Shay Baldwin lives next to the Worst Neighbor Ever. He threatens and harasses her all the time. She’s desperate to move out of her apartment and buy a house, but she can’t afford the down payment. She decides to sell sexy photographs as a side hustle, but it’s a risky plan. High school music teachers aren’t supposed to sell pictures of themselves barely dressed in lingerie, but she’ll do whatever it takes to escape her tormentor.
John Drake can’t escape the past. A long time ago, he gambled to get by. Everyone believes his gambling destroyed the family business, which isn’t the truth. John can’t reveal what really happened, and he hasn’t spoken to his brother in years. That needs to change, because his brother is about to marry a fortune-hunter from John’s ugly past. She’s looking for a missing heirloom that’s worth millions. The only way to stop her is to partner with Shay, his brother’s best friend. With her, John might finally earn his brother’s trust.
When John offers to help Shay move out of her apartment if she’ll work with him to protect his brother, she’s tempted to accept the deal. She’s beginning to believe John is a good man—but believing the best of everyone is her deepest flaw. It’s not smart to trust a gambler who has too many secrets. He’s asking her to torpedo her best friend’s engagement, and he might up the ante if he discovers the pictures Shay has tried so hard to hide.
This partnership is the biggest gamble of their lives. If they bet on each other, they might fall hard...or fall in love.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: The Perfect Flaw contains blue boxer briefs, sexy selfies, a grouchy dog with a bad overbite, lots of cake, a treasure hunt, snowy vibes, a talented music teacher, a stern ex-baseball player, and one hotel room in an unexpected blizzard. This book is a full-length, standalone, slow burn, contemporary romance with a hot happily-ever-after.
There were ten pictures on the internet that could ruin Shay Baldwin. Some of them showed a lot of skin. Most featured skimpy lingerie. All of them were sexy selfies. She’d posted them on a stock photo site in a desperate attempt to make money.
Over the past three months, she’d sold enough photos to rake in close to five thousand dollars. Combined with what she’d already saved, she had enough for a down payment on a small house. Soon, she’d be able to move out of her apartment. She’d finally have some peace.
But that might not happen, thanks to one picture that wasn’t sexy at all. She found it tucked inside a letter.
I tried to reach you on social media, but you haven’t responded to my friend request. I got your mailing address from our alumni database, but snail mail sucks. Whatever.
Last week, I found a picture of you and Liam Kelly when I was scrolling through my phone. I took that picture the night he showed up at your dorm room. Let’s be real, that pic doesn’t look good. He’s super mad and you’re crying. Did he hurt you? If he did, he should pay for that.
I’ve decided to sue Liam and two of his college teammates for sexual harassment. One of them pulled up my shirt and squeezed my breasts while the other two watched. Even though it happened a couple of years ago at a frat party, those jerks should be punished.
Call or text me ASAP. With your help, I can make sure Liam is punished for what he’s done.
It was hard to believe Liam harassed Dierdre, but it was entirely possible his rowdy teammates did something cruel and stupid. Those guys got nasty whenever they got wasted. During senior year, Liam had spent way too much time trying to keep his friends out of trouble.
Shay picked up the photograph and studied Liam’s face. On that day, he’d signed a contract worth millions of dollars to play professional baseball. He suddenly had enough money to live like a superstar. He should’ve been celebrating on a private jet instead of meeting her one last time in a dark, dingy dorm.
If this picture surfaced on social media, people would talk. They’d see Liam’s fierce grip on her shoulders and his anguished grimace. His rabid fans would want to know who he was with and what was going on. It wouldn’t take long for someone to discover she was his college sweetheart. Every gossip-hungry reporter would scramble to unearth her story. Someone might use an image-recognition app to find other photographs of her on the internet.
If anyone found the pictures she’d posted on the Knightsworth Images website, she’d lose her job. High school music teachers weren’t supposed to sell sexy photographs, no matter how much they needed the extra money.
Shay tossed the photo of Liam onto the coffee table and sent a text to Dierdre.
ShayB: Got your letter. I don’t have anything bad to say about Liam. He never sexually harassed me.
