The lake town of Maisonville was better known as Renaissance Lake and most who moved there were looking to begin again.
Sydney Bell was no exception. Recovering from a divorce she needed to pick up the pieces of her life and start over.
Unfortunately, in her new town the handsome Ryan Gentry next door and Sydney are already butting heads.
When the real reason she moved to the lake is revealed, she’s reminded that a small town can heal your soul, sparring with an arrogant neighbor can build self-esteem, and true friendship has the ability to make you a better person.
THE DELUGE OF RAIN WAITED until the moving truck was scheduled to arrive and then drowned any hope Sydney had of a smooth move in day.
She’d paid a little extra for them to arrive that morning; that way she’d be finished by the time Ryan returned home next door.
He was the jerk who had helped change her tire the first day she came to town and the owner who reluctantly sold her the house. She wasn’t certain how Will talked him into it, but Will said he was a family friend and that must have mattered to Ryan. Of course, he could have simply been motivated by the cash offer. It took the money she had from the sale of her father’s large home and the sale of her Mercedes wagon for her to afford the beautiful cottage. It was more than she should have spent but way less than the place was worth.
Ryan shook his head during the closing, avoiding looking at her the entire time. Will said he was perpetually grouchy, but she knew he was unhappy about selling to her specifically. She acted sweet and told him how much she loved the house and promised to be a quiet neighbor. However, during the hour-long meeting, Ryan didn’t say more than a few words to her, but he managed to slip the word “genius” into the conversation at least five times.
She couldn’t help it, sometimes words popped out of her mouth before she could stop them. She’d wished she hadn’t been snarky and called Ryan a genius that day on the roadside, especially after he changed her tire, but she couldn’t take it back.
It didn’t matter. He didn’t have to like her. She would prove she could be a good neighbor and ignore him back.
As the moving truck turned onto her twisted street, she realized the truck was much bigger than she remembered. Most of her belongings had been from her father’s estate and picked up from a large storage building where there was plenty of room to maneuver. There was a lot less room on her new street that had large oak trees that had taken up residence a hundred years before the houses were built.
Ryan had made sure these incredible trees, along with the one that partially divided their driveways, weren’t disturbed during the remodeling of their houses. Instead, they were showcased in the landscape with up lighting.
As the rain pummeled down, Sydney ran to motion the truck in front of her house, hoping she could keep them from driving on Ryan’s perfect grass. More importantly, she had to protect the tree limbs that dipped down to the ground before twisting back up to the sky.
She was wearing shorts and a t-shirt but thankfully thought to throw on her green rain boots and matching raincoat before she ran out there, waving her arms. She shook her head as she considered how mad Ryan had acted toward her already, and she’d just gotten here. She had to protect that tree.
The truck barely made the turn around the tree in the middle of the street and then ran partially into Ryan’s yard before making the sharp left into hers. Sydney suddenly realized they didn’t see her and she was narrowly missed by the truck as she ran up the stairs onto her porch.
Screeching the brakes as they hit the wooden steps, Sydney braced herself as the entire porch groaned and shook. The driver then reversed a few feet before throwing the truck into park and sliding out of the driver’s side door to look at her.
The rain slowed down but didn’t stop. Sydney cut her eyes at the driver when she realized his truck not only blocked her driveway but was stretched precariously across the street and Ryan’s drive, too. The driver had completely trapped her in and the rest of the world out.
“Who put those steps there?” The driver laughed and then lowered his eyes at her, daring her to say anything.
Sydney didn’t care how he looked at her. She wasn’t going to accept his behavior. “Look at my steps! Look at my porch! No one would take that turn at forty miles an hour in clear weather. What were you thinking?” she yelled.
The scruffy man’s eyes turned to slits. “Look, lady, I have three deliveries today. Either you want your furniture, or you don’t. Let’s get on with it, or I’m going to take care of my other customers, and you can get your stuff tomorrow.”
He thought he’d made a good point. After all, what could she do? He had her stuff, and she needed help to unload it. She was alone, and he could make things easier or harder for her. He gave her his most arrogant grin and watched her walk to the truck door and climb partially inside the cab before she jumped back out. She then walked past him, and he watched her curiously as she strutted up the steps to the porch and into her house, slamming the door.
