The Dream Guy Next Door (The Guys Who Got Away #1) by Lauren Blakely



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January





One fine Saturday that summer



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One thing you can count on for certain is the buzz when a new guy moves into the neighborhood.

The other sure bet? That rumor will be rock-concert loud if said newcomer is a stone-cold hottie.

That’s the chatter spreading through Duck Falls faster than an image of a sexy celebrity kayaking in the nude trends on Twitter.

The two-story bungalow next to mine on Mallard Lane has been empty all summer—the kind of vacant that crackles and hums with burning questions. Will a family snag it? Will a developer nab it? Will someone flip it and sell it for a mint, driving up the value of all the other homes on the block, including the ones with chipped paint and cracked windowsills?

Or will—pretty please with a serving of looks-like-Chris-Hemsworth-on-top—a handsome, single sweetie pie move in?

The For Sale sign transformed into a Sold one in June, but the only crumb of intel we Duck Fallsians could scrape together was that an out-of-towner had made the winning bid.

And so the speculation ramped up.

Was the buyer male? And if so, what box did he tick off on forms? Married? Divorced? Widowed? Separated, but still cohabiting, so please keep him far away from me because that’s not even remotely close to acceptable?

How about on dating sites? Would ladies deem him to be a smooth-talking player? A cougar chaser? An escape artist? A too-good-to-be-true-er?

No one knew. No one even knew if he was straight.

But by July, the notoriously tight-lipped realtor let slip three glorious words.

Straight.

Single.

Male.

With that settled, emphasis turned to the details. Valeria Rodriquez, owner of the small-batch ice cream shop in the town square, tossed out the first question.

Would he be wildly clever?

The next came from yogini LaTanya Smith.

Might he be deliciously funny?

Polly at the yarn store went so far as to post on the town’s online forum: Anyone know if he likes hedgehogs? I have five now, so I’m looking for a partner who’ll pet my hedgehog.

Yeah, no one knew the answer to that.

Or if that was a euphemism.

Other inquiries have floated through the air.

What if he’s a know-it-all? A boring blowhard? A cheating jerkface cad?

Ah, but what if he’s kind, smart, sexy, and a god in bed?

A woman can dream—dream of man-i-corns.

And so the ladies do dream here in Duck Falls, population 15,474, and the beloved gateway to wine and olive country. Our hamlet is home to the best combo bookstore-slash-wine shop on the California Coast. The train tracks that run along the edge of town are so Instagram-worthy that you could selfie yourself for days. We love our eponymous ducks and have pink plastic kiddie pools in the town square for them to splash around in. Our sidewalks seem paved with silver, and I don’t mean figuratively—we’re home to a glitter factory.

All that, and a nose for sniffing out eligible bachelors.

The whole town, it seems, likes to man-watch.

It’s the Duck Falls way.

But it’s not my way.

I’m simply not in the market, nor am I even considering a trip to the man counter. No deli number needed for this woman—no rump roast or ham hock for moi. Shacking up, hanging out, and Netflix-and-chilling hold no appeal for me.

But neither does seeming unsociable in this town that’s been my home forever. It’s a matter of striking the right balance between being politely interested in the town’s favorite topic and being too interested.

That means there’s no escaping when I walk right into a circle of Duck Falls speculation one Saturday morning in early August.

My spawn and I head into the boba tea shop next to the yarn store with no idea what awaits us. A wind chime tinkles as the door swings open, announcing our entrance.

“Good morning, Nina,” I say to the chirpy blonde proprietor behind the counter.

“A very good morning to you, January,” she says, her face packing a grin that translates into I’m about to pepper questions in your direction at the speed of sound. She shifts her gaze to my kiddo. “Hi, Wednesday. Don’t let me forget to send you the new content for the blog later today. I wrote a piece on the merits of fruit tea versus black tea.”

My daughter smiles. It’s her professional grin, and she wears it well—she’s the Web developer for half the town’s businesses, it seems.

“I will put it on my Google task list to check in with you,” she says.