McKenna Prescott is the queen of picking the wrong men. When her latest boyfriend dumps her, she decides to devote her time to
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McKenna Prescott stared at the invoice on her phone, her eyes narrowed at the Real Skin Whoppers eight-inch vibrator, and had two questions. One, was there such a thing as too much veining on a vibrator? And two, why would they name it after a hamburger?
Hungry Jack's associations aside, it didn't look half bad. It certainly had a little extra length on her previous model ... but she couldn't really blame her ex for that. He could only make do with what God had given him.
You're just angry because you didn't pull the pin first. But you've learned your lesson — no more guys for the foreseeable future. It's time to focus on you.
McKenna was engaging in what she'd decided to call Operation Self-Love. There was no point crying over douchebags. Two nights ago that had been hammered home for good. Her eye makeup had been on point — a smoky dark sapphire blue with glitter and the most kick-butt set of false lashes ever — but by the time she'd come home she looked like Britney Spears circa 2007. Total hot-mess meltdown.
And to think she'd worn blue because she knew Gage loved it and then he'd gone and tossed it back in her face by saying he wanted a classy, elegant woman on his arm. Like she was trash because she liked shiny things.
Ugh, Gage. He wasn't the man of her dreams, by any means. But he'd impressed her parents and given her a brief taste of their approval. His rejection last night hadn't hurt her heart the way it should have, but it had shown her that she'd been setting the bar so low that she barely had to lift her foot to step over it. And then, once again, she'd failed. Failed to hang on to a man like Gage, failed to be impressive enough that he would want her by his side for the next step in his career.
But what about the next step in her career?
Screw Gage. Screw all men, actually. And screw her family, too.
McKenna was sick of being the sore point in people's lives. She was sick of choosing men who treated her like a disposable makeup wipe. It was time she started living for herself. This was the last time she was ever going to waste mascara on a man.
McKenna cringed as she glanced at the empty bottle of Red Hill Pinot Noir she'd consumed last night sitting on her desk. It was a fancy wine. A gift from her parents after they had visited a friend's vineyard. Probably not intended for wallowing in post-breakup pity while drunkenly shopping for sex toys. But it certainly explained the eye-bulging total amount of her order. Three hundred bucks wasn't too much, was it? Who the hell cared? At this point, her browser knew more about her life than any man who'd drifted in or out in the last few years. So, she was going exclusive. She could be in a committed relationship with her laptop ... and Mr. Whopper, as she'd decided to call him.
Unfortunately, the drain on her credit card wasn't her biggest worry. It was the email saying her package had been delivered even though she hadn't received a notification from the building's concierge. Those guys were like clockwork when something arrived.
McKenna grabbed her keys and decided to go investigate. If she was going to spend Friday night alone, wallowing in her newly single status — again — then she may as well have a battery-operated friend.
She headed downstairs and caught the attention of the person manning the concierge desk. A small trolley behind him was piled high with packages, which meant the mail had definitely been delivered today.
"Ms. Prescott." The gentleman beamed. "How can I help you?"
This was the one time she hated the fact that the guy somehow managed to remember everyone's name and what floor they lived on. A little anonymity would not have gone astray on this occasion.
"I'm trying to find a missing parcel. According to the tracking information, it arrived today." McKenna frowned. "It's, uh, quite a ... valuable parcel."
God, of all the bloody packages to go missing ...
She scanned the email with the tracking information, then told him, "It says it was delivered at three forty-two p.m."
"I'm sorry," the older man said, scratching his head. "I haven't had anything arrive for you and I've logged all the packages that came in today. Nothing had your apartment number on it."
The universe must have her name on a hit list somewhere. Who up there had she pissed off so royally? Not only could she not keep a guy around for more than five minutes, but she was also destined not to have an artificial replacement, either.
She braced her hands on the concierge's desk and leaned forward, giving him her most charming smile. "Please, Matthew. If you could do some digging, I'd really appreciate it."
"Let me look up the freight company." He tapped at the computer screen. "We had three parcels come in from them today. Delivered at three forty-two p.m."
"That's the right time."
"They were logged under apartment 601, 312, and 110." He cocked his head. "You're on level one, right? What apartment number, again?"
"101," McKenna said, a sinking feeling settling into the pit of her stomach.
"What name was on the parcel? Yours?"
She cringed. "Noelle Smith."
It was her alias for any time she didn't want to give her real name out — like if a creepy dude wanted her number ... or if she happened to be ordering several hundred dollars' worth of sex toys online. If the box gave anything away, she could claim ignorance and blame it on her "friend," Noelle.
"It's a gift for a girlfriend," she added, meekly.
"Looks like it was logged under apartment 110. The shipping company must have gotten the address wrong."