The other man in the truck stuck his head out. “Chuck? Um, she took the keys.”
“She what?” Chuck asked.
“Keys to the truck. She took ‘em.”
Chuck made a sound like an animal snarling. “Why the hell didn’t ya stop her, Alan?”
“Why didn’t you stop her?” Alan mumbled, as he sat back down to keep dry and slammed the door shut.
Sydney returned holding her cell phone. “Are you going to call Mr. O’Malley or am I?” she asked, ignoring the growling sounds he made and his red face.
She clearly had no regard for her own safety. Chuck marched right up to her and glared into her eyes. “Now why the hell would I call my dad?”
Sydney was on her tiptoes trying to appear bigger as she argued with the driver.
“You know why, and --.”
They were interrupted by a loud pickup truck horn blaring on the other side of the moving truck.
“No,” Sydney muttered. It was Ryan. What was he doing home?
The driver turned to look as Ryan walked around the front of the truck and toward Sydney’s porch. Ryan gave a short wave to Alan and then slowly walked over to the steps where Sydney and Chuck looked like they were about to brawl.
“Ms. Bell,” he said, and nodded his head her way. “What have you done this time?”
“I haven’t done anything, and this is none of your business,” she said defensively.
The driver grinned. “We were having a little chat, and she took the keys out of my truck.”
Ryan looked at the bowed porch and crooked steps and nodded his head. The driver added, “I may have bumped her steps when I made the turn, but it was raining like hell.”
Ryan looked closely at the steps and then walked up on the porch. “No reason to cry over spilled milk. I can patch that up in no time.” Ryan smiled at the driver. “Need some help with that furniture?”
“No. I, uh, wait, Ryan. I need to call his boss.” Sydney stammered as Ryan stepped in to take over.
“No need to call Mr. O. Right, men?” Ryan asked the movers as they opened up the back of the truck and got ready to hand down furniture.
“But--.” Sydney wanted to disagree, but the look Ryan gave her made her stop.
“You direct traffic, and we’ll haul things inside,” Ryan said and nodded his head until Sydney gave up and nodded back.
It didn’t take long for them to unload her furniture and boxes. Then Ryan thanked them and walked them out of the house to their truck. Sydney’s anger had calmed down through the rain, sweat, and tears of moving her belongings into the house. It was clear she no longer had a family and certainly no kids by looking at her things. She sat down on the couch, thinking about her boys.
Before she could get misty eyed over them, Ryan walked back in the front door without knocking.
Sydney stood up and looked at him. “Thank you,” she said, but as she barely got the words out of her mouth, Ryan was in her space.
“What the hell were you thinking?” he scolded her.
She wanted to yell back at him, but she was exhausted and more than a little shocked at his behavior. She avoided his eyes as she whispered, “What?”
“I drive up and, of course, there is a moving truck blocking the entire street and my driveway. You’re standing there in your little girl rain boots and coat, about to start World War III with two ex-cons! Are you looking for trouble?”
Before she could answer, he threw his hands up in the air.
“Or maybe you just don’t understand the concept of peace and quiet. You certainly don’t know how to keep the peace. Don’t tell me you don’t know that O’Malley’s movers are ex-cons recently let out on parole, including Mr. O’Malley’s oldest son, Chuck. Hell, some of the guys he hires just have day passes from jail to work and then return at night.” Ryan eyed her. “Surely you knew that was the reason they were so much cheaper than everyone else. Besides, did you get a good look at that Alan guy? I’m pretty sure he was on America’s Most Wanted a few years back.”
Sydney held back the tears that threatened to spill down her cheeks. She’d spent most of her money buying the house and was simply grateful to have found an inexpensive moving company. There was no question about O’Malley’s because they were her only option.
She refused to admit she didn’t know about the workers being ex-cons. She was having a hard enough time keeping her wits and not looking foolish around Ryan. She couldn’t remember the last time she’d slept more than a few hours. The lack of sleep coupled with the stress of moving, how much she missed her boys and now for the umpteenth time, the disapproving words of her only neighbor, she found herself without words. That didn’t happen often.
