As I pull into the driveway of the blue and brick ranch-style home, I smile when I see the “Sold” written in red across the For Sale sign. I’ve never owned anything in my entire life. After shutting my car off, I grab the manila envelope that holds the paperwork and keys as well as my pet carrier and climb out. I’ll come back for my other stuff in a bit.
When I unlock the door, I step inside and look around. The furniture looks great, and it’s exactly what I picked out. I had it all delivered here as soon as I closed on the house. I do a quick walk-through and everything is exactly where it should be, which makes me happy. My office is in the back with an unhindered view of the backyard and all the flowers growing along the fence.
The desk is cherry wood and cost me some major dough, but when I first saw it I knew that’s where I wanted to create my stories. I’ve been writing stories for as long as I can remember, and when I published my first two books I didn’t expect them to blow up—but they did. It was slow going at first, but I was happy to at least sell one copy. But then my sales started skyrocketing every week.
In no time I was paying off my debt, student loans, and credit cards. When I started looking for houses I wasn’t picky, but it had to have an office space that faced something pretty to look at.
I open the sliding glass door and step out onto the back deck, and then down the stairs. I walk around the flower beds, taking pictures of the flowers so I can take them to the garden center and someone can tell me what they are. Deep voices coming from the backyard next to mine have me turning to see the men they belong to.
One guy has brown hair and a leanly muscled body—he’s holding a little girl in his arms. The other gentleman has a mixture of blond and gray hair, and when he turns so I can see his profile, I quickly swallow the drool that begins to pool in my mouth. He’s got to be the most beautiful man I’ve ever seen. His face lights up when he grabs the baby’s foot, and she squeals at him.
I watch as the little girl lunges for him, but he catches her with practiced ease. What is it about men and babies that makes women go crazy?
“Hi.” I jerk and see that I was obviously staring at them. “You okay?” the younger one asks.
“Y-Yes, sorry, I just moved in. I’m Harley.” I walk toward the fence and both men meet me there. I hold out my hand.
“I’m Reece, and the little cutie is my daughter, Charlotte—Charlie for short. This is my father-in-law, Jack.” He shakes my hand, and then the one named Jack looks at me like I’ve pissed him off somehow. Reluctantly, he takes my hand in his.
It’s probably best not to tell him that when he shakes my hand, I feel a zing that travels up my body. He’d run as fast as he could and never look back.
The sad, unfortunate story of my life: No one ever sticks around. The first one to leave was my mom. She died when I was five. My dad couldn’t deal with her being gone, so he dropped my older brother and me off at our maternal grandmother’s house and then disappeared. We never saw him again.
Things started looking up until I turned twelve and my brother became a monster. He stole money from our grandma, started using drugs, and by the time he was fifteen, he was in jail for making meth with a buddy of his. He’s been in and out of jail ever since, but I had to cut him out of my life. Our relationship wasn’t good for my mental health.
My grandma died from a stroke right after I turned eighteen. I was working at the time, and had I been home, I could’ve called an ambulance and they could’ve stabilized her. Instead, she died alone.
Likewise, romantic relationships for me have been few and far between—I’m no virgin, but with the opposite sex I have no luck. For my first real relationship he cheated on me…and married the girl he cheated with. Last I heard they were at kid number three. For the other serious relationship I’ve had, he was just there one day and gone the next. He ghosted right out of my life.
After that I just didn’t see the point in trying anymore. That’s why I write: because the relationships in my books always end in happily ever afters, and in reality that just doesn’t always happen.
Jack drops my hand like it’s covered in cooties. I’m not stupid—I can take a hint. “Umm…well, it was nice meeting you.” I turn, hustling back up the stairs and going into the house.
After eating a quick sandwich I head outside and begin to bring boxes in. I’m carrying the last of the boxes when I trip—over my own two feet, I’m sure. The box on top goes flying, and I go down hard on my knees, crushing the box still in my arms.
I turn over and sit on my ass, and when I look down, my knees are torn to shit. The blood is coming through the fabric of my jeans. Of course I have rips in my knees now, which sucks because these were my favorite pair of jeans.
I bury my face in my hands and will the tears burning my eyes to dry up. Once I’ve got myself in check I take a deep breath, stand up, and limp to the box that flew off of the other one. I bite my lip to keep from crying as I bend down to pick it up.
“Jesus,” I hear someone mutter behind me. Closing my eyes, I pray that I’m just hearing things and no one is there. “Give me the box and get inside.” I open my eyes to see Jack staring at me with these intense eyes, intimidating me.
He doesn’t even give me a chance to hand him the box—he just grabs it from my hands and moves toward the door. I pick up the one I smashed and follow slowly behind him. He sets the box down against the far wall and then rolls his eyes as he takes the other box from my arms.
“T-Thank you for your help,” I tell him as he sets it down on top of the other box.
In the corner of the living room, I open the door to the pet carrier and pull my lilac-colored Lionhead Lop bunny, Fifty, out. He snuggles into me as I cradle him to my chest.
“What the fuck is that?”
Jack comes walking over to me and lifts Fifty right out of my hands. “Hey! You could at least ask to hold him. He’s a Lionhead Lop bunny. He’s super smart and is already litter-trained. While I write he lies on a little bed on my desk.”
“What do you write?” His voice is deep, and just rough enough to be really fucking sexy.
This is always awkward, but I’ve learned not to be ashamed of what kind of books I write. “I write erotic romance under the name Eva Steele. ‘Harley Sanders’ didn’t really scream erotic romance.”