McKenna checked her email with the shipping confirmation. Shit. Looks like she was the one who got the address wrong — clearly, drunk typing was not her forte. Great, now she'd have to convince him that it was her parcel ... and that meant showing him the invoice with all her dirty little secrets in black-and-white print.
"Uh, actually, looks like that was my fault." She put on her best sheepish expression. "I typed the number in wrong. Fat fingers, I guess."
Matthew nodded. "It happens."
"If I show you the invoice will you still let me have it? I know it doesn't have my name on it, but I have proof of purchase." McKenna sucked in a breath when he frowned. "I really need my parcel."
"I'm afraid that's out of my control, Ms. Prescott. 110 already picked it up."
Double shit.Can this day get any more embarrassing?
"Looks like I'll have to go knock on their door then." And hope to God that they hadn't opened her parcel. "Who's in 110, again?"
She tried to think. Who was on her floor? There was the sweet older couple with the adorable terrier who always wore a tartan coat. They weren't at 110, she was sure of it. Then, there was a father and daughter a few doors down, a guy who only seemed to be around a week or so everything month. And ...
She knew exactly who was in 110. The only guy in the building who'd ever made her look twice — Mr. tall, blond, and handsome who had an equally tall, blond, and gorgeous girlfriend. Or was she his wife? She'd only bumped into him a few times and he'd always had this broody, far-away look about him like his brain was operating on some other level. On the few occasions she'd said hello, he had done little more than grunt a barely passable return greeting.
Not him. Please, anyone but him.
"Beckett Walsh," the concierge said.
Of course it was him. The universe was not going to cut her a break today. As if it wasn't bad enough that her ex had dropped by her work today to "check that she was coping" after their breakup two nights ago — seriously, who did that? — and she'd had to play nice because her area manager was visiting, when all she'd wanted to do was grab Gage's face and mush it into the lipstick rack.
"Thanks for your help," McKenna said.
She headed toward the elevators, her shoulders slumping. Maybe she should cut her losses and move to the outback where she could live as a hermit. It wouldn't be all bad. She could adopt a dingo and be some kind of local urban legend. The girl who turned her back on a box of vibrators.
Ugh. Three hundred bucks wasn't that much ... was it? On a retail wage, it was. A few freelance jobs would help her make it up, but work was hard to come by at this time of year. Late July was miserable in Melbourne, oscillating between windy and cold, and rainy and colder. Not exactly peak bridal season. And the school formal calendar wouldn't kick in for months. Not to mention they were in the public holiday dead zone.
Yeah, and your hopes of giving up shitty retail work to be a real makeup artist will be all for nothing if you keep it up.
This was what she got for "wasting money on frivolous things," as her mother had once said to her. Maybe she wasn't entitled to sexual pleasure.
McKenna stepped into the elevator and jabbed at the button for the first floor, tapping her chunky black boot. Screw it, she'd go to apartment 110 and claim back her box of debauchery. Then she could start hunting for a new place to live.
The elevator pinged and she strode down the hallway, deciding not to go home first for fear of chickening out. When she got to apartment 110, she stood in front of Beckett Walsh's door. The gold numbers glinted at her, as if reveling in her forthcoming mortification.
Hovering, McKenna pulled her compact out of her bag to check her makeup. If she was going to throw her dignity to the wolves, she may as well look good while doing it. The plum and black eye makeup she'd worn to work had the right amount of don't-fuck-with-me vibes. Plus, she'd swapped out her matte nude lipstick for a more exciting wet-shine gloss at the counter today, which made her look even more fierce. She might get out of this unscathed.
Key word: might.
I cannot, in good conscience, invest in the very thing that has caused my daughter so much pain. You no longer have my support, financial or otherwise.
The words replayed in Beckett Walsh's head, hot bubbling rage burning a path up the back of his throat. Lionus Aldridge knew he was killing Beckett's dream and everything he'd been working toward. This app was going to provide a secure and comfortable future for his mother, allowing Beckett to finally help her out of her "living week to week" cycle for good. It would cement him as a force within the technology industry and give his company, M.K. Technologies, the prestige it needed to play in the big leagues. He'd be safe. Stable. And so would his family.
Not to mention the fact that his idea was solid. No, scratch that.
It was brilliant.
WealthHack was a virtual financial adviser — relying on the voice command technology that already existed for so much more than simply sending texts and emails. The idea was to sync the app to your online banking and investment accounts so that your WealthHack assistant could provide daily, weekly, or monthly reports on spending habits. It could also be set up to provide alerts if spending categories went over the budgeted amount — i.e., if you'd spent too much on entertainment activities one week — and provided daily reminders of your wealth-management goals. For people who were trying to improve their spending habits, the app would also give tips on where more economical choices could be made by scanning the cost of items across major online retailers.
