Keeland Masters…Growing up, he was the boy next door, my brother’s best friend, the guy who asked me to the prom…and then stood me up. He just vanished into thin air.
Now that he’s back in town, he wants to come over to play. And I’m not talking hopscotch. But he’s hurt me once, so I’m sticking to my side of the fence no matter how good he looks pushing that lawnmower in all his tanned, toned shirtless glory.
Dirty Neighbor is book one in the “Dirty Suburbs”, a series of stand-alone romantic comedies set in small town Illinois.
I veer off of the I-96 and guide my Harley onto the off-ramp. I grin to myself as I glance up at the huge, green highway sign looming above the road.
Welcome to Reyfield, Illinois.
I never thought I’d ever feel so damn happy to see that sign again but after all I’ve been through over the past three years, I just want something simple and familiar. I want to be in a place where I don’t feel antsy, like I’ve got to keep looking over my shoulder.
Reyfield is it. It’s almost like coming home…
I’m well aware that the Masters’ left a lot of destruction in our wake the last time we were in this town; unpaid bills, unsaid goodbyes and at least one very broken heart.
Maybe it’s time to pay old debts, heal old wounds and make amends as best I can. Maybe it’s time for a fresh start.
It’s a chilly night. Fall is creeping its way into town. I breeze through the streets and everything feels familiar. It all gives me a little thrill in the pit of my stomach. The gothic architecture of the Presbyterian church…The washed-out “Go Tigers!” banner hanging outside of our old high school…The field where we played football…The burger joint we used to go to for lunch when the school cafeteria’s offerings resembled road kill topped with warm dog food…
I take a left off of Clifford Boulevard and pull onto Hyatt Street. The corner store is right where I left it. I cut my engine in the parking lot and stroll through the front door. I give a quick nod to the middle-aged woman sitting behind the cash register and make my way down the narrow, brightly-lit aisles.
Man, it feels good to just walk down the aisles of a freakin’ convenience store. When you’ve been locked away for as long as I have, you learn to appreciate the simple things.
I stand in front of the chip display for a moment, trying to decide between vinegar and barbecue. “Fuck it…” I’m having both. And how about a bag of jalapeño-cheddar, too? I’m making up for lost time, after all.
I grab a case of beer — the cheap kind that we used to buy with our fake ids when we were teenagers. I’m feeling awfully nostalgic tonight. Then, I grab more chocolate-covered pretzel sticks than any self-respecting 27-year-old man ever should.
When I get to the condom aisle, I pick up eight three-packs of XL Magnums.
Yes, that might seem overly ambitious but I haven’t had sex in three freakin’ years and whoever I take home with me tonight is in for a hell of a good time. The ladies don’t call me Master Kee for nothing. My main priority tonight is to drain the tank into the first acceptable-looking broad that comes my way and to be honest, ‘acceptable-looking’ is pretty much open for interpretation at this point.
Because I’m horny enough to fuck my way through the Reyfield phonebook.
I drop my goodies onto the counter and the cashier eyes me with an arched eyebrow and a subtle grin. “Exciting night planned?” she asks, tipping her chin towards the condoms. The innuendo in her voice is undeniable.
I give her a second glance. Is she Ms. Acceptable for tonight? Nah, she’s probably older than my mother and she smells like she’s been marinating in cigarette smoke and cheap perfume all day. My definition of “acceptable” may be loose, but not that loose.
I nod politely as I glimpse at the number glowing on the screen of the cash register and pull a $100 bill out of my wallet. She drags her long fingernails along my palm as she deposits the change into my hand.
Did my cock just twitch?
Down, buddy. Down.
“Have a good night, Big Boy,” she purrs as I give her a quick salute and duck out the door.
I store my goodies in my backpack and jump onto my bike. When I rev it, the poor thing lets out a choked straining sound. I’ll look into it first thing in the morning, but for now, I’m on mission to get laid.
“Breathe in…hold hold hold…breathe out…Breathe in…hold hold hold…breathe out…Breathe in…hold hold hold…breathe out…”
I take long deep breaths, doing my best to synchronize my rhythm to the sound of Isla’s voice pouring into my ears. The cool morning breeze blowing over my face and the sun smiling down on my skin make it that much easier.
This is one of the few things that I absolutely adore about being back in Reyfield. It’s a quiet, serene town. Except for the occasional ruckus caused by the young children playing on the street and the yapping of the over-talkative Yorkshire terrier a few doors down, the place is a sanctuary. A slice of suburban perfection. The ideal place for soul-searching and self-reflection.
But Reyfield is just too slow-paced for me. Take Thornbush Lane, for example. The cul-de-sac is charming, for lack of a better word – the kind of place you’d go to raise a family or grow old, I guess. A cast of interesting characters occupy the lane. Nancy and Delores, the gray-haired duo who’ve appointed themselves as the two-woman neighborhood watch, the eccentric mailman who delivers my mail to the wrong house half the time, meddlesome neighbors who drop by unannounced when you least expect them. That all adds to the cozy feel of the place. But for an ambitious 25-year-old like me, Reyfield is nothing but a dead end.
