Chapter 1 – The Trouble with Scarecrows
The Trouble with Scarecrows is the second book in the Trouble with Men series – However, the books are stand-alone & can be read in any order.
Brenda Fisher hesitated at the door of the multiplex as if she stood at the entrance to hell. The long corridor was faintly lit by electric candelabras that hung between ordinary doors; the numbers One, Two, Three, Four were their only difference. “Who in their right mind would find this place quaint?” she grumbled as she forced herself to walk inside and shut the door.
The 1920’s brick home had been renovated into a four-apartment multiplex years before she’d bought it, and only one resident, Zadora Hart, lived there now. She had taken over the monthly payments from a previous tenant, and that lease was almost up. But Brenda had never intended on being a landlord and sure as hell wasn’t going to reside there permanently. Unfortunately, she did have to live there for a couple of weeks while her apartment was being remodeled and so she could get the old house ready to sell. She planned on staying in the former owner’s apartment, which was the largest of the four. More importantly, it held no personal scars . . . like Haley and Larry’s apartments did.
Brenda held her breath as she grabbed the glass doorknob and opened the apartment Haley Monroe, her former assistant, had lived in. Even though only a few pieces of generic furniture had been left behind, Brenda’s memories brought every miserable detail to life. This apartment had been the beginning of the end for her and Larry. She had outwardly kept it together the day she’d walked in and discovered that Haley and Larry had slept together. But on the inside, she’d had this sinking feeling that nothing would ever be the same again. She’d been right.
Brenda closed the door to Apartment Two and went across the hall to Larry’s old apartment. In that few seconds, her hurt transformed into anger, and she hated herself for buying the house for that ungrateful son-of-a-bitch in the first place. She nodded. “Good.” Resentment was exactly what she needed to open that door and to get on with her life. Facing the apartment was the next step in getting over Larry White. “I can do this,” she said as she eased the door open.
The apartment was arranged and decorated exactly the same as it had the day she’d surprised Larry with the expensively furnished writer’s retreat. But why did it look as if someone lived there now? Dishes had been left on the coffee table, shoes on the floor, the air-conditioner ran, and a lingering smell of bacon filled the air—all of which was strange because Larry had moved out months ago.
Her heart did a little flip. Perhaps not everything had gone the way Larry thought they’d go. Maybe he had left Haley and hadn’t had a chance to call or didn’t have the nerve to come crawling back. She’d told him he would come back. He always came back. A huge smile broke across her face. She would make him pay . . . but just for a little while. She still loved him, no matter what kind of jerk he’d been to her.
When she heard a noise coming from down the hall, she hurried toward it. “Larry? Larry, are you here?”
Brenda stood at Larry’s open bedroom door. Sure enough, clothes were everywhere. Larry had always been somewhat of a slob. Ever since college, she had to get after him to pick up his plate and to use a clothes hamper.
She heard the shower running and Larry whistling. She missed him so much. She wished she had done so many things differently. But everything would be okay now. Everything would go back to the way they had been. No, things would be better. Larry knew what she wanted now. He knew that she loved him and wanted a real relationship.
Forget about making him pay, she thought as she set her purse on the end of the unmade bed. She would give him a homecoming he would never forget. She removed her heels and then unzipped and slipped out of her dress. As she crossed the bedroom, she unfastened her bra and let it fall to the floor.
Brenda eased the bathroom door open, the steam from the shower blasting through the coldness of the bedroom, and walked inside. Her heart pounded with anticipation and excitement as she stood beside the shower and removed her last piece of clothing, her black panties. She gave her hair a quick tousle and struck a pose before pulling the curtain back with one swift yank.
“What the f—!”
A second of confusion past as Brenda realized he was not Larry. But he was a man all right: a muscled, tattooed, naked man. She sucked in a breath as tiny splashes of water sprayed her face and breasts, bringing her head up to speed with her eyes.
“Whoa.” The guy eyed her up and down.
She shielded her body the best she could, turned and ran. A few seconds later, she was in the hall, stopping just shy of the apartment she’d be staying in.
Brenda glanced down at herself. She had to go back in there! She forgot her clothes on the bedroom floor. She had more clothes, but she had left them out in the car. For a second, she actually considered going outside instead of back in there with that man.
She hurried back through the apartment to the bedroom and gathered her things. Her Chantelle bikini undies were in the bathroom . . . a $32.00 sacrifice.
Brenda heard the guy banging around before appearing at the bathroom doorway. She held her head high and trotted away.
“Hey! Hey, wait!” The guy chased after her.
She didn’t stop running until she reached Apartment One; thankfully the door was unlocked. Once inside, she stood there with her back against it, catching her breath.
Zadora Hart was supposed to be the only tenant in the house. Everyone else had moved out. So who was that guy? “What do I do?” Her heart thumped behind the retrieved items she held against her chest as her mind went crazy with thoughts. The guy could be an ax murderer. Zadora Hart might be all chopped up in little pieces and stashed somewhere in the house or buried in the yard. Or the guy could be some bum or a druggy who had found out that the house was practically empty. She had to call the police. She fumbled inside her purse until she found her phone.
Brenda pressed the nine and then let out a quiet sigh as she remembered the bum’s body. He sure didn’t look like someone who lived on the streets. More like someone who lived at the gym. His head was clean shaven, and he seemed to be around her age, thirty. He had huge, ripped, tanned arms and legs, a body-builder’s chest and stomach and . . . tattoos. He had a lot of tattoos.
“Wait a minute.” Was that Larry’s assistant? It had to be. She was sure of it. She’d met him at Larry’s book signing months back. The one she’d dropped everything to attend, and then Larry had dumped her right there in front of all his fans. What an ass.