The plan was to start the app within Australia only, since it would be important to get representatives from the four major banks on board. By not jumping straight into an international release, Beckett would be able to get the product to beta testing more quickly, and then he could expand the app beyond that. The initial goal was to have WealthHack go Australia-wide, with an option on a smaller New Zealand release. But Beckett was convinced this had worldwide potential ... and Lionus had thought so, too, at the beginning. The guy was a businessman at heart, so Sherri must have said something particularly heinous to get him to back down.
Two million dollars. Poof! Gone. Money that would pay the app developers he'd hired, his marketing activities, the office space he'd found. Money that would cover his living costs while he devoted every waking second to this one idea. His golden idea. All his eggs were in one basket and his fiancée — ex-fiancée — had taken a hammer to the lot.
Which was why he'd been at JGL Investments today. Looking for a venture capitalist at this super early stage wasn't ideal. He didn't have enough together to ask for seed funding, which meant they would be looking for a bigger slice of the pie. More risk always meant a bigger cut.
And that left him, the creator, as a code minion. They'd asked for a sixty-forty split of the profit, feature approval, and naming rights.
Bloody naming rights!
There was no way he would be handing over that kind of power. What would be the point in getting investors in if they were going to take all his control away? He may as well re-enter the rat race and forget about the app all together.
Not. Going. To. Happen.
He needed to think of a solution for how to smooth things over with Sherri. It was the only way forward he could see. Sure, it sounded a little callous, but he simply wanted everything to go back to normal. He wanted his relationship with his fiancée, his startup, and his life to be smooth sailing.
Regret squeezed around his heart like a fist. His relationship with Sherri hadn't been a bed of roses, but they were compatible. Companionable. They had a shared interest in business and making a solid foundation for their future. All the things he knew made for a good match. They should have worked.
Should have, but didn't.
Unfortunately, the demise of his relationship with Sherri wasn't only a personal blow. It was now a business one, too.
"This is a temporary setback," he said, taking a deep breath. "You will find a way to fix this."
He had too much riding on their relationship to let it go without a fight. For the time being he'd give Sherri space to cool down, and that would give him time to come up with a plan.
Taking another deep breath, Beckett eyed the box sitting on his dining table, trying to remember what he'd ordered. He was waiting on a new computer case, but that wasn't supposed to come until Wednesday. Perhaps they'd shipped it express. Having something to tinker with would help keep his mind busy.
Since his plans were balancing on a knife's edge, it would do him some good to unwind for an hour before he jumped back into work mode. He sliced along the tape keeping the box closed.
He reached into the box and pulled out what appeared to be a surprisingly lifelike vibrator. "What the hell?"
This wasn't exactly the kind of distraction he had in mind.
An invoice was neatly tucked in between the boxes of the sex toys. Yep, it was his address all right, but the name at the top was Noelle Smith. He knew for a fact that there was no one on this floor named Noelle. Not that he knew everyone personally, but he had a memory like a steel trap. Not quite eidetic, but close enough. It served him well in business, being able to recall names and the content of emails and contracts with ease. Which made up for the fact that he was often a little rough around the edges in the area of building relationships.
Nope, there was definitely not a Noelle on level one. They had a Norah in 106 — a chef, Sherri had told him once — and a Nathan in 109. But he wasn't sure what Nathan or his boyfriend would want with something called a Satisfier Pro Clitoral Stimulator.
What about it made it pro, exactly?
He placed the invoice back on top of the box and sighed. How was he supposed to explain to the concierge that he'd opened it? Wasn't it a crime to open someone else's mail? He should've taken a second to look at the name on the box before he sliced into it. But he'd been desperate for something to distract him from the shock of Sherri's news and Lionus's email.
A knock sounded at the door. Three short raps, succinct. Hesitant, maybe. Not Sherri, since she still had a key. And not his sister, Kayla, who always knocked a tune that she would then make him guess. He'd only ever gotten it right once. "Eye of the Tiger" was hard to mistake.
Beckett checked the peephole and saw the top of a dark head. He flicked the lock and pulled the door open, his breath catching in his throat when he saw who it was.
McKenna Prescott. Apartment 101. She worked at a cosmetics counter in the Wentworth Department store on Bourke Street. He knew that because she'd given Sherri a few samples one time.
McKenna must have come straight from work — a badge that said "CAM-Ready Cosmetics, McKenna" was pinned at her right breast. And she wore that dark smudgy stuff around her eyes that always made his blood surge a little faster through his veins. She looked sultry. When her tongue darted out to run along the bottom of one very shiny, very plump bottom lip, he swallowed hard.
Excerpted from "Trouble Next Door"
Copyright © 2017 Stefanie London.
Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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