Good girl love unexpecte.., p.2

Good Girl (Love Unexpectedly #2), page 2

 

Good Girl (Love Unexpectedly #2)
 


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  His eyes are locked on my cleavage, his smile far more intimate than it has a right to be considering that our conversation lasted only a split second longer than the picture itself.

  At the time, I’d thought the shimmering pink dress the perfect combination of sweet and sexy, but looking at it now, with this headline, it seems garish. My smile’s too wide, my posture too open, my smoky eye makeup too much…

  “Jenny. Talk to me,” Amber says.

  “It’ll pass, right?” I say, still unable to look away from the photo to actually read the article.

  Amber doesn’t reply, and Dolly lets out a sad little whimpering noise before sitting on top of my foot as though trying to shield me from what’s to come.

  “It’s just another stupid rumor,” I say. “The tabloids are getting exceedingly bold. I can sue, right? And Shawn can sue, and we’ll—”

  “Shawn confirmed it,” Amber says.

  My ears buzz. “What?”

  “This morning. Coming out of the gym, the vultures were all over him. Instead of keeping his mouth shut, Shawn said, and I quote, ‘Look, I’m not proud of my actions, but I can’t be the first guy to get pulled into Jenny Dawson’s vortex, and I’m sure I won’t be the last. At this point, all I can do is look forward and try to make amends.’ ”

  “What is he talking about?” I squeak, my eyes closing as I pull hard on my ponytail in frustration. “Make amends for what? My vortex? Is that a thing?”

  “It gets worse,” Amber says, her voice miserable.

  “I don’t know how that’s even possible.”

  “He’s not the only one who’s confirmed the story.”

  I blink. “Someone else is also delusional?”

  “Yeah. His wife.”

  “Oh my God,” I whisper.

  I don’t know much about Shawn Bates’s wife, but pretty much everyone knows their story. Childhood sweethearts who started dating in middle school, they got married right out of high school, shortly before Shawn got famous.

  There are always rumors that he’s cheating, but like I’ve said, I don’t put much faith in rumors.

  One thing I know for sure is that if he is cheating, it’s not with me.

  “She posted a tearful selfie on every single social media platform along with a big old statement about how she and Shawn are going through a rough patch, but their love is stronger than any country-singing home wrecker.”

  “I’m not a home wrecker.”

  “I know that, J. But you have that song, and there’s that picture—”

  “The song was euphemistic!” I say, referring to my first hit single, a song I wrote about all the things that can come between a couple once the honeymoon period’s over: the TV, bills, iPhones, work. Those are the home wreckers.

  Not me.

  My phone buzzes with an incoming call, and I pull it away from my face to check the name. When I see who it is, I decline it.

  “Candice is calling.”

  “As she should be, as your publicist.”

  “I don’t want to talk to her,” I say, my voice panicked. “I don’t want to talk to any of them. I want this all to go away.”

  “And it will,” Amber says in a soothing voice as Dolly licks my shin. “But J, this one’s going to have some staying power, I think. It’s not just the tabloids, and you know everyone loves a good cheating scandal.”

  “I didn’t cheat,” I whisper as tears threaten. “I don’t even know this guy. I don’t understand why this is happening.”

  “I know. But it is.”

  See what I mean about Amber being the tough-love kind of friend?

  “It’s happening, honey, and here’s what we’re going to do. We’re going to bring in the cavalry. You hang up with me and call everyone. Candice, Barb, the label. Have them bring in the attorneys who can start screaming defamation, and—”

  “I don’t want to play the game,” I interrupt.

  “What game?”

  “The he-said/she-said game,” I say quietly as I scroll through the rest of the article with a new sense of calm…until I find the tearful selfie of Shawn’s wife.

  She looks sweet. That’s the crappy part. Kayla Bates looks sweet and heartbroken, and my heart aches for her too, even though she’s sort of just ruined my life.

  “You have to,” Amber argues. “You can’t just let them walk all over you.”

  “You know how this works,” I say. “People like to believe the worst. It won’t matter what I say.”