She jumped when she heard a knock at the door.
“Hey naked lady, are you in there? I’m not complaining about seeing your boobies, but who are you?”
“Just go away,” Brenda shouted, heat rising to her face.
“This house belongs to a buddy of mine, and if you don’t open this door right now, I’ll be forced to call the cops.”
“What?” Brenda dropped her things to the floor. She stomped into her dress, heaved it up, and then swung the door open wide. “Call the cops on me? You’re the trespasser! I’m Brenda Fisher, and I own this house.”
“Oh, okay,” he said and turned to walk back down the hallway, wearing nothing but a towel.
“Excuse me, Mr. . . .?”
He stopped, turned around, and smiled, making him seem a bit less intimidating. “I’m Neal. Neal Parker.”
“Larry’s assistant.” She’d been correct. She rarely forgot a face or body like his.
Neal frowned. “Have we met?” He studied her for a second before his eyes widened. “Ooooh, I remember you. You cut your hair. You came to Larry’s book signing that day. You’re Larry’s friend, the ambulance chaser.”
“I’m a corporate—”
“So what was that?” Neal interrupted, pointing to his apartment and then back at Brenda, his finger and eyes then sweeping up and down her body before the devilish smirk appeared.
That’s when she realized she wasn’t wearing any underclothes, and her dress wasn’t zipped up in the back, but she wasn’t about to fidget with it.
He was saying, “It was a nice morning surprise. A bit unexpected. You should have called first.”
She folded her arms over her chest. “Mr. Parker, is it? I thought you were . . . I thought you were someone else. What were you doing in there, anyway?”
“You thought I was Larry.” Neal now folded his arms and seemed satisfied that he’d figured this obvious thing out. “And, by the way, I’m not his assistant anymore. His fiancée took over, so you know.”
The word fiancée didn’t play fair. It kicked her in the stomach, making her realize how utterly stupid she was for thinking Larry had left Haley and had come back to her. Her humiliation teeter-tottered between a scream and tears, and she fought to keep control with everything she had.
Neal whistled. “Wow. Hit a nerve.”
“You didn’t answer my question, Mr. Parker,” she spat. “What are you doing here?”
“Larry’s letting me stay in his apartment since he doesn’t need it anymore. Didn’t he tell you?”
“We’re not exactly on speaking terms.”
“I see. No talking.” He raised his eyebrows. “Only body language.”
She did not appreciate the way this man, this stranger, made a fool of her. “I haven’t received a rent check for his apartment. I do not have a signed lease, and I did not agree to a freeloader.”
He shrugged his shoulders, calling attention to the huge scorpion tattoo on his left pectoral. “Larry said it wouldn’t be a problem since he wasn’t paying anything anyways.”
“Well, Larry was wrong. You have two weeks to get out,” she said with pleasure, watching his smug expression transform into a one of confusion. “You’re lucky I’m giving you that long.”
“Why? Hey, I’m sorry I was in the shower instead of Larry. And I’m sorry I saw you naked. Okay, that last part not so much, but you walked in on me. I didn’t do anything!”
“It has nothing to do with earlier. I’m selling the house.”
“What? You can’t!”
“I can do what I want.”
Neal took a step forward.
Brenda put her hand up to indicate he’d better not take another step.
He stopped and frowned. “I’ve used everything I have to pay for culinary school,” his voice boomed, matching his physique. “If you sell this place, I’ll have to quit before I even get started. I’m barely scraping by as it is.”
“Not my problem. My penthouse is being redecorated, so I’m going to be staying here until then. So you have about two weeks before it goes on the market.”
“F—,” Neal said through his teeth. “You’re a real bitch, aren’t you?”
Brenda didn’t flinch. It was hardly the first time she’d been called that. “Is there anyone else living here that I don’t know about?”
“Just Zadora in Three. She’s a psychic, so she probably already knows you’re here to pull the rug out from underneath us. I don’t see why you couldn’t have given me some sort of warning, lady. It’s not right, you strutting in here all f—”
Brenda turned and marched back inside the apartment, slamming her door, shutting out his barking. “Warning? Ha! He doesn’t even belong here.”
She breathed a sigh of relief that at least she had turned the situation around to her favor. Nevertheless, the morning had shaken her up a quite a bit, and she didn’t rattle easily. But being here already had her on edge. Fiancée. Larry and Haley were engaged. “Whatever.” Brenda wiped her eyes and tucked her hair behind her ears. “It was a mistake to come here,” she whispered and then immediately shook her head. No. She refused to let Haley or Larry or even that caveman, Neal Parker, get the best of her. She listened now, seeing if he still stood out there. Thankfully, she didn’t hear anything.
Had Neal said culinary school? Wasn’t he a bit old to be a student? Very mature and very masculine. Too much testosterone for her taste. The way he’d stood there in the hallway, all confident, wearing only a towel, not even checking once to see if it was secure around his waist, told her exactly how full of himself he was. Plus, he was obviously a button pusher. A button pusher who would never let her live it down that she had stood naked by his shower. A button pusher who was friends with Larry and had probably already heard all kinds of lies about her that he would bring up in the future. She had to stay far away from him.
She took a couple of deep breaths and took in the apartment. She winced at the zebra striped chairs, the tribal and animal print pillows and lamps. The tall fake trees probably had more dust on them than real plants. And she had to carefully step around a dead animal skin on the floor. “Please don’t be real.” She could almost hear drums and jungle sounds. “This is going to be a long two weeks.”
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