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Book 0: Just His Neighbor (Southern Roots Sweet RomCom Prequel)

Book 0: Just His Neighbor (Southern Roots Sweet RomCom Prequel)

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She’s just his neighbor…until his dog—oops, his brother’s dog—adopts her.

I really should be stronger. I mean, there’s a strict no-dog policy in the apartment next door. I own the building, and the the tall, dark construction manager can’t have a dog.

Except I love his dog, even if his name is Sausage. The more time I spend with him, the more I think my “strict” policy of no dogs and no men…isn’t so strict.

And when Thomas comes to my spa and does the Van-Gogh-ga?

Fine, I may be a goner. If only I wasn’t just his neighbor


START HERE! This is a prequel novella for the Southern Roots Sweet RomCom Series.


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Sample Chapter 1 Now!

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The wheels on my desk chair make a familiar whirring along the hard floor as I pull myself closer to the computer. “Yes,” I say. “Let me see what I have.” I arrive at the desk and click the mouse, still fitting the earpiece into place. “You wanted two bedrooms?”

“Three,” the man says on the other end of the line. The word sounds like a demand, and I dig deep for my professional touch. I’ve been dealing with difficult and cranky clients for two decades. I already know I don’t have a three-bedroom rental in my arsenal, but I make some over-exaggerated taps on my keyboard.

I specifically bought a gaming keyboard for the loud clacking it makes even with the most gentle touch. It really makes it sound like I’m working super-hard for my clients. “Let’s see…” I draw the words out, actually squinting at the listings in the spreadsheet that never gets closed on my computer as if my client can see me. Truth is, I’m getting older and my eyes aren’t so great.

“Huh. I don’t have any three-bedroom units at Foxglove,” I say. “I have one one-bedroom, and two two-bedrooms.” My father has been managing rentals in Charleston for decades, and I’ve been working with him for eighteen years, since my daughter was only a toddler. The job allows me to work from home, and I reach to turn on the essential oil diffuser as the man on the other end of the line sighs like I’ve just ruined his entire day.

“Nothing?” he asks. “What about outside of Foxglove?”

Harry’s a new client, and his intake form did say two bedrooms. He’s since changed it to three, which is a hard thing to secure in the city. I’ve been helping people with their housing needs, and trust me when I say no one in Charleston has seen more than I have. Interesting people. Fascinating rentals. Some things I wish I could unsee, let me tell you.

“How far outside of the city are you willing to go?” A bang sounds against my office wall, which I share with a two-bedroom unit next door to my apartment. I live on the second floor of a historic rowhouse that faces the ocean. From higher up, I can see the water in the distance, but I don’t focus on it right now.

Harry’s started talking again. “Depends,” he says. “I’m working at Glouer and Marson, and…” 

I tune him out for a few seconds, because if I had a dollar for every time he’s told me about his fancy new job at a prestigious law firm in the city, I wouldn’t need to find him and his family a place to live. I could simply gaze out my oceanfront window, go downstairs to the spa I just opened, and then walk the beach as a leisurely afternoon activity.

“…to get home on time.”

“Mm hm,” I say. “There are some great neighborhoods outside of Charleston.” I scan down the list of properties. “There’s a pretty big two-bedroom twinhome in Sugar Creek.”

“Can you give me a minute?” Harry asks.

“Take your time,” I say. “I’ll call you b—”

“Julie!” he yells, nearly deafening me. And if it’s not him, it’s the second loud bang against the wall. 

I tap the mute button on my mic and mutter, “What is he doing over there? Knocking down a wall and putting in a new kitchen?”

The next thump causes me to jump, and the cord on my earpiece pulls. I give the wall a glare while Harry says, “Well, Minnie might not get her own room. There’s only two-bedrooms available right now, and we need a place.”

“Fine,” Julie says, her voice much quieter than Harry’s. “We can put her kennel in the kitchen, I guess.”

“What in the world?” I say out loud, instant regret hitting me. Talk about unprofessional.

“All right, Jillian,” Harry says.

“Yes,” I say.


Oh, right, I muted myself. Praise the Lord, I think, because Harry didn’t hear me question his and his wife’s sanity. 

I quickly reach to tap the button again and chirp, “Yep, still here.” I sound twenty-four and barely making it through my first day on the job, not thirty-eight, divorced, and the mother of a teenager who’s almost an adult. 

“We’d like to see the larger two-bedroom in Sugar Creek.”

