The girl next door is the one that got away. He just doesn’t know it yet. . . .
Sawyer: After my wife died, I promised myself I’d never go through the pain of losing someone again. Now I keep my flings neat, tidy, and one-time-only. Besides, my son needs me more than ever. He’s miserable in our new town, so I’m pumped when he makes friends with the kid next door—until I recognize his mom from a one-night stand. Perky and upbeat, Elle Dunning is not my type for anything other than tearing up the sheets. So why do I keep letting myself get roped into game nights and get-togethers?
Elle: It so hasn’t been my year. That’s my first thought when I see my new next-door neighbor. I never would have hooked up with Sawyer Paulson if my husband hadn’t left me for his high-school sweetheart, but because our eight-year-old boys have become best friends, I’ve got to make nice with Mr. Tall, Dark, and Silent. Yet the more time we spend together, the more Sawyer opens up. We’ve both been hurt—badly. So it’s one thing to send the kids off to sleepaway camp together. It’s quite another to promise each other a lifetime of sleepovers. . . .
Sleepover is a standalone novel with no cheating, no cliffhangers, and a satisfying happily ever after. This ebook includes an excerpt from another Loveswept title.
Advance Praise for Sleepover
“I loved this book. This is the second book of Serena Bell’s that I have read and I am in love with her writing. Love a good romance novel with steamy scenes that will melt your panties? Pick this up!” —Avid Reader
“You want to know the question I asked myself the minute I finished reading Sleepover? Why haven’t I read more of Serena Bell’s books? I’ve only read one other of her books and I absolutely loved it. I felt the same way about Sleepover. It was charming, delightful, darling, clever, amusing.” —A Novel Glimpse
“Serena Bell is one of my favorite authors out there!! I previously read Head Over Heels and was excited to read her new book, Sleepover. You will not be disappointed picking this one up, I promise. I finished it in the span of three/four hours because it was just that good.” —Up All Night w/Books
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Excerpt from Sleepover
Copyright © 2018 Serena Bell
All rights reserved — Penguin Random House
“It’s a shithole.”
Brooks stands on the sidewalk outside my new place, arms crossed.
“Thanks,” I tell my brother.
“Well, it is.”
I sigh. “That’s the point. I’m supposed to fix it up.”
“Well, you’ve got your work cut out for you.”
Typical Brooks. Doesn’t mince words, doesn’t apologize. Most of the time, those are great traits in a brother, especially for a guy like me who’s zero bullshit. But every once in a while I wish he’d beat around the bush or drop a white lie, especially when it comes to the house I’m going to be living in for at least the next few months with my eight-year-old son, Jonah.
Brooks has a point, though. The roof shingles are peeling, there’s enough moss up there that I think a tree is starting to sprout, and the house desperately needs a paint job—which I’m pretty sure also means some of those siding boards are going to need replacing. The yard is overgrown, a miniature suburban jungle.
The good news is, the more work I do on the house and landscaping, the less rent I pay.
The bad news is, for the first few months at least, Jonah and I are going to be living in a dump. And I’ve seen the inside. It’s not a lot better.
A car pulls up to the curb behind the Penske truck I rented for this move. It’s Brooks’s friend Chase, with Jonah in the backseat. I can see Jonah through the window, his too-long hair shadowing his face as he leans over my cellphone, playing a video game. Chase tosses words over his shoulder to him, and Jonah replies. Knowing my son, he’s saying, I’ll be there as soon as I finish this game. Those are the words most often uttered in my house, besides, C’mon, Dad, really?
Chase gets out of the car and ambles toward us. “It’s—got promise.” He eyes the house like he’s looking hard for something that would make his words true.
I raise an eyebrow at Brooks, like, See, that’s how it’s done.
Brooks shrugs. “I tell it like it is. No lube for you, asshole.”
“You are such a dick.”
“We share fifty percent genetic material.”
“You were definitely adopted.”
