I crack my neck, passing the sign on the side of the road that welcomes me to Lake Starlight. According to it, it’s “My new home and I just don’t know it yet.”
Small-town life isn’t meant for me. The only exciting thing to happen since I rented my car at the airport and drove an hour west were the goats walking up a cliff on the side of a mountain.
I took the bait and parked my car next to the scattered line of vehicles alongside the highway, joining the rest of the people watching a baby mountain goat try to follow its mama or daddy.
I’m not sure which. Does one sex have horns and the other doesn’t?
See, I’m not meant for this life. I’ll admit it was interesting though. Not a moose, but it beats the ass cracks I see from the street vendors in New York on a daily basis.
My phone rings through the Bluetooth speaker.
“Hey, Mom,” I answer.
“Wyatt. You landed safely, I presume?”
“Yeah, sorry. Everything here is like extracting a tooth with a pair of pliers and no drugs.”
She giggles. “Enjoy it. Maybe you’ll like a slower-paced life.”
“Doubtful.” I’m no sooner in Lake Starlight than I’m in their “downtown,” which I think might have been inspired by Stars Hollow.
Gilmore Girls. I have a sister who used to spy on me then blackmail me in order to force me to cede control of the television to her.
. Mom had this ridiculous rule about having only one television in a ten-bedroom brownstone. Mom was a reader, so now that I’m an adult, I can understand her reasoning a little more.
. Luckily, Haylee is her fiancé, Bradley’s, problem now.
“You’ll be back for the wedding?” my mom asks.
Right now, only two things matter in my mom’s life: my sister’s nuptials and who’ll be my date for the big event.
“Yes. We’ve been over this.” I bring the car to a stop at the stoplight.
“And I’m probably coming stag.”
“Unless you find someone in that cute town.” Eagerness fills her voice.
A long, exasperated breath flows through the receiver. “I don’t know why you insist on this bachelor life.
“Weren’t your father and I a good example of how much a committed relationship can bring to your life? I know we’ve had our fights, but we love one another. Your sister is doing great.”
I roll my eyes and press the gas when the light turns green. “It’s not off the table, but I have a lot more I want to do before I’m stuck in Connecticut, playing house.”
“Most people don’t feel like marriage is being stuck.”
“See, I’m not like most people. I’m the exception. Remember?”
She giggles again. One thing I’m great at is making my mother laugh. “You’ve always been the exception to every rule. I think I’ve convinced your dad to come out there after the wedding.
“I’m eager to see the new place.”
I roll my eyes, turning right to head toward the latest hotel my dad has added to his empire. “It’s a podunk hotel. Probably a three-star.”
“I’ve spoiled you. When I was younger—”
“Yeah, you were a poor peasant girl begging for a crumb of bread on a corner.”
“Wyatt Whitmore, you better take back that tone. I’m serious. You need to find a wife. Fall in love. Live for someone else besides yourself.
“You do what you want, when you want without any regard for anyone else.”
“That’s the whole point of being single.”
I blow out a breath. Man, she must be stressed to ping between moods so fast. I’m not sure why my mom is so obsessed with the idea that I get married.
If I did, I’d be divorced after the lust phase ended a month later.
Resort is being used loosely here. It could probably be torn down and rebuilt, but my dad bought it to have a presence in Alaska before anyone else.
He wants to buy up these small, independent hotels before his competition does. Thinks Alaska is the next great escape everyone will be flocking to.
This isn’t a year or two operation though—his clear instructions were to get my assessment done in six months. Before ski season starts.
“You make me feel like I’m a bad mom.”
I swear, menopause is no fun for either my mother or myself. “You’re not. I’m not even thirty.”
“A couple months shy,” she mumbles, but I hear the thickness in her voice from crying.
“A couple months? Mom, don’t buy me a walker yet. I have ten months before I’m thirty.”
Thank fuck she’s back to happy. For a second, I was going to tell her I’d marry the first girl I saw here. That thought moves my thinking from the resort to who I’ll spend my nights with here.
Six months in Alaska and only one weekend with an excuse to head back to New York. Maybe I should take a vow of celibacy while I’m here and see if it helps me concentrate more.
I could get out of here in four months.
“Where is your dad having you start?” Mom asks.
“Bellhop. For a man who doesn’t watch television, it’s odd that I’m doing something that feels like a reality show.”
“He just wants you to appreciate what you have. He didn’t have an easy road, you know? When he bought his first place, he had five investors—”
“I know, Mom. You and Dad had a horrible upbringing. I gotcha.”