DierdreM: Did he ever hurt you? Cuz it looks like he’s hurting you in that photo.
ShayB: That’s not what happened.
DierdreM: If you’re scared, don’t be. My lawyer can protect you. Her name is Angela Jamison. She works for Nickle Associates in Springfield, which isn’t far from you.
ShayB: Thx, but I don’t need protection.
DierdreM: Listen, I know this is hard to talk about. If you change your mind, call any time. Think about it, ok?
She wouldn’t be able to stop thinking about it. The last thing she wanted to do was get involved in a lawsuit against Liam. He’d been an important part of her life for a few blissful months. He was a wonderful man who’d never harass a woman.
Or would he?
Sickened by that possibility, she stared blankly at the potted philodendron that sat on her coffee table and remembered the way Liam had treated her. He had always been sweetly romantic and incredibly kind. Everyone loved him. Unlike most of the guys on the baseball team, Liam studied a lot and never drank.
How’d he end up at a fraternity party with Dierdre Morris?
Unable to come up with an answer, she sighed and reached for her crossword puzzle. The next spot she needed to fill in belonged to twenty-one down: third base in baseball lingo. Nine letters. She had no clue what to write.
Or what to think.
The small speaker on her bookshelf glowed a cheerful green and announced, “Incoming call from Kate.”
“Okay. I’ll answer it.” Shay propped her chin on her hand, glad her sister had called. “Hi, Kate. I’m using the smart device thing you bought me.”
“Oh, good. Isn’t it fun?”
“Feels kinda weird.”
“Good. It’s about time you got weird on a Saturday night. Anyway, I’m on my way to David’s house. He wants to rehearse our song. Can you come?”
“Now?” Normally, she’d jump at the chance to play David’s beautiful grand piano—it sounded so much better than her digital piano—but she wasn’t in the mood to drive across town. She longed for a quiet night at home. “Sorry, but I’m beat. Can’t we do this on Thursday, like we planned?”
“Tonight is better. David’s fiancée is out of town. We’ll have the house to ourselves.” Kate’s troubled sigh whistled through the speaker. “The wedding is a few weeks away. We don’t have much time.”
Right. Very soon, Kate would have to watch David marry someone else. “Are you sure you want to perform during the ceremony?”
“I promised to sing harmony for him. I can’t back out now.”
That was the problem. Kate couldn’t say no to David, partly because she worked with him. He was the region’s top orthopedic surgeon and Kate was a nurse at the hospital. The two of them had worked side by side in the operating room for the past two years. Despite all that time together, David had no idea Kate was crazy about him.
“He really wants to surprise Vanessa with this song during their wedding,” Kate said, determined to assist him even when they weren’t at work. “If we rehearse tonight, we won’t have to worry about anyone hearing us. We’ll be able to keep this a secret.”
Keeping a secret was one thing Shay was really good at. “Fine. I’ll meet you there.”
The fifteen-minute drive through Pocono Grove stretched into a tense half hour, thanks to the bad weather. Winter’s cold fist had a tight grip on this part of northern Pennsylvania, and snow had been falling for three days straight. This storm had more traction than Shay’s tires. By the time she parked in David’s driveway, Kate’s Jeep was already there.
Shay slung the strap of her music folio over her shoulder and trudged toward the large, stone Colonial house. The wind yanked her ponytail and slung snow into her face. Halfway up the porch’s steps, she skidded and grabbed the railing to stay upright. Without bothering to knock on the front door, she stepped inside and caught a glimpse of herself in the antique mirror on the wall. Tiny balls of sleet clung to her coat.
No wonder she’d almost wiped out on the porch.
David’s cat trotted toward her and meowed.
“Hi there, little one.” She pulled off her gloves and stroked Cola’s dark fur.
“Why the hell are you here?” David’s clipped words echoed into the foyer. “You should’ve called.”
“I didn’t think you’d answer,” a man said.
“You got that right,” David growled.
“At least we agree on something.”
Shay didn’t recognize that voice. Wary of the sharp anger in every husky word, she walked toward the back of the house in search of her sister. She found Kate in the hallway, looking wide-eyed and worried.
