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The Girl Next Door
To win her heart he's going to need a little help...
The Girl Next Door is a follow up read to Meg Gray’s debut novel, The Teacher. Jam packed with many of the same down-to-earth characters from The Teacher, plus a few new witty sidekicks, The Girl Next Door is sure to delight fans of Meg’s City Streets, Country Roads Novels.
Jocelyn Banks, a small town investigative reporter, is averse to change. Yet, when she moves to the city of Portland, Oregon and takes a temporary job at The Portland Daily Report, a fast-paced newspaper, changes start happening faster than she’s ready for. Doing her best to push herself out of the underdog status at her new job, Jocelyn learns that the big city isn’t what she thought it was going to be. The one thing that hasn’t changed though is her firm resolve to guard her heart from getting broken again, especially by her new neighbor who looks like the kind of guy that entertains a different lady every other night.
Luke Lewis decides to join his brother Marcus in Portland, Oregon when his playboy antics get out of hand in Seattle, Washington. Emerging from beneath a pile of pro-bono cases he’s finally handed a high profile case, which if played just right could land him a brand new corner office. But he’s not sure that’s what he wants. As the biggest deal of his life is about to literally go up in smoke he realizes the only thing he knows for sure is that he wants to win the favor of the one woman determined to shut him out.
Humor-filled, cheeky, and teased with mystery, The Girl Next Door is a story about facing changes, trusting your heart, and believing in love.
The Girl Next Door Excerpt - Chapter One
Jocelyn Banks opened to the center section of the newspaper, spreading her arms wide inside the cramped interior of her sister’s tiny hatchback.
“Would you put that away?” Sophie backhanded the paper. “Can’t you see I’m driving here?”
Brake lights lit up in front of them, and Jocelyn lurched forward, pressing her feet against the floorboards as she finished folding the paper in half.
“Looks like we’re stopped now.” Jocelyn set the paper in her lap, scanning the headlines of page four.
“Not for long,” Sophie said as the car began to roll again. “I can’t believe this traffic. It’s ridiculous.”
“I told you we needed to leave earlier.” Jocelyn didn’t glance up from the national headlines.
“Don’t do that,” Sophie snapped. “Don’t be an I-told-you-so kind of person. Nobody likes them. Besides, we only left ten minutes after six this morning. I don’t think those few minutes would’ve gotten us here before this mess.”
“Yes, but if I’d known you were going to need to take four bathroom breaks along the way, I would’ve suggested we leave even earlier.” Jocelyn didn’t need to look up to know her sister’s green eyes, usually crisp and joyful, were glaring at her.
“You’re annoying. Did you know that?”
Jocelyn flipped the newspaper over, continuing to read about the results of a recent population survey. “It’s all part of the big sister oath I took before you were born. Thou shalt not knowingly harm or maim thy little sister. Thou shalt love her unconditionally and annoy the crap out of her at every opportunity.” Jocelyn grinned. “So, how am I doing?”
“Splendid. A+ for you. Just like always.” Sophie looked over her shoulder and changed lanes.
“Hey, listen to this.” Jocelyn shook the paper, making it flat so she could read the small print. “A recent look at Portland, Oregon’s population growth suggests it may have its largest increase of the century by the next census report. City mangers are concerned that the already congested roads and highways will become an even greater problem.”
“Ya think?” Sophie said with a snort. “I never would’ve figured that one out without some special report.”
Sophie squeezed her little hatchback between an SUV and a tired-looking pickup truck with rusty patches and chipped paint. A loud unhealthy whirr to the engine made its road worthiness debatable.
“It also says the LGBT population is up two percent, rivaling only San Francisco’s growth.”
“Fascinating,” Sophie said dryly.
She obviously didn’t care about the latest news of the city that was about to become Jocelyn’s new home.
Sophie looked over at her again. “How do you do that?”
“Read the paper and have a conversation at the same time.”
Jocelyn finished the article, noting the encouragement the city officials felt about the recent uptick in the median income of the working class. It was a good sign that the economy had fully recovered from the recession.
“It’s a gift.” She folded the paper.
Actually, it was a skill she’d developed in college and then perfected as she fielded every position, from intern, to editor, to receptionist, over her years at her uncle’s newspaper. The Gazette in River’s Edge had suffered through the hard times of the downed economy and struggled to regain its footing. If Jocelyn hadn’t been there, her uncle surely would’ve lost the paper.
Drafting and editing copy while taking phone calls from the community was a normal occurrence when no else was on the payroll except for her and Uncle Larry. But they had survived. With Jocelyn in the role of senior editor for the last two years, she’d been able to hire on a small part-time staff and Uncle Larry had been taking some time off, possibly even flirting with the idea of retirement. Why else would he have insisted she take the position at The Portland Daily Report—a newspaper run by his old college buddy Jerry Wilbur?