  “Okay, true, but you can’t just ignore this, Jenny. This one’s not going away on its own. Not for a long time. You saw the headlines…America’s good girl just went bad.”

  I wince. I hate that label. I hate that a halo’s been thrust atop my head simply because someone somewhere decided that I have an innocent-looking face.

  I hate even more how easy it is for that halo to be knocked off.

  “Los Angeles will eat you alive,” Amber says, trying again with that unfamiliar gentle tone.

  “I know,” I say as I turn off the iPad screen with quiet purpose as the reality of what I need settles in. “I’m not staying.”

  “Thank God,” Amber says with feeling. “Come home. Stay with your folks or with me or with Kelly—”

  “I can’t go home to Nashville,” I interrupt. “They’ll find me there. Heck, they were camped outside my parents’ house after the burrito baby incident, and this is bigger.”

  “Where will you go?”

  I smile grimly as I begin to formulate a plan. “Let’s just say that it’s off the grid. Like, all the way off the grid.”

  Noah

  “Dude. Are you holding a wrench?”

  I glare down the length of my body as a tasseled shoe kicks lightly at the sole of my work boot. “Well, how the hell did you think a sink got fixed, Vaughn?”

  My best friend—one of them—kneels down so that a preppy, Kennedy-esque face comes into view along with the tasseled shoes. Somehow I’m not even the least bit surprised to see that friend wearing a suit, even though we’re currently in a decrepit mansion about forty minutes outside of Baton Rouge.

  This place doesn’t have a single bar of cell service, but Vaughn’s wearing a purple tie.

  Purple.

  For God’s sake.

  “Here’s the thing, Preston. I don’t think about how sinks get fixed. People do that for me,” Vaughn says.

  I grunt. “Don’t call me that,” I say, directing my attention back to the rusty pipe directly in front of my face.

  “Why shouldn’t I call you that? It’s your name,” Vaughn counters.

  “Teddy, Teddy, Teddy. We’ve been over this. My boy’s name is Noah.” This from my other best friend, Finn Reed, who’s right about most things, but not the name.

  Well, he is right. But not entirely so.

  I’m Noah Maxwell and Preston Walcott Jr.

  It’s tricky as shit.

  “Remind me again what you two clowns are doing here,” I say as I lever the wrench to tighten the new bolt I’ve inserted to replace the rusted one.

  “Well, one of us can actually be useful,” Finn says. “The other”—he hitches his thumb toward Vaughn—”wouldn’t know a hammer if it was shoved up his ass.”

  “Spoken like someone who probably has had a hammer shoved up his ass,” Vaughn counters.

  “Hey, at least I’m getting some sort of action. Bet the only pearl necklace you’ve ever given is to your great-aunt Maude,” Finn says.

  “Fuck you.” Vaughn’s face disappears as he stands.

  I close my eyes and drop the wrench to my side for a moment. “Jesus. Ladies. Would you knock it off?”

  “Just don’t know why you brought Country Club,” Finn mutters before he sets his hands on the knees of his jeans and pushes into a standing position and out of view.

  I maneuver out from under the bathroom sink that I’ve been lying under for the better part of half an hour to see my two friends glaring at each other, as they’ve
been doing for the past decade.

  “I didn’t bring either of you,” I say as I drop the wrench back into the beat-up toolbox. “I can’t figure out which part of ‘I’ve got shit to do’ equated to an invitation.”

  Even in my shitty mood, I don’t fail to miss the look Finn and Vaughn exchange, which means trouble. These two have hated each other forever. If they’re joining forces, it means absolute shit for me.

  “Sorry,” Vaughn says slowly. “But when my best friend tells me he’s headed out to a remote property he didn’t know he owned to get it ready for a tenant he’s never met…I’m going to tag along.”

  “Never thought I’d say this,” Finn says, reaching into his back pocket for the ever-present cigarettes. “But ditto to what Country Club said. You really didn’t know this place was out here?”

  “If I did, you think I’d’ve let it turn into this?” I say, halfheartedly lifting a hand to indicate what must have once been a rather impressive master bathroom but is now seriously run-down.