Look at the line of pick-up trucks. My rental might be the only sedan in the parking lot.
“I just want you to be happy.”
“Which I am. Well, I will be once I finish here and Dad finally hands over what he promised.”
She’s quiet. We both know there’s a chance my dad could change his mind. He swore to me that if I proved myself, he’d finally release the reins and let me own one of his many hotel chains.
Not that I want whatever this chain in Alaska will be. I’d settle for our high-priced skyscraper hotels in the theatre district though.
“I know. But after this, maybe you’ll think about finding someone.”
I chuckle. “Isn’t love supposed to plow you over, take you by surprise? I don’t think I’m supposed to pencil in time to meet the love of my life.”
She laughs again. When I was younger, I’d always try to make her laugh with silly magic tricks or goofy faces. Same goal these days, just different tactic.
“I suppose not, but things nowadays have changed.”
I drive out of the parking lot of the resort, even if I’m anxious to get started on getting it back in the black. .
According to everyone in that building, come Monday morning, I’m the new manager/bellhop. Do they even have a bellhop? Probably not. .
My dad’s ludicrous idea is for me to work in every department while relaying to him what needs to be done and who should stay and who should go. .
I’m basically doing an untelevised version ofUndercover Boss.
“Okay, Mom, I promise to put a little more effort into finding ‘the one’ after Dad signs some properties over to me.” I fail to mention that means I’ll need to interview a lot of women, and when I say interview, I mean in my bed.
“There’s the boy I love so much. You have way too big of a heart. You need to find someone who appreciates it.”
“All right, I’m going to go and get settled. I have to find this landlord guy at the new place. I pray he got it furnished like he promised.”
“Okay, remember to keep your eye out. Your bride could pop up at any time.”
“Bye, Mom, love you.”
I click off the Bluetooth as I pull into the parking lot of the apartment building I’m renting a unit in for a year, even though I’ll be here for six months.
The landlord was a stickler on the length of the lease. Then he huffed and puffed when I asked about a furnished place, so I threw a few more thousand his way.
I hit the key fob to lock the doors of my rental sedan. No bells or whistles this far north. I haven’t sat in cloth seats in… well, maybe ever.
As I’m walking to the apartment number the landlord told me to go to, I dig in my pocket for the keys he sent me. At least he was nice enough to overnight them to me.
I guess they haven’t progressed to key code entries up in this mountain town.
A piece of clothing falls on my head. I pluck it off, finding some guy’s boxer shorts.
“What the—what the fuck kind of place is this?” I glare at the pile of men’s clothes on the ground in front of me.
“Brooklyn,” a girl pleads right before a door above me shuts.
Great. I look up to see a man splayed along the glass door on the third floor. I glance at the keys in my hand. Three twenty-three, which means I’m on the same floor as whatever’s going on up there.
I sure hope there’s more than one cop in this town.
I open the front door of the building and walk up the stairs. The carpet is slightly stained, but I can’t imagine it gets much reprieve with the shit weather in this part of the country.
I’m halfway up the second stairway and I really wish I would’ve brought my suitcase with me. Where’s the elevator in this place?
The screaming grows louder the higher I get, which isn’t really a surprise.
I catch my breath when I reach the third floor and spot the door to another apartment open, a short redhead standing in the doorway.
No one pays me any attention as I insert the key into my apartment’s door.
Thank fuck. I don’t want to be a witness to something and spend the rest of the day telling the police what I witnessed. I’m incognito in this town from this point forward.
“Ugh!” I hear a woman scream.
I can’t help but turn toward the sound. It’s like a reflex, even though I should mind my own business.
Something hits my head with a huge thud.
“Fuck!” I yell.
What have I gotten myself into by living here?
I bend down, retrieving my keys and the weapon of choice. A book depicting an alien invasion on the cover.
I stomp across the hall. “What the hell?”
Three women and a man are inside the apartment. The man looks scared shitless, sliding along the wall, his eyes frantic.
A tall blonde meets me before I can fully step into the apartment. The redhead’s eyes flick to mine then concentrate on her shoes.
“We’re so sorry,” the blonde says.
I blink a few times to clear my vision, probably looking as if I have a twitch in my eyes. “Are you really?”
I stare between the blonde and the redhead, wondering which of them should be pitching in major league baseball.
“I am.” A soft voice reminds me someone else is here.
I look away from the two women trying to give me some type of nonverbal communication with their eyes, and I blink.