Growing up, I couldn’t wait to get out of the suburbs. And that’s what I did as soon as I could. I moved 15 miles south, to Chicago for college and then took a job in the city. Everything was going relatively well until four months ago when I suddenly got laid off. Now, here I am, unemployed, single, broke and for the past six weeks, living in my parents’ house again.
Thank god mom and dad are staying in Florida with grams till next spring so at least I have the house to myself. I did not work my ass off for my certified internal auditor designation only to end up living with my parents forevermore. Basically, I need to find a new job stat so that I can move back to the city as soon as possible.
Anyway, Isla swore up and down that meditation would help with my job search. She says that I’m ‘scattered’ and that’s why I haven’t been able to find a new position since I got laid off. Her new meditation recording is supposed to help me find my ‘center’ and ‘recalibrate’ in order to attract a suitable employment opportunity.
Her words, not mine.
For weeks, I resisted. The old Sammie thought that Isla was delusional and maybe even slightly off her rocker. The new Sammie is so hopeless and desperate and sick of being unemployed that I’m pretty much willing to try anything to get a damn job. Sending out resumes, compulsively checking job-listing websites and waiting impatiently for the postman to show up with my mail every morning has proven to be an ineffective strategy.
So, it was time to try something new.
I’ve been using this meditation track for a few days now and if nothing else, it’s relaxing and distracts me from the ticker tape of worry, doubt and anxiety constantly running through my mind.
I shift my foot slightly, determined to ignore the itch prickling at my heel. I’m going to meditate the fuck out of it. Forget you, stupid itch. It’s time to turn ‘inwards’ because my money’s low and I need a miracle right about now. I focus solely on my breathing.
Eventually, time and space slip away. I think I’m in that space that Isla’s always talking about. ‘The nothingness’ is what she calls it. I feel content. Satiated. That tiny, niggling voice in the back of my head gnawing at me to get off my butt and go search through the local classified ads again? I smother that bitch under pillows of bliss.
“Breathe in…hold hold hold…breathe out…”
What the fuck is that?
Is that a motorcycle? Who the hell on Thornbush Lane has a motorcycle?
I squeeze my eyes shut and try to channel my inner yogi in a futile attempt to drown out the hiccup-hiccup of the engine as it sputters to death nearby. It seems like the harder I try to ignore it, the louder it gets.
I grudgingly yank out my earbuds and ease out of my cross-legged position on my oversized cushion on the back patio. I peer around the side of the house and notice a shiny black Harley Davidson lying on its side in the driveway just as a tall, shirtless figure slinks across the front lawn next door.
What the fuck? Nobody’s supposed to be over there.
As far as I know, dad tried to get that place rented for months before he finally gave up in defeat at the end of July. Illinois’s economy is bad and nobody wants to pay a premium to rent that crumbling, two-story colonial with its unkempt lawn and weather-beaten clapboards. Still, my stubborn father refuses to lower the rental. He’d rather the house sit vacant. I guess he can afford to be picky about his tenants. He doesn’t have a mortgage to pay on it since he inherited the house when his uncle Kramer died back when I was a kid.
I bring my attention back to the very bold intruder next door. I can’t see his face because the tall hedges now hide him from view. I should probably call the police but I decide to check it out myself. I grab a weapon – the rake leaning against the side of the house – as I inch cautiously towards the front yard.
I trek across the driveway separating the two houses, passing the beastly motorcycle and an open toolbox on the way. I stomp through the overgrown lawn and up the stairs to the front porch. The door is wide open and for some reason that puts me at ease. A burglar would probably be more discreet than that, right?
The knot in my stomach loosens a bit. This is probably all some huge misunderstanding.
I stick my head into the doorway without stepping inside, just as a precaution. “Hello?”
A shadowy figure approaches, moving down the long, dimly-lit hallway that leads from the kitchen to the front door. Sunrays slice through the kitchen curtains, illuminating him from behind and revealing his silhouette bit by bit.
And what a sexy silhouette it is.
My eyes climb his frame in slow motion.
His large, sturdy feet.
His long, muscular legs and the gray basketball shorts hanging low on his hips.
The delicious V punctuating his washboard abs.
The colorful, intricate tattoos ornamenting his strong chest and those brawny arms.
His square, stubbly chin.
Those full lips slowly spreading into a wide smile.
My god — I can’t breathe…
Blue eyes, as pale and electric as a flash of lightening.
He shoves his large hand through his messy blond hair. “Hey…”
My heart stops cold in my chest and a shiver runs through my body. The rake slips from my fingers and lands at my feet with a metallic clang. I choke out his name.
Contemporary romance author of the Esquire Girls Series and the Esquire HEAT Series available on Amazon and Kindle Unlimited.