  “Why not just tell this chick no? That the place wasn’t available?”

  I shrug. “Apparently she came here for some musician’s retreat thing when she was a kid. She wants to come back now that she has some money. Sentimental bullshit, sounded kind of desperate.”

  Vaughn’s eyes narrow. “What’s her name?”

  “Don’t remember,” I lie.

  Every man knows the name of Jenny Dawson. Every woman too. Even if you don’t like her music, you can’t escape the fact that she’s a household name. She’s one of those nightmares that crosses all genres. Whether you like country music or hate country music, you can’t turn on your radio and not hear her.

  And more recently, you can’t turn on the TV and not see her.

  The spoiled little princess apparently got caught in a married man’s bed and thought that Glory, Louisiana, would make for a nice hideaway. She’s probably right. Glory had a population of 991 at last count.

  Any other day, I likely would have ignored her email. I have zero interest in playing savior to a pampered princess, and certainly have no need for her money. But, although she couldn’t have known it, spoiled Jenny Dawson had impeccable timing.

  Her email came on the exact day I was desperate for a distraction from my real life. And getting a mansion I didn’t even know I’d inherited ready for a tenant seemed as good a distraction as any.

  Still, as I look around at the fading wallpaper and well-worn floorboards, I realize I might be a little out of my depth. I sent out a cleaning crew yesterday, and they called to tell me that they’d done what they could, but that their services don’t include fixing leaky plumbing and broken windows.

  At least the place will be sparkling clean if it collapses.

  Which it very well might.

  “Somehow I can’t see Preston Walcott Sr. hosting a bunch of kids at a musical retreat,” Finn says snidely as he pulls a lighter out of his back pocket.

  “Dude. Not in the house.”

  He gives me an incredulous look as he waves his lighter around. “Yeah, because cigarette smoke is really the problem here. I nearly broke my neck on a half dozen missing stairs.”

  “A pity about the nearly part,” Vaughn mutters.

  “Pretty sure a professional singer’s not going to love her bedroom smelling like smoke,” I say as I make a mental note to fix the stairs.

  Finn swears under his breath and goes to the window, wrestling it open before lighting up, keeping his arm out the window as he idly blows the smoke outward.

  “Classy,” Vaughn mutters. “Still, the guy has a point. Does this girl know what she’s getting into?”

  “I told her I didn’t know what kind of condition the house was in. She said she didn’t care.”

  “Huh. Fucking weird, if you ask me.”

  “I didn’t ask you.”

  “Yeah, well, how about you start?” Vaughn says. “You know I’ve got your back no matter what, but I’ve gotta tell you, it looks like you’re on a downward spiral here.”

  “Just because he’s got better things to do than play golf with you every morning doesn’t mean he’s in a downward spiral,” Finn says.

  “Shut up, Reed. You don’t like this any more than I do,” Vaughn says.

  I glance at Finn. “That true?”

  Finn shrugs, his shoulders big and bulky beneath the tight black T-shirt. “I’m not complaining about you ending things with the ice princess, but you’ve been actin’ weird ever since.”

  “At least tell us what’s up,” Vaughn says as I bend down to pick up the toolbox. “Yvonne called, said she couldn’t get ahold of you. You getting cold feet?”

  “I don’t wanna fucking talk about it,” I mutter.

  My word choice always becomes less precise when I’m around Finn.

  The guy brings out the other side of me. The one that doesn’t belong with Vaughn at the golf course, the one that doesn’t marry women like Yvonne Damascus. The one who spent the first half of his life living in a two-room trailer and the second half of his life trying to balance weekends in that same trailer with weeknights in a sprawling mansion in snobby Village St. George.

  Finn represents one side of my life; Vaughn represents the other. It’s a juggling act even on the best days to fit into both worlds.

  These are not the best of days. Lately I haven’t been sure that I want to fit into either.

  “What time did you say this chick was arriving?” Finn asks around his cigarette.