I blink again.
I blink one more time because my mom’s words from ten minutes ago haunt me like the ghost from Christmas past.
“Your bride could pop up at any time.”
The blond bride is cute as hell, and if it wasn’t for the flushed, angry look on her face and loose strands of hair going in every direction, she’d probably be the most beautiful bride I’ve ever seen.
Forget that. I kind of like the runaway bride look.
I look down at myself, wondering if I was knocked out and am now dreaming, then I release a long breath.
“Nope. I’m not naked or in a tux. Thank fuck. For a second I thought my worst nightmare had come true.” I speak the truth, though I probably should’ve kept that thought to myself.
“Great, just what I need. Another man afraid of commitment.” The bride raises her arms then disappears down the hall, slamming a door in the process.
“Let me get you some ice.” The redhead breezes past me to the kitchen.
“Have a seat.” The blonde pulls out a chair.
I step over a ripped sports coat and sit down. “Should I watch for flying books every time I leave my apartment?”
The redhead puts a bag of ice on the table. “I’m Juno Bailey, and this is my sister, Savannah.” She points down the hall.
“That’s Brooklyn, and um… it’s just not a good day for her today.” She folds her small frame into the chair next to me, patting my wound with a wet paper towel. “It’s just a surface cut.
“I think you’ll be fine.”
“Are you the town doctor?” I deadpan.
She laughs and gives her sister a look. “Town matchmaker.”
“What?” Obviously the hit to my head has affected my hearing.
“Is this the groom?” The guy, who now has color back in his face, walks over.
“I’m definitely no groom.”
He laughs. “Just messing with you.”
Juno rolls her eyes, and a sound comes from Savannah’s throat. One that means she agrees with her sister. If I stick around long enough, maybe I’ll figure out their native tongue.
“Who are you?” Savannah asks.
“I’m Wyatt W—Moore. Someone here’s neighbor for the next year.”
Again, Juno looks at Savannah, but this time she smiles. Wide and welcoming. Another grunt comes from Savannah. They’re disagreeing now.
Look at me, I’m understanding how the natives communicate.
“So who’s my neighbor?” I ask.
The guy thumbs toward the hallway. “The jilted bride in there.”
“We still need to negotiate,” Savannah interrupts.
“I told you, she’s not getting out of the lease.” He puts his hand in front of me. “I’m Joel, your landlord. Nice to finally meet you.”
I hold out my free hand while holding the bag of ice to my forehead with the other.
“You good to walk? I can show you the apartment and go through everything with you now.”
Joel is eager to leave and I’m his excuse. Not that I want to stick around with three chicks who are probably moments away from raising pitchforks toward anyone with a member between their legs.
“Thanks for the head wound and the ice.” I nod, stepping toward the door.
“Any time. And we do apologize. Just a bad day,” Juno says.
Savannah doesn’t say anything.
“We’re going to have pizza later tonight if you’d like to join us.” Juno follows us to the door.
“Juno, stop,” Savannah says.
Juno glances over her shoulder, and her sister rolls her eyes. “Brooklyn really is a sweet girl. You’ll see, she’ll be a great neighbor.”
Juno’s smile is so bright, I feel as though I’m in a remake of The ~Stepford Wives~ movie.
“Sure. Whatever you say.”
“Yeah, bye, girls.” Joel shuts their door. “Can you believe it? Left at the altar. And a Bailey at that.
“What a moron,” he says, as though I understand any of it other than her being left at the altar.
What the hell does her being a Bailey have to do with it?
He inserts a key into my door and opens the apartment for me. “The Baileys own the big lumber company in town.” He thumbs toward the other apartment. “That’s three of them. There are six more.”
I nod, inspecting the furniture. Not the best, but not the worst either.
I do a quick sweep of the apartment and see that he’s left the mail key on the kitchen counter, along with a sheet giving instructions for garbage, etc. “Thanks a lot, Joel.
“I’ll let you know if I need anything.”
“Sure thing. I’m glad this worked out. Normally this is a quiet apartment building. I don’t know what kind of idiot stands up Brooklyn Bailey.”
I huff. Joel obviously thinks I care about whatever happened to the bride. I have no interest in involving myself in any small-town gossip. I’m here to do a job. Get in. Get out.
Not that I disagree with him. Brooklyn’s gorgeous, but you have to watch out for a girl with an arm like that. I’m not sure how things are here, but in New York, nothing is ever as good as it seems.
Maybe that’s the case with my new neighbor too.
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