Kate pointed to the living room and whispered, “Something’s wrong.”
Shay peered into the room. David stood next to the piano, glowering at a man who was a few inches taller and much shaggier. The stranger’s dark hair hadn’t seen the sharp edge of a pair of scissors in months. An Oxford shirt worked hard to stretch across a pair of shoulders that were as broad as a kettle drum. Faded blue jeans hugged a sexy butt that could trend on Twitter for days.
Even though she couldn’t see his face, there was something about the man that looked alarmingly familiar.
She glanced at her sister in confusion. Kate shook her head and opened both of her hands in a silent shrug, which was her way of saying this guy was a complete surprise to her.
“It’s been four years,” David fumed. “Why show up now?”
“We need to talk about your fiancée. There are some things you don’t know about her.”
“Oh, come on. I went to high school with Vanessa. I know plenty about her. She had a rotten father, her mother left Pocono Grove years ago, and her brother plays head games to get what he wants.” David broke into a wry, humorless smile. “I have a helluva lot in common with her.”
Didn’t feel right to eavesdrop on this conversation. Shay eased away from the room’s threshold.
“Vanessa wants something from you,” said the other man. “That’s why she suddenly showed up at your house a few months ago.”
“Wrong. She showed up because her father died, and she needed to talk to an old friend.” David yanked his hospital ID off the front pocket of his shirt and tossed the plastic badge onto an end table. “And then I asked Vanessa out for dinner because I know a good thing when I see it. That’s also why I asked her to marry me.”
“After dating for just six short weeks.”
“He’s right,” Kate whispered. “They got engaged way too fast.”
“Let’s give David some privacy. We can wait in the foyer.” Shay tugged her sister’s arm.
Kate didn’t budge.
“You have no right to pass judgment, you piece of shit.” David jabbed a finger at the man. “Your bad judgment destroyed everything Dad created.”
“Not this again,” muttered the big, shaggy guy.
“Yeah, this again. We might as well talk about the fact that when Dad retired, he put you in charge of Drake Construction. At that time, the company was worth ten million dollars. I know this because Dad told me. He was proud of what he’d created. Six months later, all that was left was a pitiful ten thousand dollars. What happened?”
“He didn’t have a problem with how I ran the company.”
“Bullshit. He watched everything he’d built fall apart. He was so stressed out, he had a massive heart attack.” David shook his head and barked out an angry laugh. “You gambled everything away, didn’t you? You took the profits and lost them in some stupid poker game. Or was it baccarat?”
The man curled one hand into a fist and said nothing.
“You still refuse to talk about it, huh? Fine. There’s no point in continuing this conversation. Go home.” David stepped away from the man, spotted Kate and Shay, and halted in his tracks. “How long have you two been here?”
“I arrived a few minutes ago,” Kate explained. “Shay just got here.”
The stranger’s spine stiffened. “Shay?”
“She’s a friend of mine. So is Kate.” David gestured to the man with an unenthusiastic wave of his hand. “This is John. My brother.”
John Drake turned in a slow, deliberate way that launched a hundred goosebumps down Shay’s neck. A robust five o’clock shadow smudged his stony jaw, and his dark hair was ruffled and mussed. He looked a lot like David.
Maybe that’s why this man seemed so familiar.
His gaze wandered close to hers. He blinked twice and frowned.
David waved to them. “Come in.”
Her sister entered the living room right away.
Jeez, Kate. Read the room. Interrupting this tense family reunion is a bad idea. Shay reluctantly approached David and murmured, “If you need some time, please let us know. We can come back later.”
“Stay.” He jerked his chin toward his brother. “He’s leaving.”
“Not yet,” John said. “Did you know that Vanessa’s shop is losing money? She’s going to sell the business. What she really wants to do is sign a recording contract. That’s why she went to Nashville this weekend. She’s auditioning to sing backup for some country star.”
David rolled his eyes. “You have no idea what you’re talking about. Vanessa went to Nashville so she could visit an old friend, that’s all.”
“Her so-called friend is also a talent agent with a record label.”
