General Release Date: 12th January 2021
Heat Rating: Simmering
Word Count: 91,876
Book Length: SUPER NOVEL
Genres: CONTEMPORARY, CHICK LIT, EROTIC ROMANCE
She agreed to a fake relationship to shield her feelings, but their rules don’t address his secrets or the magnitude of what they can build together.
Wylie’s beachside yoga classes feel like the California dream, but when an eviction notice sends her scrambling for a new place to live, she realizes that life on the streets isn’t for the faint of heart.
She strikes a promotion deal with a food truck vendor named Nolan, but an impromptu kiss proves she wants more than a side of fries from the man. He asks her out, but she demurs, knowing she can’t handle a relationship right now. When her SUV gets towed, Nolan helps her recover the vehicle and proves his heart of gold by renting her a room in the plush compound he calls home.
Faced with a bevy of overachieving new roommates, Wylie tries her best to impress the neighborhood elites. When an elderly couple stops by unannounced, she takes her act a step too far and pretends she’s Nolan’s girlfriend. When he asks her to play along to help him close the deal on a commercial kitchen, she agrees to mask her feelings, but their rules don’t address his secrets or the magnitude of what they can build together.
Reader advisory: This book deals with homelessness. There is a scene of attempted mugging, a gunshot injury, references to suicide, an implied abusive relationship and a brief scene of sexual harassment.
Wylie stood in the shadowed hallway of the two-bedroom apartment, her fist clenched as she brainstormed ways to fight an eviction notice.
Dottie, her roommate, was texting her from the security of the bathroom.
Couldn’t she face me? After four months of cohabitation, Wylie knew very little about the woman. She mostly found it funny when the overpaid nanny confiscated candy from her sugar-restricted charges, retreated to the bathroom and savored the contraband where no one could see her. Today, Wylie struggled to find humor in the situation. Breathing through her frustration, she released her fist and sank to the floor. “The wrappers in the trashcan give you away,” she whispered. “We both know what you’re doing in there.”
She looked down the hallway and focused on the living room couch where Dottie’s orange-and-white cat luxuriated on the corduroy fabric, as smug as its owner. White mini-blinds cast stripes of sunlight on the room’s beige carpet, valance drapes and dusty brass fixtures. As a native of Santa Monica, Wylie understood that the furnished apartment on Montana Avenue and Fifth Street relied on its location to attract tenants. The nineteen-hundred dollars a month sublease let her walk to the beach where she taught yoga, but the cat paid nothing for his sunlit pleasure. Maybe I’ll take you with me. I could hold you for ransom until Dottie adds me to the lease.
The cat yawned.
You’re right. You’re not worth the trouble.
Steam seeped beneath the bathroom door, as nebulous as her counterarguments and self-doubts. Ignoring the tacky feel of the semi-gloss paint, she leaned against the bathroom door and pulled her fingers through her long blonde hair. This is what I get for being too trusting and naïve. I should have put my name on the lease. I should have known better than to get myself into this mess. I could find Dottie a boyfriend. A girlfriend. Whatever. Threaten to reveal her undocumented cat. Light her bed on fire. She laughed and released her hair to cover her mouth. Shit, that wasn’t appropriate.
She rapped on the bathroom door. “Dottie! Let’s talk about this situation like grown women. I’m this close to finishing two-hundred hours of professional certification and landing a full-time job with benefits. What am I supposed to do now? Live on the streets?”
Her ostensible roommate remained silent.
“There has to be another alternative.”
The faucet ran as Dottie added hot water to her tub, ignoring their shared utility costs and the environmental impacts of her two-hour bath. “What’s done is done. Cousin’s in and you’re out.”
Wylie exhaled, finding it impossible to reason with a woman who lacked the courage to face her. “This isn’t right. Don’t you have to give me some notice or something? Don’t you even feel bad about what you’re doing?”
She hung her head. It doesn’t matter if she stays in that bathtub until the floor caves in. Her name’s on the lease and she calls the shots.
“I know I promised you a year—”
Wylie’s hope soared.
“But we all thought my cousin would fail her semester at UC and have to repeat it. Maybe, like, twice. Now that she’s graduated, she’s decided to come to Los Angeles to pursue her acting career.” The plastic snap of a toiletry bottle echoed in the tiled room. “My aunt called and told me this morning. What am I supposed to do?”
“Tell your mom you already have a roommate? One who’s never been late paying rent?” She considered kicking down the door and upending the bubble bath all over Dottie’s head. “A roommate who changes the litter box for the cat you’re not even supposed to have in the apartment!”
“Leave Snickerdoodle alone.”
Wylie eyed the cat. “I love animals.”
The cat stood, repositioned himself and presented his ass to Wylie.
Wylie stared at the bathroom door. “This is bad karma!”
“Your cousin will never make it to her auditions on time.” Her words sped up and she stood, hoping her hard-won native logic could override the aspirations of a wannabe actress. “Your cousin needs to live in one of the San Fernando Valley neighborhoods. The Central and Eastside neighborhoods would be even better if she’s looking for a deal.”
“She’s a trust-fund kid.”
“She might decide this apartment isn’t a good fit. I don’t want you to end up with zero roommates. Maybe she could sleep on the couch for a while.” Water sloshed on the other side of the door and Wylie crossed her fingers, hoping her magnanimous offer cloaked her desperation.