  “Tomorrow morning,” I say, rapping my toe against a funny-looking floorboard and wincing when it buckles.

  “Huh.” Finn exhales and looks out the window.

  I know that tone. “What?”

  “Seems she might have gotten here early,” he says, a second before the quiet afternoon erupts with the sound of my dog losing his mind, mingled with the shrill piercing yap of a much smaller dog.

  “Seriously?”

  Finn shrugs and nods. “There’s a girl outside.”

  “Shit,” I mutter as I head toward the stairs, dodging the two broken ones.

  Ranger’s about as good a dog as they come, wouldn’t hurt a fly. But he’s a big dog with a big bark, and one serious weakness: gleefully humping smaller dogs. He’s a rescue, and though he was fixed after they brought him in, he’d already gone through canine puberty, or whatever. He’s still got the fierce urge to hump, although it’s more habit than hormones.

  I exit out the front door just in time to see my big brown Lab leap forward, his clumsy paws finding the shoulders of a blond girl who lets out a shriek, holding a cat above her head like that scene from The Lion King.

  “Ranger, no! Down.”

  I run forward, my hand finding the collar of my dog and yanking him backward as I search the ground to find the source of the small-dog barks still piercing the air.

  Then I register that the sound is coming from above, and realize…

  The cotton ball isn’t a cat.

  That orange piece of fluff is a dog, and Ranger is apparently in love.

  “What the heck is wrong with your dog?” the girl says as she slowly lowers the puffball from over her head, cradling the hideous little monster against her chest as it continues its high-pitched bloody-murder yips.

  “At least my dog is actually a dog,” I say, staring in horror at the pointy face of a canine that could fit in one of my hands. “I’ve seen dust bunnies bigger than that thing.”

  “Dolly’s a Pomeranian,” she says, setting a hand on top of the monster’s head. “She’s supposed to be this tiny.”

  “Well, Ranger’s a Lab. He’s supposed to be this normal.”

  “He attacked me,” she says, giving Ranger a wary look as his tongue hangs out the side of his mouth, his eyes locked lovingly on Dolly.

  “He didn’t want you, he wanted the…dog,” I say, forcing myself to acknowledge that the creature in her hands might be part of the canine family.

  “For what, dinner?”

&
nbsp; I don’t respond, because now that the crisis is averted, I’ve managed to shift my attention from the dogs to the girl, and…

  Holy shit.

  I’m not sure I’ve ever been sucker-punched by equal waves of lust and disdain before.

  Jenny Dawson is hot as hell.

  I knew that going in, but up close she’s even more mouthwatering. Her white skirt is short and tight, her legs long and toned.

  She’s wearing some billowing pink top, so I can’t get a good look at what’s happening there, but it doesn’t really matter. I’ve always been a legs man, and I can’t stop looking.

  The legs are a 10.

  The face is a 10.

  And the long blond hair spilling over one shoulder definitely begs to be spread over a man’s pillow. My pillow.

  And yet even as my cock says yes, my brain is saying hell no.

  Gorgeous as she is, she screams diva from the pink toenails to the sky-high stiletto sandals and all the way up to the carefully made-up face.

  I just turned my entire life upside down trying to get away from a woman exactly like this one, so this is definitely a look, don’t touch situation.

  But I’m looking. I’m definitely looking.

  “Hi there! You must be Mr. Walcott!” Her smile is pretty, even if it’s probably fake, and she pushes her big sunglasses on top of her head, revealing wide blue eyes.

  I open my mouth to respond, until I realize she’s not talking to me. Her eyes are locked over my shoulder, and I turn to see Vaughn and Finn walking toward us with a slightly dazed look on their faces.

  Finn has Ranger’s leash in his hand, and I snatch it as he gets close, clipping it on my big horny dog as I glare at my big horny friends.

  It’s obvious why Jenny’s question is directed at Vaughn. In his fussy suit, he looks the part of Preston Walcott, and I open my mouth to shoot down her snotty assumption.

  Only instead of telling her the truth, the most bullshit thing comes out: “Obviously this is Mr. Walcott.”

 
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