Falling for the Guy Next Door

By: Claire Robyns

Chapter 1

Megan pumped the accelerator as she navigated the familiar bends of the winding road. At the very top of Bluff Drive, presiding over the small town of Corkscrew Bay and the moor that slipped off the edge of the cliff, number 21 was an elaborate affair leaning toward the Second Empire style. Curved dormer windows peeped from the steeply sloped Mansard roof and the rest of the two-story house was a production of gables and rounded cornices, pale limestone, wrought-iron balconies and a pretty porch.

The low-cropped hedge splitting the front garden neatly down the middle and the additional front entrance tagged onto the left half of the stately house was barely noticeable. Since World War Two, the house had been hacked into half a dozen one-bedroom flats, put together again by a London stockbroker who’d made a fortune in the late nineties and lost it again at the turn of the century, and finally subdivided into 21a and 21b Bluff Drive.

Lucky for Megan. When she’d bought a few years back, she’d only been able to afford half the house.

Since Frank Marlin’s death three months ago, 21a had stood empty, forgotten…until now, she saw as she rounded the last bend and turned onto the gravel driveway. There was a black Land Rover pulled up in front of Frank’s gate and that could only mean one thing.

Megan parked around her side of the house, grabbed two shopping bags in one hand and entered through the side door directly into her kitchen. The milk and eggs went into the fridge. Everything else could wait.

She pulled her cell phone from her back pocket and called the local Realtor. Mr. Rutland answered on the first ring. With a population of three thousand and dropping, the real estate business in Corkscrew Bay wasn’t exactly a hotbed of activity. Once she’d dealt with the niceties, including the approaching summer storm and his wife’s chest ailment, she asked, “Mr. Rutland, has Jack Marlin put his uncle’s place up for sale?”

“The first I hear of it,” Mr. Rutland grumbled. “Nowadays, everyone’s their own estate agent. All those do-it-yourself websites. Some people don’t even bother visiting the homes for a viewing anymore, they buy direct from those virtual tours. Don’t see as how an honest man’s supposed to stay in this business, I’ll tell you that.”

She’d disconnected the call before the implication hit her. But Jack wouldn’t have sold 21a without letting her know, would he?

Of course he would! If Jack Marlin had one decent bone in his body, she’d yet to discover it. She marched to the small front bedroom that she used as an office and rummaged through the drawer of her desk. He’d given her his new cell number at the old man’s funeral. For emergencies, he’d said, with the house.

Or if, you know, you just want to talk.

Like that would happen in this lifetime, which was why she hadn’t saved the number to her phone. She’d shoved it to the bottom of the drawer for that other thing, the emergency with the house thing.

She stared at the slip of paper she’d retrieved. She’d known she’d have to make this call soon. Her last multi-book contract had put a decent dent in her mortgage and now her dream was to buy the other half of her house and make it whole again. She’d had an excuse so far, telling herself she couldn’t intrude on Jack’s grief. But if he was selling up, she was out of time.

Her stomach plunged a foot. She’d seen Jack at the funeral, of course, even managed to act perfectly civil in deference to the situation. This was different. She hated having to ask him for anything, hated that he had any say in any plans for her future.

She took a deep breath, punched in the number and…and the muted strains of classical music came from down the hall. Megan followed the music into her bedroom. Up against the wall. Someone was playing music next door.

In the master bedroom.

That Land Rover didn’t belong to potential buyers. He’d actually gone and done it. He’d sold the place from under her. Bastard.

She snapped her phone shut in disgust. The music stopped. She paced the room, her blood getting hotter by the second. Fingers clumsy, it took her two attempts to redial.

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