I look at Fifty, who seems to be content in Jack’s hand as the large man scratches right behind his ear. He loves that.
“Are your books like those Fifty Shades books?” I shake my head because really, they’re not. “Tell me about them.”
I walk over to a box labeled books and use the box cutter to open it. I grab the first book in my series. It’s called, Love Me, Always. It’s the enemies-to-lovers storyline with a twist: They were “boyfriend/girlfriend” when they were little, but she moved away.
I hold it out to Jack. “Here, this is my first book. Read it, and I’m seriously okay if you don’t like it.” We trade—he takes the book, and I take my bunny back.
“Thanks, I’ll check it out.” He moves toward the door. “Make sure you clean up your knees so they don’t get infected.”
“Um…okay. Thank you.” I stand to the side of the door so he can’t see me, and to my horror he walks to the garbage bin outside of Reece’s garage and tosses my book inside. I gasp, apparently loudly enough for him to hear because he lowers his head and reaches back inside to grab it.
I don’t bother watching the rest. How could someone be so mean? I put my heart and soul into these stories, and for someone to take my hard work and throw it in the trash…it hurts.
After slamming my front door shut, I slump against it. Jack doesn’t like me, so who cares? He doesn’t live next door. I’m sure it won’t be hard to ignore him.
My doorbell rings, pulling me from my laptop. I pick up my phone and see that it’s lunchtime. Fifty is passed out on his bed so I just leave him snoozing and head to the front door. I look out the window and see Delilah and Charlie.
It’s been two months since I’ve moved into my home, and when Delilah and I met I knew immediately that I liked her. It’s hard to believe that her and Jack are father and daughter because she’s so sweet, and…well, he’s a grade-A asshole.
Opening the door, I greet them with a genuine smile. “Hey, guys! Come on in.” Delilah knows the drill and hands me Charlie as she steps inside. “Hi, pretty girl.” The sweet little cherub squeals and gives me a smile that melts my heart. “Not that I’m not happy to see you, but what brings you by?” That’s when I realize that Delilah’s got a backpack over her shoulder.
“There’s a problem at the office that I need to take care of. Can you watch Charlie? I should only be gone a couple of hours.”
I’ve watched the little princess a couple of times and she’s the easiest baby…of course, she’s the only one I’ve ever really been around. “Of course I can. I hit my word count already for the day.”
“Thank you so much. I’m sorry to just hop on over here and put you on the spot.”
I hold up my hand. “Stop, it’s no problem. She and I can take Fifty out into the backyard to play.” Delilah is obsessed with my bunny, but with a new puppy at home it’d be too much to get one of their own.
“That’ll be fun. Where is my favorite, furry little baby?” she asks.
“He’s sleeping on his bed in my office.” Before I can blink, the blonde disappears down the hall, returning with Fifty in her hands while she strokes his head. My little baby is a sucker for any sort of attention. He’s gotten used to Charlie’s noises, too, so when she sees him and emits a high-pitched squeal he doesn’t even move.
Delilah kisses Fifty’s head and then sets him down on his little blanket on my couch. I hand Charlie back to her momma and smile as I watch Delilah snuggle her daughter to her chest—or as close as she can with her pregnant belly. “You be a good girl. I love you.” Charlie smiles at her mom and babbles in two-year-old speak. A wave of sadness washes over me. What would it have been like to grow up surrounded by my mother’s love? She’s been gone so long now that I can’t remember anything about her. Did she love us? Did she hug and kiss us all the time?
I plaster on a fake smile, taking Charlie back when Delilah hands her over. Luckily the little girl loves me and doesn’t cry when she sees her mom leaving.
When the door shuts I look down at Charlie. “Should we go play outside?” She claps her hands together and squeals…loudly.
Outside for our second time, Charlie walks on her chubby little legs as I hold her hand in one of mine and Fifty’s leash in the other. We walk along the flower beds and stop in front of the butterfly garden. I had no clue the treasure I had in my backyard until I took the pictures into the garden center and they told me what everything was. The employees also told me how to take care of them.
I’m by no means an expert, but at least I don’t feel like I’m going to kill them. I get down on my knees next to Charlie and scoop up Fifty in my hands.
“Uba!” Charlie shouts. I’m not sure what that means, but she bends down and touches her lips to the top of my baby’s head.
“Do you see the pretty butterflies?”
She leans into me, hugging my arm, and squeals. “Yes!”
“Where’s my nugget?” a male voice calls from the front yard. Ugh…why is he here? I close my eyes and take a deep breath before I stand up.
“Hey, Jack,” I say as he walks into my backyard.
Charlie squeals. “Pa Pa!” She runs to her grandpa as fast as her little legs will take her. An ache blooms in my chest when I watch his whole face change as he holds out his arms to his granddaughter. The man is beautiful in the rugged, manly way, but when he’s giving attention to Charlie, he’s breathtaking.
“Hey.” He finally acknowledges my existence. “Reece took Delilah to the doctor. She was having cramps. I told them I’d come get Charlie.”
“Oh gosh, I hope she’s okay.”
“Reece is freaking out. Delilah swears it’s just Braxton Hicks. Anyway, I told them I’d take Charlie back to my place for the night.” He scoops Charlotte up in his arms. “Thanks for watching her.”
He turns, and just like that, he’s gone. “Fucking dick,” I mutter under my breath.