Bryce James has been avoiding his brother’s best friend since they were children, but now that she was living across the hall from him, staying away from her was the last thing that he wanted to do.
From New York Times Bestselling author R.L. Mathewson comes the next installment in the Neighbor from Hell series.
He wasn’t in love with her.
It didn’t matter that he couldn’t seem to keep his eyes off her or that he couldn’t seem to think about her without feeling like a part of him was missing, falling in love with his brother’s best friend wasn’t an option. So, when his sister offered him the one thing that he couldn’t resist to prove him wrong, one thing became painfully clear…
This was going to be the worst Christmas ever.
It was time to move on.
Granted, Cayley would have preferred to wait until after Christmas, but with her best friend somehow managing to get her fired and evicted in the same day, she really hadn’t been left with much of a choice but to rent the apartment across from the one man that really didn’t seem happy to see her.
That was fine.
More than fine because if she could handle her best friend making her life a living hell and an ex-fiancé that was determined to get her back, then she could handle the man that was letting his past destroy them both.
Twenty Years Ago…
“Why are you doing this?”
“Taking matters into my own hands,” Sean James, her best friend and the boy who had been stealing her food since they were babies, announced as he grabbed the roll of electrical tape off the floor, only to rethink that decision and grabbed the bungee rope instead.
“What are you talking about?” Cayley asked, frowning when he gestured for her to hold her hands up.
“You need to move,” Sean said as he focused his attention on tying her hands together.
“Why do I have to move?” she asked, watching as Sean continued wrapping the green and black bungee cord that he’d helped himself to from his father’s truck around her wrists.
“Because we can’t be neighbors anymore,” Sean said with a sad shake of his head as he finished wrapping the entire bungee rope around her wrists. When he was done, he stood up with a satisfied sigh and gestured for her to get in the large cardboard box that she’d been wondering about.
Knowing that he wouldn’t tell her anything else until she did what he asked, Cayley bit back a sigh as she tried to get on her knees, only to end up falling over onto her face with a pained grunt when her legs refused to cooperate. There was a long-suffering sigh as she turned her head and watched Sean knock the large cardboard box onto its side before he walked around her and shoved her inside.
She really should have picked one of his brothers as her best friend instead, Cayley thought, wondering why she’d settled on him when she’d had her pick of James brothers. Well, all but one, she amended since she was pretty sure that Bryce hated her. She should probably be concerned about that, but at the moment, she had other things to worry about, like the boy trying to kidnap her.
“Why can’t we be neighbors?” Cayley asked as she watched Sean reach over and grab another box, this one smaller, and dragged it closer.
“Because I can’t marry you,” Sean said with a long-suffering sigh as he grabbed a blanket from the small box and shoved it in the box with her.
“But I don’t want to marry you,” Cayley pointed out as he grabbed several coloring books, a bottle of water, two bottles of blue Gatorade, a handful of protein bars, and a sandcastle bucket from the small box and shoved it in the box with her.
“It doesn’t matter because I’m sending you to Santa so that you can ask for a new house,” Sean said with a firm nod as he stood up and grabbed hold of the box and flipped it back over.
“I really hate you,” Cayley mumbled when the move made the coloring books and protein bars hit her in the face.
“No, you don’t, which is why I’m doing this,” he said with a long-suffering sigh as she shoved the coloring books out of her face, only to sigh when he threw another blanket in the box.
“You’re sending me to Santa Claus because I don’t hate you?” Cayley asked as she struggled to get more comfortable, only to sigh heavily when the move caused one of the bottles of Gatorade to become lodged behind her back.
“Bradfords marry their neighbors,” Sean said with a firm nod as though that explained everything.
“Your dad didn’t,” she pointed out even as she couldn’t help but wonder why she’d believed him when he promised her a puppy if she came over here.
“And look how that worked out for him,” Sean said with a shrug as he grabbed the Tupperware container filled with the baked goods that her Aunt Laura dropped off at her house earlier and went to shove it in the box with her only to rethink that decision, pull the lid back and help himself to a chocolate cupcake with red frosting before closing the lid and shoving it in her arms.
“Can we talk about this?” Cayley asked with a hopeful smile that quickly died when he shook his head and gestured for her to lay down with the cupcake in his hand.
