work.
I was as boring as all those exes of mine.
Brandon was the last to walk out the door, and he hesitated with the door in his hand. “My offer still stands. If you decide you need help, let me know.”
“Thank you, but I’m good.”
His gaze roamed over my body and it took everything I had to stand still. “I can’t wait to taste your stuff.”
I swallowed. “Sweet tooth?”
His eyes met mine. “Something like that.” He winked. “I’ll catch you later, Freckles.”
Then he walked out the door, and I wished that the storefront wasn’t glass so he couldn’t watch me freak the hell out.