Home > New Jerk in Town (Carolina Kisses, #2)(5)

New Jerk in Town (Carolina Kisses, #2)(5)
Author: Sylvie Stewart

“Thanks, Zeb.” My smile lacks the flirtiness this time, but it’s genuine. “I’m Jill.”

“A pleasure to meet you, Jill.”

“You too.” I almost start walking to my car when I remember the damn thing is dead. “Uh, you guys have Uber here, right?”

Zeb shakes his head like he’s clearing out cobwebs. “Oh, right. No need for Uber. One of the guys can drive you, and I’ll shoot you a text when I find someone to take your car off your hands.”

I beam at him. “That would be amazing. Thanks.” Tilting my head toward my traitorous vehicle, I ask, “What do I owe you for the tow and looking at the car?”

“Don’t you worry about it. Consider it a ‘welcome to town’ present.” Zeb’s smile is downright devilish. He’s probably a few years younger than me, and I’m guessing his manager won’t like him throwing me this freebie, but I’m at the point where I need any help I can get.

“Wow. That’s really cool of you. Thank you, Zeb. You’re a prince.”

He winks again, further proving how on point his flirting game is. “Don’t give it another thought.” He drops his cigarette and grinds it with the toe of his boot before ushering me to the garage office to arrange a ride.

Twenty minutes later, I’m in a rusted, once-white truck with a mechanic named Navin who prefers singing off-pitch James Taylor classics to small talk. My phone pings with a text notification, and a glance down tells me it’s my sister.

Jenna: Do you know yet if you’re coming back for Thanksgiving? The girls were asking.

My eyes roll, and I can’t help but grin. She’s a horrible liar, but I’ll give her points for using my nieces to try manipulating me.

The truth is I miss them all like crazy and most of me would love to go home for the holiday, but I just can’t. If I do, I’ll never leave. And it’s not time yet.

Me: I’ll keep you posted, but don’t get their hopes up.

Me: Or yours.

The ellipses flash on my screen and then stop. I know Jenna is trying to form a response, and a ribbon of guilt curls in my gut.

Me: Tell the girls I’ll text them later. I love you.

The ellipses are back, and then her message appears.

Jenna: I love you too, sis. So much.

This is followed by about seven hundred heart emojis, and I can’t help but laugh out loud in the passenger seat of the truck. Navin pays me no attention, so I shift my gaze to the passing shops and restaurants. Traffic is light as we breeze through stoplights and past the practically deserted beach motels along the coastline of Carolina Beach. I know the locals prefer the offseason and the absence of the flocking tourists with their minivans full of kids, bucketloads of trash, and pasty-skinned drunk guys strutting shirtless down the sidewalks. But it’s foreign to me. I’ve only ever been here in the summer at the height of the tourist season. This feels wrong in so many ways.

I’m distracted so it takes me a moment to realize the truck has stopped in front of my destination and is not just pausing at a light.

“Oh, thanks, Navin. I really appreciate it.” I shift to the door and give him a half-wave before stepping down onto the sidewalk. The sound of a butchered rendition of “Fire and Rain” fades as the truck pulls away and turns at the first light.

Roasted doesn’t appear to be anything special from the outside. In fact, the only signage is a tiny copper plaque with its name and a small logo on the front window with HOT COFFEE in block letters underneath. But the scent of freshly ground beans draws me in, nonetheless. This door is blessedly lacking a music box and instead chimes with a simple ding when I pull it open. I’m also pleased to note the absence of goats.

Several pairs of eyes turn casually my way, and I nod while fixing a polite smile to my lips. My nod is returned by one patron, and any halted conversations and internet surfing soon resume. But my eyes are now on the giant paper-littered bulletin board occupying almost half of the far wall. Jackpot!

My joy is premature, however, as I peruse the offerings and find that most of the rental options are either out of my price range or appear to just be horny dudes seeking thinly veiled hookup arrangements. I may have better luck trying to strike a deal with one of the crappy deserted motels. Ugh.

But then, a hastily scrawled listing on plain white paper catches my eye.

The words are hand-written in black pen. “Room for Rent. Cheap. Shared kitchen and living space. Quiet tenant only. No pets. No messy assholes. No assholes, period.” This is followed by a local phone number.

I whip out my phone in a nanosecond, a grin overtaking my face. Negotiation just happens to be my specialty, and I’m fairly confident I can manage to not be an asshole. It’s only for a month or two, right?

 

 

Chapter Three

 

 

MILO

I’d be lying if I said I didn’t know exactly where Sherry and Felicity got their stubborn streaks because I got mine from the same source. My old man used his bull-headedness to burn his way through six marriages, sending just about every one of his wives sprinting for the horizon as fast as humanly possible. Not too many people on this earth can put up with a man who’s incapable of being wrong, among other things.

My mother is the exception. She was wife number three, but ’til the day the old man died, she conducted her surprise check-ins on him at the beach house every few weeks, always bringing some frozen meals or coffee cake she claimed she’d made too much of. Morris, her current husband, never let it bother him on account of him being a man who can not only admit when he’s wrong but who knows a good thing when he has it.

Mom claimed her visits were out of old habit, but I knew better. There was something she couldn’t let go of—either that or her innate human decency made it impossible to abandon a man who specialized in alienating everyone.

“He wanted you to have it. What you do with it is entirely up to you.”

My boots come to a halt on the sidewalk, and I pinch the bridge of my nose before responding into my phone, “Your inner psychic is way off kilter, Mom. You may want to balance your chakras or whatever it is you like to do.”

“Deny it all you want, but I know the real reason you called.” She sounds way too self-satisfied, despite being completely off base.

“I called to see how you’re doing, not to talk about the house.” I stride forward once again, checking behind me for traffic before crossing the street.

“I’m fine. I’m always fine, and you know it.” Although I do know this to be true, I feel the need to protest. But she cuts me off before I can. “Who was it this time? That Trent person? He’s particularly odious, isn’t he?” I swear she knows everyone in the entire Wilmington metro area and beyond.

Her choice of words makes me grin despite myself. Odious about covers it, but I’m not talking to her about Trent or any of the other dozens of assholes who keep knocking on my door. My dad once told me about the mouse traps and bang snaps he’d set out for the pain-in-the-ass realtors who couldn’t take no for an answer. I thought he was nuts at the time, but I’m beginning to reconsider.

“It’s nobody, odious or otherwise. How are you doing? Morris treating you okay?”

“What do you think?”

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