“Of course,” I say, tapping on it. I now exclusively manage the rentals my father owns—and which I’ll own in just a few more years. He’s what he’s calling “semi-retired,” and that means I do all the work while he golfs. 

I’m not the only one who’s looking at the listings. There are agents all over the city with clients looking for housing, so I quickly click on the button to get my clients a showing. “I can get you in this afternoon.”

Hammering comes through the wall, and I give another glare to my right. I haven’t met the tenant moving in, but I knew he’d be arriving today. He hasn’t seen the apartment either, and he’s obviously not satisfied with it from all the banging and grinding going on over there.

“What time this afternoon?” Harry asks.

I blink and focus on the computer. “One thirty.”

A bark meets my ears, and I jump to my feet. My heart pounds in the back of my throat, and I vaguely hear Harry ask me to send him the address, and he’ll meet me there later. “Yes,” I say, and then I let him hang up.

I rip off the earpiece and take a step toward the wall. I lean my ear against it, instantly feeling like a fool. The man moving in next door didn’t bring a dog. I didn’t deal with him, but his agent had, and it was made abundantly clear that this is a no-pets-allowed apartment.

Not only that, but his agent had made it abundantly clear to me that his client thought the rent was too high for “what the apartment is.” 

Gorgeous is what the apartment is, and the price is set as such. His client had still taken it, which means I’d priced it according to the market. 

I’ve just filled this building, and I can’t have animals here. A man who owns an advertising agency has rented the bottom half of the building, and he and his secretary are super-nice people. Well, his secretary is. He seems to be a bit of a barker himself, and I’ve never seen him smile.

I’ve just opened the spa, and the last thing I need during a client’s supposed-to-be-soothing-and-relaxing massage is a dog yapping its head off. 

The dog barks again, and I leap away from the wall. “No,” I say, the adrenaline pumping hard through my body. When I went through my divorce, my pulse would skyrocket and then plummet like this, and it was never fun. It’s not right now either.

“He can’t have a dog,” I say, turning to leave my office. The apartments above the retail space below are newly renovated and weren’t cheap to complete. Daddy funded it, but I have to pay rent just like everyone else—for my apartment and for the retail space. Withdraw Spa is still gaining popularity, but she’s gotten off to a great start.

I love everything about the spa. There’s the normal things—the scent of eucalyptus and lemongrass, the pedicures, the massages. But I’ve also got a soft spot for yoga after I started doing it to help a lower back injury, and I’ve combined that love with my love of art. We’re painting more than fingernails at the Withdraw Spa. It’s more masterpieces and meditation, art and relaxation, all combined into one great space.

I reach the door of my apartment, not having heard more barking. In the hallway, I turn left and take a couple of steps, arriving in front of my new neighbor’s door. I pause to listen, something my ex always accused me of not doing. 

Listen, Jillian.

I listen. No barking. Perhaps I was wrong. Maybe my new neighbor had been playing the radio or something. Yeah, I tell myself. And what song have you heard with barking in it?

I’m sure there’s something, because if there’s anything I’ve learned in my life, it’s that people can make some really…interesting entertainment. 

I find myself holding my breath, which is absolutely ridiculous. I war with myself over whether it’s even my place to say something if this guy does have a dog. “Of course it is,” I say. “You own this building, and you have a no-pet policy.”

The moment I finish talking, the animal starts barking—and it’s close. I stumble backward and meet the wall behind me. That’s it. This guy has to get rid of this dog. I draw a breath and step over to the door, lifting my hand to knock.

Four short raps fill the hallway, as does another round of ridiculous barking. I’m not a burglar, for crying out loud. A deep voice hums through the door, and I remind myself that I’ve dealt with plenty of bass-voiced men.

The dog stops barking; the lock twists; the door opens.

A tall, broad-shouldered man stands there, plenty of darkness everywhere I look. Hair, eyes, sideburns. Even the most beautiful piece of art doesn’t have anything on those sideburns. They enunciate all the square in that jaw, and as it moves, I blink.

“…help you?” He curls his long fingers around the door and leans toward it while I find myself leaning toward him. He’s wearing a pair of basketball shorts and a black T-shirt with a bullseye on the front. Weird for someone his age—which has to be close to mine—but whatever.

Silence stretches between us, and then that dog barks. The ice breaks, and Mr. Gorgeous looks down and says, “Hush,” in his deep voice.

I pull myself together in that moment, because I’ve met plenty of good-looking men. I was married to one too, and that doesn’t mean I want another one. Maybe a hint of loneliness threads through me. Maybe.