“Let’s go,” Sean said, once again gesturing for her to lay down as he popped the last bite of cupcake in his mouth before shifting his attention back to that box and-
“I forgot the tape,” Sean said, sighing heavily as he glanced from her, back to the box, and then towards the backdoor.
“You should probably go get it, then,” Cayley said, nodding solemnly as Sean shifted his attention back to her as he debated his next move.
“Maybe I should get his nail gun instead,” he said, worrying his bottom lip between his lip as she did her best not to panic.
“That does sound like a better idea,” she somehow managed to force out of her mouth before she cleared her throat, shifted, and went for that hopeful smile once again.
“I should probably grab the staple gun, too,” Sean said, looking lost in thought as he reached down, grabbed the Tupperware container full of baked goods and helped himself to a brownie before shoving it back in her arms. “And more duct tape.”
“You can never have enough duct tape,” Cayley murmured in agreement as she did her best to appear innocent.
“No, you can’t,” Sean mumbled absently as he took a bite of brownie as he stood there, considering her for another minute and just when she thought that he was going to try his luck with the electric tape, he nodded to himself as he tossed the last bite of brownie in his mouth and headed for the backdoor with a muttered, “Stay here.”
“Of course,” Cayley said, watching as Sean made his way across the living room to the backdoor, where he paused to throw her a look of warning that she chose to ignore.
“Stay here,” he bit out one last time before he opened the backdoor and left, closing the door behind him. Slowly exhaling, Cayley moved to climb out of the box only to remember who she was dealing with here and forced herself to sit there, keeping her expression blank as the backdoor slowly opened seconds later to reveal Sean, standing in the doorway, watching her through narrowed eyes.
“This is a really nice box,” Cayley murmured, nodding solemnly as she watched the boy that she was never sharing her cookies with again as he slowly pulled the door shut, his gaze never leaving hers until finally, the door clicked shut and it was time to move her butt.
“Stupid box,” Cayley grumbled as she struggled to stand up, only to give up, slam her shoulder into the side and grunt in pain when a bottle of Gatorade hit her in the head.
Vowing to make him pay for this one day, Cayley yanked her wrists free, thankful that he’d used the bungee rope instead of the tape, shoved the bungee rope aside, got to her feet and started to make a run for it, only to remember who she was dealing with here and grabbed the Tupperware of treats first. She ran as fast as her severely uncoordinated legs would carry her to the front door and-
Quickly decided that her best bet was running upstairs and hiding under the first available bed that she could find when she saw the front door opening. Decision made, Cayley ran upstairs, struggling not to panic as she ran down the hallway and slammed into what felt like a cement wall. Stumbling back and admittedly a bit dazed, Cayley found herself looking up at the large man that really seemed to love glaring at her.
Clearing her throat, Cayley gestured with the large Tupperware container in her hands back towards the stairs as she mumbled weakly, “He ran out to get the nail gun,” as she watched Mr. James’s eyes narrow on her and decided that perhaps she’d better take her chances in the box.
Never taking his eyes off her, Mr. James reached over and opened the bedroom door to his right. With a sniffle, Cayley said, “Bless you,” as she headed into the messy bedroom, only to grumble when Mr. James plucked the Tupperware container out of her hands. She’d been hoping to use it to distract Sean if he managed to corner her again, but that was fine, more than fine, Cayley told herself as she took in the unfamiliar messy room and-
Decided that she was wasting precious seconds standing there when she heard another door slam shut somewhere in the large house and dove under the bed in front of her. That was followed by a grunt of pain when she landed on a baseball, cleats, and a fork for some reason. Shoving everything out of her way, Cayley quickly made her way beneath the bed and pressed herself tightly against the wall just as the bedroom door opened again.
Praying that it wasn’t the deranged boy determined to ship her off to the North Pole, Cayley swallowed hard as she debated making a run for it, only to decide that she was good where she was when someone heavy dropped down on the bed, forcing her to bite back a groan. That led her to wonder just how much Mr. James fed his sons when she was forced to press herself against the wall more tightly when whoever was on the bed shifted to get more comfortable, causing the mattress to press down on her.
This was definitely a bad idea.
Maybe she should-
“Why’s Sean breaking into Dad’s workshop?” Craig asked right around the time that Cayley decided that she was good where she was.
