For Better or Worse(2)

By: Lauren Layne


Yes, tacky was definitely what it was.

Not hot. Not hot at all.

Heather ordered her gaze upward and found it meeting the greenish-blue eyes of a dude who looked highly amused for someone who’d nearly had his doorbell torn off.

The guy leaned one forearm—every bit as tackily muscular as the chest—against the doorjamb as the other scratched idly at his six-pack.

“Hi there,” he said, giving her a crooked smile. It was a good smile. It was a good voice, too, but Heather was soooooo not in the mood to be charmed.

“Let me guess,” she said, gifting him with a wide fake smile. “You’re in the midst of a quarter-life crisis, maybe it’s taking a little longer to get the corner office than you hoped, and you decided to scratch the itch by, wait for it . . . starting a band.”

He was seemingly oblivious to her sleep-deprived bitchiness, as his smile only grew wider. “You’re the new neighbor.”

She pointed at her front door just a few feet away. “4C.”

“Nice,” he said appreciatively.

For a second she could have sworn his eyes drifted down toward her chest, but when she narrowed her eyes back up at him, he was all innocent smiles.

“So that’s a yes on the new band, then?”

Instead of answering her question, he extended his hand. “Josh Tanner.”

“Pretty manners for someone with no neighborly consideration,” she muttered as she reluctantly put her hand in his. “Heather Fowler.”

“Heather Fowler,” he repeated slowly, as though trying to decide whether or not her name fit and coming up undecided.

Before she could respond, he reached out, his thumb and forefinger tugging at a curl that had come loose from her messy bun. “Pretty.”

“Okay, enough,” she snapped. “Are you going to stop with the music or not?”

“Well now, that’s hard to say.” He crossed his arms over his impressive chest. “I’m very volatile, what with the . . . what was it? Quarter-life crisis?”

“Just keep it down,” she said wearily, rubbing at her forehead.

“Mrs. Calvin never used to mind,” he said.

“Who the hell is Mrs. Calvin?”

“Lady who lived in 4C before you. She used to bake banana bread every Wednesday and make me a loaf. I don’t suppose you bake?”

“Was Mrs. Calvin deaf?” Heather asked, ignoring the baking question. She did like to bake, but not for this guy, no matter how great the upper body.

“Definitely,” Josh confirmed. “Turned her hearing aid off every night at eight p.m., which is when my band and I started practice.”

“Aha!” she said, pointing a finger in his face. “You are in a band.”

“Of course.”

“Well, I need you guys to knock it off.”

“Oh, they’re not here tonight,” he said simply. “That was just me practicing along with one of our recordings. Can’t get the intro quite right.”

“Can you get it right some other time?”

“It’s Friday night, babe. You need to loosen up. Want to come in for a beer?”

“No,” she said, sounding out the word slowly with what she thought was admirable patience. “What I want is for you to stop the hideous music so that when my alarm goes off in four hours, I won’t have to stop by here and kill you before I go to work.”

“Work? On a Saturday? Dare I hope this means you’re a professional baker and like to get in early to make delicious sweet buns?”

“Do I look like the type that makes delicious sweet buns?”

“You look like the type that has delicious sweet buns.”

Heather made a face. “You’re a pig.”

“I’m lashing out,” he said with a grin. “My ego’s stinging from the fact that you didn’t show any appreciation for how hard I work on all of this.”

He spread his arms to the side and glanced down at his body.

Heather rolled her eyes. Great body or not, this guy was disgusting. “What normally happens when a woman bangs on your door at two in the morning?” she asked irritably.

He wiggled his eyebrows.

“Never mind,” she muttered, embarrassed at having set herself up. “Can you please, please just shut up until after I leave at seven tomorrow?”

“To go . . . to the bakery?” he asked hopefully.

Yep. It was official. The new neighbor had to die.

Heather let out an audibly annoyed sigh. “To Park Avenue United Methodist Church to ensure the florist is there with the pew bows and to set up the guest book table, and to the bride room to make sure it doesn’t still smell like onions. And then to the Bleecker Hotel to make sure the gift table’s under way, that the florist is on time, that the caterers will be able to get into the kitchen, that they set up the good dance floor, not the crappy one that splits right down the middle, because if they do, so help me God—”