Ryan stopped and stared at her, probably disappointed that she wouldn’t fight with him. He seemed like a man who liked to argue. He then turned, grabbed his rain jacket and stalked out her back door.
She watched as he stormed across her back deck and jumped across to his side and then into his house. As soon as he was out of sight, she slumped back down to the couch where she let her tears take over. She sobbed over missing her children. No matter what Drake had said in court, they were her kids. She cried over the end of her marriage and the idea of being alone. She then cried over her new lake house and how she could ever afford to live here by herself. Then she finally cried because she was just so flipping tired.
Ryan slammed the door as he stomped into his house. What the hell was he thinking? He wanted to buy that great property around the bend, but he could have waited a few more weeks to get his list price and a different buyer. How did he allow Uncle Trey’s best friend, Will, talk him into selling at such a deeply discounted price? He shouldn’t have listened when Will told him she was alone and needed help as a single woman who was recently divorced. It was business and not personal.
Ryan had rules, and when he stuck to them things were fine. In fact, the only time he ever had a problem was when he skirted around these rules. Now, instead of a nice quiet retired couple that might invite him over for a beer every now and again, he was stuck with her.
He slammed his hand down on the counter. He didn’t have anything against Sydney for being a woman. His sister was his closest friend. He loved women. He enjoyed the way they smelled, their soft skin, sweet voices and especially how they felt in his bed, but he couldn’t handle the complicated ones. His life was simple, peaceful and quiet. He fixed houses, not people.
Ryan walked to his fridge and grabbed a cold beer. It was ten in the morning. He paused, looking at the clock and then put the beer back into the refrigerator. He went into his garage and picked up the drill and charger that he’d forgotten that morning and then went back to work.
Driving back toward his current project house, he calmed down, and then his mind went back to her. Sydney Bell. So, she was going through a breakup. Everyone had been there. It was tough, but you do what you have to do and move on. It had been ten years since he’d dated anyone seriously. His girlfriend had sent him a Dear John letter while he was overseas, and he simply went on with his life.
He shook his head and smirked. He’d moved on as often as he could without getting labeled a womanizer. Now in Maisonville, he was considered a confirmed bachelor, and life was good. Women wanted to reform him, and some just wanted a notch on their own bedpost.
Sydney would get over the whole thing easier if she would simply find someone to come home with her. There were plenty of men who would take one look at her and step up to the challenge. In fact, Ryan had helped more than a few divorcees in town. He ran his hands through his hair and tightened his jaw. He had a weakness for redheads, but she was not his type.
First of all, she was his next door neighbor, and he believed in the rule, don’t screw your neighbor. No, she was not going to happen. He was going to have to stop coming to her rescue. She either was helpless or had the worst luck of anyone he’d met, and he’d made the mistake of jumping in three times already. That was just stupid. He should have made a U-turn and avoided their street until that moving truck was gone, but O’Malley’s movers were from the next town over and had a reputation. He’d had a fight with Mr. O’Malley’s son, Chuck, some time ago and understood wherever Chuck went, there was trouble. Then he saw her standing on her tiptoes, arguing with that mouth-breather.
It was a wonder the bastard hadn’t taken a swing at her or worse. Ryan couldn’t let that happen even if she had let her mouth overrun her ass. He had to step in. He couldn’t just let the freaking animal at her. Besides, the creep would have just come back later to make her pay for causing him trouble with his old man.
Not on his watch.
That was his neighborhood, and he wasn’t going to let anything disturb the quiet nirvana he’d created at the lake. Ryan reached up and squeezed the bridge of his nose as he parked his truck. He would make sure Sydney Bell understood the rules again. He’d torn that house down to the bones and built it back up to the perfection it was today so that he could have an exquisite neighborhood. She wasn’t going to ruin that, and he was going to set her straight.
He wasn’t there to watch over her. Her tears had made him queasy, and he had to bolt before he offered to help her with anything else. She could learn a thing or two from him about healing herself with alcohol, women or a nice loyal dog. He laughed. Maybe not women.