“No clue, but it probably has something to do with the little pain in the ass next door,” Bryce said, sighing heavily as Cayley opened her mouth only to close it on a silent grumble since she really couldn’t argue that one.
“She’s not that bad,” Craig said, chuckling.
“That’s easy for you to say, she’s not stalking you,” Bryce bit out, making Cayley frown.
There was a heavy sigh, and then, “She’s not stalking you,” Craig said as Cayley found herself nodding in agreement.
“Then, what is she doing?” Bryce said, shifting on the bed again and forcing her to bite back a grunt as she glared ahead.
“Hiding beneath your bed,” came the amused announcement that had Cayley swallowing hard as she lay there, wincing when the bed creaked seconds later and-
“Oh, no,” Cayley barely managed to get the words out when she felt the hand wrap around her ankle and found herself being dragged towards a boy who really didn’t look happy to see her.
“This is going to be the best Christmas ever,” his brother Craig said with a satisfied sigh as Bryce sat there glaring at the man that better be fucking joking.
“She’s moving in even as we speak,” Connor said with a look on his face that told Bryce that he knew exactly what he was doing and just in case he missed it…
“Payback’s a bitch,” Connor said, shooting him a wink as Bryce sat there looking for any signs that his brother-in-law was lying to him, only to feel the first tendrils of fear slowly make their way up his spine when he didn’t find any.
“Rory would never let you do this,” Bryce said, knowing before the words had a chance to leave his mouth that this was definitely something that his sister would do.
“It gets better,” Craig said with that devious look in his eye that told Bryce everything that he needed to know.
It was already too fucking late to stop this.
“Better than the asshole letting the woman that’s obsessed with me move into the apartment across from mine?” Bryce bit out, wishing like hell that he hadn’t signed that lease.
God, if he thought for one minute that they’d release him from his lease early, he’d already be throwing all of his shit in his truck and getting the hell out of here. He’d barely survived living across the street from her when they were kids and-
He couldn’t do this, Bryce thought, swallowing hard as he found himself glancing at his apartment door, praying that it was locked. Please let it be locked, he thought, trying not to panic as he climbed over the back of the couch and quickly made his way across the living room to make sure. He just needed to figure out a way to get out of this before the little brat could set her sights on him.
He needed a plan.
“Rory hired her as the new project manager.”
-to kill the little bastard, Bryce thought, closing his eyes in defeat as he pressed his forehead against the door, praying that this was all just a bad dream. It had to be. There was no fucking way that this was happening to him again.
For thirteen years, he’d lived in fear, forced to check under his bed, his closet, and over his shoulder, knowing that the little brat that couldn’t seem to stay away from him was there, waiting for the right moment to make her move.
Taking a deep breath, Bryce said, “I quit.” Being forced to live across the hall from her was one thing, but being forced to work with her…
He would never survive.
“Rory said you’d say that,” Connor said, sounding thoughtful. “She also said to tell you that if you tried to quit that I should remind you that the Dawson project was your idea,” making him bite back a groan at the reminder of the plan that had sounded like a good idea when he came up with it.
Now, he really wished that he’d kept his big fucking mouth shut.
“What are you going to do?” came the curious question as Bryce looked out the peephole and glared at the apartment across from his that already had a fucking Christmas bow on it.
“Make sure that she knows that it would be in her best interest to move,” Bryce said, knowing that he didn’t have any other choice.
Sean would be pissed, but then again, something told him that the little bastard had something to do with this. He was definitely going to kill the little bastard, Bryce thought, only to swallow hard as he watched the door open and-
This was fine.
He could handle this for a month, maybe two, until she gave up and accepted the fact that there would never be anything between them and finally moved on. Until then, he would make sure that their paths never crossed and-
“Are you going to get that?” Craig asked, sounding really fucking amused as Bryce stood there, swallowing hard when she knocked on his door.
Telling himself that this wasn’t happening, Bryce slowly pulled back away from the door and-
Sighed when the little brat that couldn’t seem to stay away from him knocked again. God, it was already starting, Bryce thought as he stood there, trying to mentally prepare himself for what was to come, knocks on his door at all hours of the day with some bullshit excuse just to see him, having her lingering in the hallway day and night with the hopes of catching a glimpse of him, and dealing with her waiting for a chance to corner him in the laundry room.