Jocelyn didn’t like being offered a job she’d never applied for. But Uncle Larry assured her that the time she spent filling in at the newspaper, until a permanent replacement was found, would be a great experience.
With two new recently hired freelance writers and Uncle Larry stepping into more of Jocelyn’s roles at The Gazette she’d acquiesced.
Jocelyn smoothed her hand over the front page of The Daily Report. The lead headline read: Double Murder at Union Station.
There was a time when she’d imagined her name under a headline like this. Even before she’d enrolled in college, she’d craved chasing the breaking news stories that hit the front pages of every major newspaper across the country. She hadn’t cared which city wanted her when she graduated. She was going to make a name for herself as an investigative reporter wherever she went.
But that was all before life intervened and sent her back home during her senior year to care for her dying mother. She’d completed her courses via the web. Her petition for a reassignment to her uncle’s newspaper to finish her internship credits was granted so she could remain near her family when they needed her.
With Sophie off at college, her father struggling to find his way living alone, and her uncle’s paper careening toward bankruptcy, Jocelyn had stayed in River’s Edge. She’d worked hard and was the steadying force that helped see them all through. Leaving her hometown this morning was one of the hardest things she’d ever done. And she wouldn’t be here if it didn’t mean so much to Uncle Larry.
They veered off the interstate, taking an exit before merging with traffic and immediately taking another off ramp.
Sophie pulled both hands off the wheel for a moment and held them in a v-formation. “City Center, here we come!”
Out Jocelyn’s window, the murky water of the Willamette River rolled this way and that, creating foamy peaks. Birds circled over the water. In no time, the car was over the river and swallowed up by the tall buildings of the city. After a few more minutes of stop and go through the traffic lights, they turned onto a semi-quiet street, and the car’s pace slowed as Sophie read the address numbers of every building aloud.
“Here it is.” Sophie pulled to the curb in front of a sleek, pale-brick building. “Home sweet home.” Her sister’s green eyes crinkled as she hunched over the steering wheel to admire the multi-level apartment building.
There wasn’t much sweet about it if you asked Jocelyn, nothing like the turn-of-the-century house on Main Street where she’d lived since she was three, except for her college years, of course. Thank goodness this was only temporary and that Sophie’s yoga mentor, Fiona, who was leaving for a retreat in Bali tomorrow, was sharing her apartment for the duration.
The skies were gray and the air cool as Jocelyn stepped from the car. A steady stream of pedestrians passed in both directions on the sidewalk.
Sophie popped open the hatch and pulled out the suitcases while Jocelyn grabbed two boxes from the backseat. She backed up onto the sidewalk to swing the door closed and stepped right into the path of a jogger, the sound of sneakers on pavement registering with her a moment too late. Hands gripped her shoulders, and she whipped around, expecting to be met with some expletive but instead was greeted by a man’s crystal blue eyes and an ear-to-ear grin.
“Sorry about that.” The guy let go of her and pulled his earbuds out. “Are you okay?”
Jocelyn nodded, trying to get over her sudden infatuation with the way his hair glistened in the morning light.
Sophie came around from the other side of the car with the third box and stepped next to the suitcases. The jogger promptly lost interest in Jocelyn and went to Sophie. Her sister’s blonde hair, green eyes, and to-die-for body, which came from the hours of yoga she performed on a daily basis, had heads turning her way wherever she went. Jocelyn, with her gentle curves and dark brown hair, didn’t hold a candle to her sister in the beauty queen department.
“Can I help you with that?” He took the box from Sophie’s arms. Wouldn’t you know she’d be spared from the light box while Jocelyn struggled with the heavy ones? Why had she thought she needed to bring every one of her college textbooks with her?
“Thanks. That’s very kind of you.” Sophie grabbed for the suitcase handles, but the guy took one from her.
“You wouldn’t happen to be moving all this stuff into my building now, would you?” He nodded toward the apartment building.
“Your building?” Sophie giggled, all girly and sweet. A sound that was often endearing, except when she was being hit on by random strangers.
“That’s right. Fifth floor.” He flirted like it was an Olympic sport. Jocelyn had seen it a thousand times before. Guys like him who knew how to layer the finest sheen of swagger into his words and cock that nice guy grin while oh so subtly measuring up her sister’s body. Not that Sophie tried to hide much by constantly wearing skin tight pants and athletic tops that showed off her muscled arms and tight glutes. Yoga—who knew it could make you into a ripped goddess like that?