I’m plenty busy with Withdraw and all the rentals, but wow, the human brain can think fast. It tells me that just because I’m busy doesn’t mean I’m happy. I also think that a spa—no matter how elegant and amazing—doesn’t come home for dinner and engage me in conversation.

“Hello?” he says, actually waving his hand in front of my eyes.

“You can’t have a dog,” I blurt out. It’s like the dog’s name is Dog, because it barks at me again and then rushes toward me. The canine can’t weigh more than twenty pounds, but I gasp—maybe I give a little squeak—and fall back. The dog jumps up on my knee, booping me with its nose. 

My whole heart melts for the little creature, what with his brown, black, and white fur—and that mustache. He’s a schnauzer, and his eyes are so expressive, I think he could have a conversation with me over fried chicken and mac and cheese.

“Sausage,” the man says, and I recoil at that.

“You named your dog Sausage?” I wrinkle my nose at him, and against my better judgment—and my no-pet policy—I pat the schnauzer.

Before Gorgeous—no, Bullseye. I’ll call him Bullseye—can answer, the dog barks again and takes off for the stairs, having scented an escape. 

“Sausage!” Bullseye yells after him, but dogs have four legs, and wow, Sausage is very un-sausage-like as he disappears around the corner, the sound of his claws against the hard floor going with him. 

Bullseye looks at me, and then we both take off for the stairs. Unfortunately, rowhouses aren’t known for their width, and Bullseye is built like a Dorito chip, with the wide part at the top. His shoulder jams against mine, and I glare at him like he’s checked me in a game of flag football.

Barking meets my ears from downstairs, and I gesture for him to go first. “After you.”

Bullseye gives me a grin—a grin!—and practically leaps down the set of six or eight steps to the landing. 

“Show off,” I mutter as I follow him. The dog can’t get too far—the only entrance to the residential apartments on the second floor is at the back of the building, and no one should be coming in that way.

I don’t hear Bullseye ahead of me, and no barking, so perhaps the rule-breaker has retrieved his dog. I come down the last few steps, noting there’s too much natural light in the hallway, and see the door has been propped open with one of the big paint buckets the construction crew left behind.

“You have got to be kidding me,” I say as I stride toward the door and right on outside.

Bullseye stands at the edge of the parking lot that plays host to the ad agency as well as the spa—and us—and calls, “Sausage! Get back here!”

“Where did he go?” I ask, coming up beside him. He gives me a sour look and points down the street toward the Royal Gardens. This is going to end badly for me. Very badly. 

I sigh and look up at Bullseye, refusing to fall into that staring trance that had somehow descended upon me a few minutes ago. “Well, come on,” I say. “Let’s find him before he rips through Charleston’s most pristine gardens, and then you can figure out where he’s going to stay tonight.”

I march away from Bullseye, who says, “You’re not wearing any shoes.”

I look down at my feet as if I need confirmation of that. Humiliation floods me, but I keep on going, the sound of my bare feet slapping concrete not nearly as impactful as a pair of heels would’ve been. Heck, sneakers would’ve been better.

He chuckles as he catches me quickly. I glance at him and frown. “Hey, at least I’m wearing pants,” I say, which only makes things worse for me. Sometimes my mouth can really get me in trouble, something I’ve known for thirty-eight years now. 

Why? I ask myself as Bullseye asks, “Do you not regularly wear pants?”

What Readers are Saying

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ "This was an adorable story and a great start to the series. I loved the main characters, but look forward to reading more stories in this setting. It’s unique, but also realistic." ~Rayna T.

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ "I enjoyed this book easy reading as usual from Elana Johnson." ~Christine J.

Customer Reviews

Based on 8 reviews

Great book

Shelley W.
Absolutely FABULOUS!!

I loved this book, Jillian and Thomas just got me from the start, his dog, sooo cute and funny, Sausage!! LOVE IT!! These books are awesome and you will laugh out loud, and they are sooo cute! This one was amazing and as usual for the author, it is clean and no cliff hangers.


Jillian and Tom were both likable characters.

In a moment of duress one says they are dating and the other goes along. And then it's real. OK.

The third-act break-up is more like a speed bump for them because, surprise, they are adults and choose to communicate.

It was a quick read and had me giggling in some spots and smiling in others.


I loved this book and the prequel too. Can’t wait to finish reading the series.

Christine J.

I enjoyed this book easy reading as usual from Elana Johnson

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