“Can you two quit it and come unload the truck? I told Liv I’d be back for dinner.” Chase’s arms are crossed.
Brooks rolls his eyes. “Wouldn’t want to do anything that would keep Chase from having boring sex.”
Chase laughs. “Spoken by a guy who has no idea what it’s like to have the best sex of your life every fucking night.”
That used to be me. A plentiful supply of reliable—and often great—sex. Terrific, now I’m horny and sad. It’s so weird what’ll still set me off, almost two years after my wife’s death. Some days I’m fine, and others . . .
It didn’t help that Brooks and I spent all of yesterday packing up the house where Lucy and I lived together. I thought her parents had taken most of her belongings—the ones I hadn’t held onto and hidden away—but as I filled boxes, I kept finding her stuff. A sock of hers clinging to the guest towels. A binder she’d assembled with pages she’d ripped out of magazines and catalogs—recipes, photos of rooms she liked—
So many fucking things she never got around to.
If I’ve learned anything in the last two years, it’s how to put one foot in front of the other. That’s what I did yesterday, and that’s what I do now. “Chase is right. Let’s get this fucker done.”
Of course, Jonah chooses that moment to exit Chase’s car and come running up to us. “Dad,” he chastises.
“Sorry. Let’s get this thing done.”
Doesn’t have the same impact.
Jonah pauses, and I watch, wincing, as he takes in the house, no doubt comparing it to our old house, which, while smaller, was in great shape. “Dad,” he whines.
“Don’t start, Jo.”
“It’s a dump.”
Brooks puts his arm around Jonah. “It has a lot of promise.”
Chase snorts quietly.
“We’re going to fix it up until you won’t recognize it, bud. You and me,” I tell him, looking down at his pale, sullen face, framed with a fall of straight black hair. He has Lucy’s eyes, bright blue, and my chest aches.
“Why do we have to move?”
“You know why, bud. Remember, I explained? It was time for Nonna and Pops to move back to Florida”—my parents had come to stay long-term after Lucy’s death, to help us out—“and that catalog, The Reclaimed House, wants my furniture, and so we needed to be closer to Gram and Gramps so they can watch you while I build. We’ll have enough money by the end of this year to buy an even nicer house than our old one, near Gram and Gramps. And I’ll let you help pick it.”
“I know, but . . .” Jonah wrings his hands, a habit he started after Lucy died. It’s painful to watch. I touch my fingers to his and he stops.
If Luce were here, she’d know how to get him to break the habit.
Of course, if Luce were here, he wouldn’t do it.
“Come on, Champ,” Brooks tells Jonah. “Let’s find the boxes that go in your room and we’ll get you set up.”
For what it’s worth, that’s typical Brooks, too. No one worked harder in the weeks before and after Lucy’s death to try to make things easier for Jonah.
Over the next couple of hours, there’s not much conversation as Brooks, Chase, and I unload the truck, stack boxes, and do our best to arrange furniture. Brooks, true to his word, spends most of the time helping Jonah unpack. After a while, Jonah loses interest and begins exploring the backyard, and then making forays along the sidewalk to check out the rest of the neighborhood, which is a lot nicer than the house we’re living in. I’m pretty sure the people who lived here the last three years didn’t do any upkeep at all.
“Stay where I can call you,” I caution him.
Brooks holds my phone out to me. I’d left it on the kitchen counter. “Text from Mom.”
I take it warily.
Did you make the beds first thing?
My mother is very opinionated about moving.
Not yet, Mom.
Go do it before you and Jonah get tired. Trust me.
I roll my eyes at Brooks, who rolls his back, and head upstairs to take my mother’s probably very sage advice. She has been more motherly toward me in the two years since Lucy’s death, having laid off somewhat during Lucy’s reign as queen of the household. Most of the time I appreciate it, because most of the time she’s right, but it can also make me feel like I’m ten years old.
