Not Quite Perfect (Oakland Hills Book 3)

By: Gretchen Galway

Chapter 1





WITH CHILLY RAIN SPATTERING HER back, April stood on the front porch and stared at the old key in her hand, the same key she’d had since she turned eleven.

It was the right key. But it wasn’t unlocking the door to her mother’s house, the house she’d grown up in, the place she still considered home. It’s probably just the humidity, she told herself, fighting down irrational panic.

At her feet, Stool—the three-legged dog she'd just adopted that morning after her boyfriend bailed on both of them—sniffed the welcome mat and wagged his tail, not a care in the world.

I used to be like that, April thought, shoving the key into the hole again.

Although the big house had a roof over the front porch, the wind was driving the rain at an angle, soaking her shoulders and backside. The dog, part Labrador retriever, seemed to enjoy the rain, and kept lifting his nose to the sky and lapping at raindrops.

The key still wouldn’t turn.

Where else could she go? She glanced behind her to her car. Because the house was up in the cramped, winding Oakland hills overlooking the bay, the flat parking area was just a squat rectangle of concrete in front of the garage. Her old VW, filled with all of her boxes and bags, stared back at her with its cheerful round headlights and rounded grill as if asking, So, what’s the plan?

The eternal question.

Feeling edgy—she’d already been evicted from one home that day, and it was barely lunchtime—she pressed the doorbell for the house she’d grown up in.

In an attempt to lighten the mood, she shouted, “I don’t have any religious pamphlets, I swear!” A strand of her hair, curled into a tight ringlet in the humidity, stuck to her lips, and she brushed it away.

The door swung open to reveal a tall, muscular guy with blond hair and hard brown eyes: her oldest brother, Liam. The last person she wanted to see.

She bent over, grabbed Stool’s collar, and dragged him into the house. “Hey,” she said, kicking off her boots next to the hall closet and closing the front door behind her before her brother could see the contents of her car. She’d have to go back out to get her things—all of them—but he didn’t need to see that. He wouldn’t approve. Twenty-seven and moving back home with mom…

No, the perfect gold-medal-winning-fashion-CEO-mastermind and recent first-time-father, Liam Johnson, definitely would not approve.

“Where’s Mom?” she asked, hoping he didn’t notice the puddle she was leaving on the wood floor, or the river Stool was tracking in, because her big brother would have something else to add to the list of ways in which she didn’t measure up, the list he kept in his head and added to daily. “And why’d she change the locks?”

“Lost her keys on a walk,” Liam said. “What are you doing here? Whose dog is that?”

April strode over to a linen closet near the downstairs bathroom and grabbed a towel to rub down Stool. “Mom?”

“She’s next door,” Liam said, at her heels. “Helping with the baby. Bev’s walking the dogs, trying to get some air.”

Liam and his new wife, Bev, had moved into the house next door a month before their first kid was born, after buying it from Bev’s mother.

“If Mom’s helping with the baby, then what are you doing over here?” She wiped Stool’s paws. Putting her brother on the defensive was her only hope of getting him off her case. His first baby was just six weeks old, and he was probably determined to be a perfect father, since he’d been perfect at everything else so far. The weariness in his face, though, told her he was having trouble.

He loomed over her. “Don’t worry about me. What are you doing here?”

Her soaked sweater and thin camisole clung to her back, cold and heavy. It was the first real storm of winter, and they needed the rain after months of drought, but she wished it could’ve waited one more day, when she didn’t have to haul all of her measly possessions and a hungry dog across a San Francisco street into her double-parked economy car and then fight traffic across the Bay Bridge.

Her teeth began to chatter. Her dry clothes were in the car, and she couldn’t get them without parading her homelessness past her domineering brother. He didn’t mean to be a pain, but he was eight years older, their father had died years ago, and she was the youngest—and a girl—so he had stepped into the role.

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