Resigning himself to the bullshit ahead, Bryce reluctantly opened the door and-
“I’m sorry to bother you, but I’m looking for Connor. I was told that he was here,” Cayley, the woman that had been driving him out of his fucking mind since her family moved across the street when he was five, said with a warm smile that turned sheepish a few seconds later when he continued to glare down at her. “I’m sorry. I should introduce myself. My name’s Cayley. I just moved into the apartment across from you,” she said, making him frown as she absently gestured to the apartment behind her.
“I know who you are, Cayley,” Bryce bit out, watching as that sheepish smile turned confused as she stared up at him as though she was trying to figure out who he was when he heard it.
A snort of laughter.
“It’s Bryce,” he bit out when she continued standing there, staring up at him as he looked over his shoulder to find Craig and Connor shaking with silent laughter before shifting his glare back down to the woman that really needed to move on.
Blinking up at him, Cayley said, “Okay.”
“I’m Sean’s brother,” Bryce snapped, watching as her frown slowly disappeared and was replaced with a warm smile.
“Oh, my god!” Cayley said, reaching up to pull him down for a hug before he could stop her. “It’s been so long! How have you been?”
“You saw me two months ago at the asshole’s birthday party,” Bryce bit out as she released him.
“Of course, I just…” Cayley said, gesturing absently towards him with a murmured, “I didn’t recognize you,” as her smile became polite.
“We grew up together,” he bit out when she didn’t say anything else.
Clearing her throat, she said, “Of course,” with a look that told him that she had no clue who he was as he stood there, grinding his jaw, knowing that she was lying her adorable ass off. She knew who he was.
Oh, did she fucking know who he was…
She could never get enough of him. He thought about how she always hid under his bed or in his closet, how she made it a point to sit next to him, and all the fucked-up things that she did over the years just to get close to him. No matter how many times he’d made it crystal-fucking-clear that he wasn’t interested in her, it was never enough. Not that he could blame her, Bryce thought absently as he ran his gaze over her, taking in all the changes that the years had brought and had to admit that she was still fucking adorable. He took in her dark brown, almost black, hair pulled up into a ponytail, the green eyes that he swore shimmered blue, the plump pink lips that looked incredibly soft before shifting his attention to the generous curves filling out the Rerum Highland Construction tee-shirt, down to the old tennis shoes that she wore and everything in between before he went back to glaring at her.
“Is Connor here, Bruce?” Cayley asked, blinking up at him.
“It’s Bryce,” he bit out between clenched teeth.
“I’m sorry, of course, it is,” Cayley murmured with a wince and that polite smile that was really starting to piss him off. “Is he here?”
“You know damn well who I am,” he snapped, making him wonder what fucking game she was playing.
“What can I help you with, Cayley?” Connor asked, his eyes lit up with unholy amusement as he joined them.
“I signed the papers,” she said, looking really fucking relieved to see Connor.
“Great. Let’s go have a look,” Connor said, moving past him to join her.
“It was great seeing you again, Bruce,” Cayley said with that same fucking smile as Bryce stood there, glaring at her as he watched her smile turn warm as her focus shifted to Connor as they made their way across the small hallway and-
“Is he always like that?” she whispered to the bastard that looked really fucking amused.
“You know who I am!”
New York Times Bestselling author, R.L. Mathewson was born in Massachusetts. She’s known for her humor, quick wit and ability to write relatable characters. She currently has several paranormal and contemporary romance series published including the Neighbor from Hell series.
Growing up, R.L. Mathewson was a painfully shy bookworm. After high school, she attended college, worked as a bellhop, fast food cook, and a museum worker until she decided to take an EMT course. Working as an EMT helped her get over her shyness as well as left her with some fond memories and some rather disturbing ones that from time to time show up in one of her books.
Today, R.L. Mathewson is the single mother of two children that keep her on her toes. She has a bit of a romance novel addiction as well as a major hot chocolate addiction and on a perfect day, she combines the two.
In 2019/2020, R.L. Mathewson will be publishing Devastated, the first Anger Management novel, Tall, Dark & Furious, the 6th installment to the Pyte/Sentinel series, Irresistible, the long anticipated novel for the Neighbor from Hell Series as well as many more books throughout the year, paranormals, contemporaries, and YAs.