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



“Google task list,” Nina says with utter delight, clasping a hand to her chest. “I love it.”

I squeeze my daughter’s shoulder—this kid, I swear. She’s a badass CEO at age fifteen.

We order, and Nina makes the drinks, sliding me two tall cups locked and loaded, right along with a serving of “So, what’s the Mallard Lane dealio?”

Wednesday snags her mango boba, cutting in, “Why don’t you two chat? I’ll wait outside. I have a podcast to listen to on new coding techniques.”

“New coding techniques,” Nina repeats, seeming tickled pink by Wednesday’s habits and hobbies. “That’s so . . .” She pauses, hunting about perhaps for a trendy word before she says, “Rad. It’s just rad.”

Wednesday smirks. “Super rad,” she replies, as if that’s something she’d actually say. She knows the value of keeping clients happy.

“I’ll be right there,” I call out as Wednesday pushes open the door.

Once it’s just the women over age fifteen—fine, we’re both over thirty-five, but barely, in my case, at thirty-seven—Nina waggles her drawn brows at me, and I know what’s coming. She’s married, so presumably she isn’t scoping the “dealio” for herself. But with a newly single sister, it’s no mystery why Nina’s fishing for gossip in Mallard Lane waters—for Maya. “Has the guy next door moved in yet?”

And yes, she’s angling to catch a big one.

I swipe my credit card over the card reader. “I haven’t seen him yet. But I will keep my eyes open.”

There. That’s just the right level of interest, isn’t it?

Nina squees. “You do that. I hear he’s moving in today. I’m dying to know if he’s perfect for you-know-who,” she says in a whisper, even though we’re alone.

“Of course. That makes perfect sense.”

See? That’s a balanced amount of interest befitting a businesswoman who needs to be in good graces with everyone.

I gesture toward the storage room at the back of the shop. “And you be sure to let me know if you still want me to build you those new cabinets.”

Nina’s brown eyes go blank for a few seconds, then they flash with awareness before she smacks her forehead. “Oh, I nearly forgot. I’ll let you know who I’m going with soon, January. Either you or Big Beams Construction.”

Big Beams.

The new franchise of a national carpentry company that loves to underbid the locally owned shops with its 10 percent discount off the competition.

With a smile that says I hope it’s me, but I know it won’t be, I say goodbye, tea in hand, then head outside, shoving aside thoughts of price cuts I can’t afford to give.

Wednesday is parked on the green wooden bench in front of the shop, sipping her tea. Her dark-blonde ponytail bounces as she jumps up and pops out her earbuds.

“Learn lots?” I ask.

“I’m pretty much ready to hack into the town electrical grid now if you need me to.”

I sigh contentedly. “That’s all I’ve ever wanted. To raise a cybercriminal.”

“Well, you got it,” she says, bumping her hip against mine as she lifts her cup and takes a drink.

I wag a finger. “No hacking, missy.”

She rolls her green eyes, shooting me a droll look, the kind that teenagers are particularly skilled at firing at their mothers. “I don’t hack.” She pauses, lifts her brows precociously, then adds, “Yet.”

“You better not hack ever,” I say.

We make our way home, passing my friend Alva Chang’s hair salon on the corner. This corner is the most silver-speckled in town, thanks to its intersection with the road to the glitter factory. The silver brick road to beauty.

I wave through the window at Alva, who’s the spitting image of Ali Wong. She raises one hand, a pair of scissors in it, and brings it to her ear without stabbing herself in the eye. Call me.

Later, I mouth, knowing call me really means text her.

“Hacking isn’t always bad, Mom,” says Wednesday.

“How do you figure? It’s not like anyone wakes up and says, Gee, I hope I’ve been hacked this morning.”

“Because people don’t understand the bennies.”

I ruffle her hair, careful not to mess up her deliberately messy pony. “No hacking, K? It’s taken me long enough to start a business. I don’t need to compete with Big Beams and deal with the scourge that is my own hacker child.”