Ryan spent the rest of his day working, but he didn’t have the stamina that he’d started with earlier. He couldn’t get his new neighbor off his mind. He was going to have to go out tonight so that he could avoid her. He needed female company to get that woman out of his head.
It was late when he returned home. He dropped his things into the garage before he walked into the kitchen and grabbed a beer. He barely made it before the sunset and hurried to sit outside on his large deck. It was his evening routine. Before dinner, he would sit outside and watch the sun go down over the lake with his feet propped up. It was his form of meditation, which his therapist had ordered, and it helped his stress slip away.
Tonight he couldn’t get Sydney off his brain. He should go back and give her a piece of his mind, but he remembered the look she had given him when he left. Instead, he paced the deck a few times and then leaned back on the railing, where he realized he could see into her great room.
There she was on that tiny sofa of hers. Ryan saw her body shaking as she cried uncontrollably.
He set his beer down and turned to pace the deck again. He was an asshole. He was a straight shooter, and he knew that sometimes it came off rude.
He shouldn’t have yelled at her. He should have just walked away after those movers left, but that bastard Chuck had said some crap about her before he got into the truck, and it got him worked up. She needed to be careful. A woman living alone had to be more aware of the vibe she gave off around men like that.
Ryan walked back over to look in on her. She appeared to be sleeping now, must have cried herself to sleep. He wiped his face and finally had a seat on one of his outdoor chairs, propping his feet up.
He had fallen for the lake the first time he came here to visit his uncle.
Uncle Trey was married for a few years, but eventually divorced and didn’t remarry. He loved to fish, play cards and tell jokes. He was the perfect uncle. Ryan’s sister would talk their mother into letting them spend most of the summer with Uncle Trey. It was during those summers that Reagan learned how to play poker and used the skill to pay her way through college and law school. She was ridiculously smart and sort of his hero.
She lived in the city, but getting together once a month for dinner was the most she could manage with her work schedule. He wanted her to share the house their uncle had left to them, but she refused and signed the deed over to Ryan. She then turned around and bought the first house he rehabbed before anyone else had a chance to buy it.
Reagan had told him that was what he was born to do. She supported his military service but was the only one who saw the damage it had done to his soul. They rarely spoke of it, but when he returned from his final tour of duty overseas, she hired a therapist and sent a car each week to make sure he went.
He did it for her. At least, in the beginning, that was true, but by the end of three months when he felt like a normal person again, he realized he had done it to heal himself. He’d been up close to some of the earth’s most despicable criminals that put not only his life in danger but sacrificed their wives and children in order to protect themselves. His unit had prevented more than a dozen large-scale attacks on the U.S. and three allied countries. It took eliminating entire families to stop many of these events, and for a long time, he couldn’t process any of it.
Reagan saved his life with that therapist, and he wasn’t sure she understood that, even today.
He stood up. He couldn’t think of any of that right now. It was dark, and he was starving. Tonight Miss Lynn’s Diner served meatloaf, and he’d planned to eat out, but now he didn’t want to be around anyone else. Instead, he went out and picked up a pizza to eat at home alone.
He was drinking another beer and eating two slices at a time from the box as he sat on his porch when he saw the light turn on next door.
He slid his chair into a dark corner, pretending he hadn’t been watching for her. Then he settled back to continue eating.
Sydney was up.
Buy on Amazon
About the Author
Lisa Herrington is a Women’s Fiction and YA novelist, blogger and speaker. A former medical sales rep, she currently manages the largest Meet-Up writing group in the New Orleans area, The Bayou Writer’s Club. She was born and raised in Louisiana, attended college at Ole Miss in Oxford, Mississippi and accepts that in New Orleans we never hide our crazy but instead parade it around on the front porch and give it a cocktail. It’s certainly why she has so many stories to tell today. When she’s not writing, and spending time with her husband and three children, she spends time reading, watching old movies or planning something new and exciting with her writer’s group.
Connect with Lisa, find out about new releases, and get free books at lisaherrington.com