The box with the sheets also contains the contents of my nightstand drawers and all the stuff I swept off the surface during my rushed packing job. Once the two beds are made, I shove as much of the other crap as will fit into the drawers, then stack the rest on the surface of the nightstand. I don’t do a very good job, though, and the whole thing rushes to the floor in a landslide—Clive Cussler, John le Carré, Lee Child, a few self-help books well-meaning people have tortured me with, and the spiral notebook where I keep my Lucy journal. The Lucy journal—basically, a daily letter to Lucy since her death—was the brainchild of the counselor at my grief group. It won’t bring them back, she cautioned. But it will help with the pain.
I scoffed at the idea. I might even have made a scornful noise out loud. Anyone who knows me knows I’m not a journal guy, not a feelings guy, not a pour-it-all-out guy. But the idea must have stuck somewhere in the back of my mind, and one particularly bad night, I tried it. And, well, it kind of worked. It wasn’t like she was right there in the room, but “talking” to her in the journal was a lot better than not talking to her at all.
I eye the journal guiltily. In the last couple of months, I’ve started a whole bunch of entries I haven’t finished. Tonight, I promise myself. I restack the books, unfortunately just as precariously, with the journal on top as a reminder.
“Yo!” Brooks calls up the stairs. “Will you get down here and help me with this behemoth?”
He almost certainly means my kitchen table, which I built. The kitchen table is a heavy piece, made with reclaimed beams from old barns, fitted together to form a mosaic pattern. I’m pretty damn proud of it.
Brooks and I are carrying said table into the house when a voice calls to me from the next yard over. “Hey you! Young man!”
I look up to see my new next-door neighbor on the right side, a prune-faced white-haired lady standing on her front stoop, holding a jar.
“Which one of you is the new renter?”
We set down the table and I raise my hand, feeling like a kid who’s about to get in trouble in school.
“That’d be me, ma’am. Sawyer. Sawyer Paulson.”
“Well, Sawyer Paulson, when you get a chance, can you make yourself useful and come help me open this spaghetti sauce?”
“Happy to, ma’am.” I cross my yard and unscrew the top of the marinara bottle.
“I’m Doris Wheeling,” she says, accepting the open jar and lid back. “I’ll try not to harass you, but even with that jar-opening thingie my son-in-law bought for me, I couldn’t get this open.”
“Happy to help anytime, ma’am.” I scrounge in my pocket and find one of my furniture-making cards, frayed but serviceable. “Call or text my cell if you need jars opened.”
She points behind me. “I think your son has found a friend.”
Sure enough, when I turn around, Jonah is kneeling in the bushes beside another boy his age, inspecting something that from a distance looks like a small frog or a big bug.
“That’s Elle’s boy. Madden. They’re your neighbors on the other side. It’s just the two of them. You might offer to help her with her jars, too.”
Did Doris Wheeling just make that sound really, really dirty?
“I um, I could do that.” I cast a quick glance toward the house on the other side of mine. It’s the twin to the one Jonah and I are renting, but infinitely better maintained.
Mrs. Wheeling taps arthritic fingers on the side of the jar, tugging my attention back to the conversation. “Anyway, thanks, Sawyer.”
I nod. “Anytime.”
“And a pleasure to meet you.”
She gives me a lopsided smile, turns, and shuffles into her house.
I cast one more glance toward my other neighbor’s house. Elle. Huh. Weird. I guess it’s a more common name than I’d guessed.
The thought is accompanied by a mental picture of soft blond hair, perfect creamy breasts, and a plump lower lip slack with pleasure.
Nah. Wishful thinking.
I banish the sexy screen grab from my head and walk back to where Brooks is fidgeting with his phone. On his count of three, we hoist the table aloft and carry it inside.
“Couldn’t you build this shit lighter?” Brooks groans.
I don’t bother to answer him, just adjust my grasp to put more of the weight on him.
I lighten my own load a fraction more and smirk at him. “Remember, we share fifty percent genetic material.”
I’m pleased that the table is so heavy he can’t free a hand to flip me off.