“That’s the thing. My cousin wants the second bedroom. My aunt already wired me six months of rent.”
Of course she did. Wylie bit her lip and decided to play her final card. “I guess I could take the couch.”
The bathwater stilled.
Wylie clung to a moment of hope.
“You’d still have to pay me the same rent.”
The counteroffer hit Wylie like a rogue wave. Her eyes widened and she slapped the door in disbelief. “You can’t charge me the same amount you’re charging for a bedroom.”
“Why not? My name’s on the lease. We’re not friends, Wylie. Take it or leave it.”
She opened her mouth to accept a month on Dottie’s fur-strewn couch.
The other woman pulled the plug on the bathwater. “You know what? Scratch that. I don’t want to put up with three women sharing one tiny bathroom. It’s not like we’re desperate.”
Tears streamed down Wylie’s cheeks as she hung her head and let her hair shield her face. The draining water sucked away the last bit of her hope. Right now, I’m the definition of desperate. She cleared her throat, determined to retain her pride. “How long do I have until your cousin shows up? Like, a week?”
“She’ll be here in the morning.”
Wylie stared at the bathroom door. “Are you serious?”
“Honestly, I thought you’d be gone by now.”
She wiped away her tears. “Funny. I’m still here.”
“You should probably leave tonight and make a clean break.”
Laughter bubbled up in Wylie’s throat, displacing her desperation. “This is not helping me out. This is, like, the definition of not helping me out.”
“I guess you can stay the night. I’ll use your deposit to pay for a cleaning service.”
“You’re funny, Dottie. Fucking hilarious.”
The woman remained silent for a minute. “Sorry, kid.”
Wylie retreated to a bedroom full of mismatched furniture and cursed her stupidity. She shoved her clothes into her duffel bag, folded a set of sheets and crammed them on top of her clothes. People have done more with less.
Dottie emerged from the bathroom wearing a towel and a hair turban straight from the archives of the home shopping channel. She tossed an envelope of cash on the bare mattress. “Here’s your deposit. I hope everything works out.”
Wylie stared at the clumsy script bearing her name, Wylie Winidad. The sight of the familiar envelope brought tears to her eyes and she shook her head, realizing Dottie had never felt the need to deposit her hard-earned cash. “Thanks, I guess.”
The woman nodded and retreated without saying another word.
Wylie picked up the envelope of money and shoved it into her purse while she considered her predicament. Why do bad things happen to good people? I’ve done everything right since my parents left town. How am I going to scrape together the money I need for a deposit on my own place? I need to figure out a way to take care of myself, but there’s no wau I’m calling my parents. Most of the people I know have moved away and like…grown up.
She thought of her mom and dad ensconced in an Oregon complex full of California refugees. ‘They’ll be the hardest years of your life,’ her mother had said, boxing up a lifetime of dishes and serving pieces. ‘You’re only twenty-six years old. Instead of fending for yourself, why don’t you tag along with us?’
‘Because I belong here.’
‘Oh, honey, you’ll always belong with us.’
Wylie blinked away the sting of tears. ‘Thanks, Mom.’
The next day, her parents had driven up the coast in a rental truck full of furniture and left her in Santa Monica with a wardrobe of frayed designer jeans, a jumble of high-priced loungewear and the athletic gear she needed to host her beachside classes.
She’d gotten drunk with Natalia to celebrate her independence. Clinking glasses, they’d toasted having everything they needed. Most of their sporadic interactions involved yoga classes and cocktails, but Wylie knew her best friend would let her crash for a few days if she happened to be in town. Unfortunately, the spunky yoga enthusiast worked as a studio scout and her social media feed showed her scouting battle sites on the Horn of Africa. Who would let me in? Nobody. I have nobody left in this town.
She wheezed as the reality of her situation set in. The muscles in her airways tightened and stress impeded her breathing. Now is not the time for an asthma attack. She focused on calming her rapid inhalations, but the muscles in her neck and chest tightened as panic set in. The pain of the clenching muscles echoed through her body. Doubling over, she scrambled for the rescue inhaler in her purse and dumped out the contents of the bag. The metallic inhaler caught her eyes. She pumped the cartridge, slumped to the floor and waited for the rush of the short-acting bronchodilator to relieve her systems. What would I do without my medicine?
Twenty minutes later, her breathing slowed and she wondered when the misery of this day would end. Trusting her heart rate to remain stable, she struggled to her feet and hefted her duffel bag, testing her strength against an upset stomach and shaky limbs. I can do this.
Dottie sat on the couch in a pair of pajamas, her turban in place while she watched a cooking show with the cat.
I’m surprised she’s not hiding in her room.
The cooking show went to commercials.
Dottie looked up. “Do you need any help with your stuff?”
Oh, so now you’re helpful? Wylie shook her head, dropped the first duffel bag by the front door and returned to the bedroom to grab the second one. She straightened her spine as she walked between her former roommate and a television chef demonstrating how to make pasta. “Adios, Snickerdoodle. It’s been swell.”
The cat’s eyes remained closed.
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About the Author
Amy Craig lives in Baton Rouge, Louisiana USA with her family and a small menagerie of pets. She writes women’s fiction and contemporary romances with intelligent and empathetic heroines. She can’t always vouch for the men. She has worked as an engineer, project manager, and incompetent waitress. In her spare time, she plays tennis and expands her husband’s honey-do list.
Find Amy at her website, on Amazon and follow her at BookBub.
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