“Nearly everyone in Nashville works for a record label. It’s called the Music City for good reason.” David crossed his arms over his chest. “Now, how about you tell me how you figured out where Vanessa went?”
“I hired a detective to watch your fiancée.”
“Why the hell did you do that?”
“Because I don’t trust her. Three months ago, Vanessa called Dad’s lawyer. She wanted to know who inherited his estate. She thinks Dad stole something that belonged to her family. Something valuable.” John squinted at his brother. “The lawyer told me about the phone call because it was so strange.”
“Vanessa has been looking for an heirloom her father misplaced. She thought he might’ve given it to Dad by mistake.” David raised and lowered one shoulder. “I went through Dad’s things, but I didn’t find anything valuable.”
“She doesn’t believe you.” John blinked again and shifted his weight. “Vanessa knows you’re living in Dad’s house. She’s sticking around so she can look for whatever she’s trying to find. And, uh, as soon as she gets it, she’s never coming back.”
“That’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard.” David muttered something and then moved closer to Kate and Shay. “Sorry about this. I had no idea he was going to show up.”
“I didn’t know you had a brother,” Kate whispered.
“We haven’t spoken since Dad died. That was four years ago.”
As David and Kate talked in hushed voices, John stuck out one hand and edged away from the piano. When his fingers brushed the upholstered cushion of the couch, he sat and went still. The color drained from his face, leaving behind taut skin that looked a little too washed-out.
Something was definitely wrong.
Shay placed her music folio on a chair and approached him. “You look pale. Do you feel all right?”
“A minute ago, everything went blurry.” He lowered his head and pinched the bridge of his nose. “I can’t see.”
Whatever caused this man’s sudden blindness couldn’t be good. “David, come here. Your brother needs help.”
David must’ve heard the panic in her voice, because he stopped talking to Kate and came right over. “What’s going on?”
“I can see out of the corner of my eyes but not straight ahead,” John explained. “There’s just a big white spot.”
“Hmm.” David pressed two fingers against John’s wrist to measure his pulse. “Have you been drinking?”
“I have no idea what you’ve been doing to yourself. Did you smoke weed or snort cocaine before you got here?”
“I don’t touch that stuff.”
David unbuttoned the cuff of John’s sleeve and pushed the fabric up, exposing a powerful forearm dusted with dark hair. “Did you take any heroin?”
That answer didn’t stop David from checking the other arm for signs of intravenous drug use. There were no bruises or marks along John’s skin. “Do you get migraines?”
“Yeah, but usually when I look at screens for too long. Never had a headache that wrecked my vision like this.”
“Blind spots or blurry dots of light are common with migraines. The symptoms can last for up to an hour.” David pulled away from his brother and sighed. “You can stay here until you feel well enough to drive.”
“I didn’t drive. I used a rideshare.”
“Since when did you start using a ridesh—” David’s phone chirped, cutting him off in mid-sentence. He read the text and groaned. “There was a bad accident on the highway. Someone’s leg got crushed. The hospital needs me to come in.”
Kate lurched into action and zipped up her coat. “I can drive you there. My Jeep handles the snow better than your Porsche.”
“I’ll give John a ride home,” Shay offered, used to scrambling whenever David or Kate had to respond to an emergency. “Go to the hospital. Someone needs you to put them back together.”
David grabbed his ID from the table and planted a quick kiss on Shay’s forehead. “You’re the best.”
Kate and David rushed out of the house, leaving Shay with a man she barely knew. What she’d learned about him over the past ten minutes wasn’t good. He was a gambler who might’ve destroyed his father’s construction business.
And his brother couldn’t stand the sight of him.
John rose to his feet, a pale tower of muscle and denim. His wide chest expanded, pulling in a deep breath as though he needed an extra boost of oxygen. Bleary, blue eyes pointed in her direction. “Thanks for offering to drive me home.”
His solemn gratitude felt a hundred times more genuine than David’s nonchalant kiss. She sensed the good in John. Just like she’d seen the good in Liam, and she hadn’t been wrong about that.
Or had she?
Shay bit the inside of her bottom lip and grabbed her music folio. “Let’s go.”