Jocelyn hefted the heavy boxes about to slip from her fingers and tried to get a better grip.
“That’s where we’re heading,” Sophie said.
“Then please allow me to lead the way.”
He led them to the door being held open by a man in a suit. Mr. Jogger held back, letting Jocelyn and Sophie enter first. Gentlemanly was her first thought, and then she feared for the suitcase and box he held. City criminals came in all shapes and sizes, and this good-looking stranger could have been preying on her sister’s and her naivety. For all she knew, he was about to bolt down the sidewalk with her box and bag. But then, he walked through the door, and the doorman gave him a curt nod that was just this side of familiar.
“Mornin’, Chester,” the guy said.
Jocelyn couldn’t help but wonder if the doorman’s name was really Chester or if he was just too polite to correct the stranger who had no business coming into the building. Never one to ignore her investigative instincts, Jocelyn turned to question the doorman when Chester said, “Good morning, Mr. Lewis.”
That put the random stranger theory to rest. Her arms were about to give up their hold on her boxes, so she steered herself toward a table near a wall of mailboxes.
Sophie pushed ahead to the elevator, joining a small group of other people. Her new neighbor made his way to Sophie, who chatted him up like he was an old friend. Sophie’s bubbly giggle punctuated the air every so often, and that tiny bead of jealousy Jocelyn had carried toward her sister since childhood came trickling back.
Sophie always captured the attention of anyone in her proximity—their parents, their grandparents, and then boys. All while Jocelyn sat quietly and politely in the corner, waiting to be noticed. Just once, she’d like to think that someone would notice her over her sister.
The elevator dinged, and Jocelyn hoisted her boxes when a painting on the wall caught her attention. The concentric lines of the watercolor ripples and the cool colors pulled her into the image. The work was reminiscent of what her mother used to sell in their family’s art gallery. Jocelyn was flooded with the memory of watching her mother work her brush over the paper. She tried to make out the signature, but the long straight lines didn’t match the curvy C and B of Carissa Banks.
She let go of the memory and rushed off, boxes in arm, just in time to catch Sophie and Mr. Lewis smiling fondly at each other. Barely a square inch of space remained in the elevator.
“Here, I’ll swap you.” Her overly friendly soon-to-be neighbor moved to trade places with her outside the elevator.
“No.” Jocelyn gently bulldozed him back inside with her boxes. That suitcase and box weren’t going anywhere without her or Sophie. Resident or not, he could still be a thief. “You two go ahead.” The elevator doors slid closed. “I’ll just take the stairs,” she muttered and blew a long strand of brown hair out of her eye.
* * *
Sweat moistened Jocelyn’s skin in all sorts of unmentionable places as she reached the fifth floor landing and maneuvered through the door. If she ever decided to work out, this would be a great way to start. The five flights of stairs and heavy weights would have her arms and glutes shaped up in no time.
Jocelyn followed the voices echoing through the hall, Sophie’s giggles her beacon. She came around the corner and found her sister’s new friend seemingly entranced with her every word. Nobody, not even her new roommate who held a striped orange cat, noticed her.
“Can I help you with that?” the man said as she approached, finally peeling his eyes off Sophie.
“Nope. Got it.” Jocelyn pushed past the brain-dead women in the doorway. All googly-eyed and purring like revved up kittens. Sophie’s voice lowered to a whisper, and the three of them shared a laugh.
“Well, I’ll let you get to it,” the man said. “Welcome to the neighborhood. Feel free to ask if you need anything—directions, a cup of sugar, whatever.” And then he was gone.
The apartment door closed.
Sophie fell against the back of it. “Yum, yum, yum. I’ll have some more of that, please.”
“Oh, honey.” Fiona tossed her tightly spun curls to one side and stroked the back of her orange cat. “He’s all look and no touch, if you know what I mean.”
Jocelyn knew exactly what she meant.
Fiona put the cat down and greeted Jocelyn with a hug. “Welcome to my home.”
Jocelyn glanced over the tidy space decorated in neutral tones. Lavender filled her senses as she took a deep breath. Incense burned on the natural wood coffee table. Potted plants lined the wall with windows, and the soft babble of trickling water, from an unknown source, made the room serenely perfect.
“Thank you for having me,” Jocelyn said.
“Oh, Bodhi and I couldn’t be happier to have you.”
In the corner, Bodhi scratched at the wood floor, then jumped into a potted tree and squatted.
“What’s he doing?” Jocelyn asked.
“He thinks it’s a litter box.” Fiona waved a hand in the air and smiled. “He gets a little confused when he’s nervous.”