“The room is yours,” Ellie suddenly announced.
Her abrupt bubbliness brought laughter to my lips. “Just like that?”
Seeming serious all of a sudden, Ellie nodded. “I have a good feeling about you.”
I have a good feeling about you, too. I gave her a relieved smile. “Then I’d love to move in.”
A week later I’d moved into the luxury apartment on Dublin Street.
Unlike Ellie and her clutter, I liked everything to be organized around me just so, and that meant immediately diving into unpacking.
“Are you sure you don’t want to sit and have a cup of tea with me?” Ellie asked from the doorway as I stood in my room surrounded by boxes and a couple of suitcases.
“I really want to get this all unpacked so I can just relax.” I smiled reassuringly so she wouldn’t think I was blowing her off. I always hated this part of a burgeoning friendship–the exhausting hedging of one another’s personality, trying to work out how a person would react to a certain tone, or attitude.
Ellie just nodded her understanding. “Okay. Well, I’ve got to tutor in an hour, so I think I’ll walk instead of grabbing a cab, which means heading off now. That’ll give you some space, some time to get to know the place.”
I’m liking you more already. “Have a fun class.”
“Have fun unpacking.”
I grunted and waved her away as she flashed me a pretty smile and headed out.
As soon as the front door slammed shut, I flopped down on my incredibly comfortable new bed. “Welcome to Dublin Street,” I murmured, staring up at the ceiling.
Kings of Leon sang ‘your sex is on fire’ really loudly at me. I grumbled at the fact that my solitude was being so quickly intruded upon. With a tilt of my hip, I slipped my phone out of my pocket and smiled at the caller I.D.
“Hey you,” I answered warmly.
“So have you moved into your exorbitantly, overindulgent, pretentious new flat yet?” Rhian asked without preamble.
“Is that bitter envy I hear?”
“You’ve got that right, you lucky cow. I was almost ill in my cereal this morning at the pictures you sent me. Is that place for real?”
“I take it the apartment in London isn’t living up to your expectations?”
“Expectations? I’m paying through the nose for a bloody glorified cardboard box!”
“Fuck off,” Rhian grumbled half-heartedly. “I miss you and our mice-riddled palace.”
“I miss you and our mice-riddled palace, too.”
“Are you saying that as you stare at your claw-footed bath tub with its gold-plated taps?”
“Nope… as I lie on my five thousand dollar bed.”
“What’s that in pounds?”
“I don’t know. Three thousand?”
“Jesus, you’re sleeping on six week’s rent.”
Groaning, I sat up to pull open the nearest box. “I wish I hadn’t told you how much my rent is.”
“Well, I’d give you a lecture on how you’re pissing that money of yours away on rent when you could have bought a house, but who am I to talk?”
“Yeah, and I don’t need any lectures. That’s the sweetest part of being an orphan. No concerned lectures.”
I don’t know why I said that.
There was no sweet part to being an orphan.
Or having no one be concerned.
Rhian was silent on the other end of the line. We never talked about my parents or hers. It was our no-go area. “Anyway,” I cleared my throat, “I better get back to unpacking.”
“Is your new roommate there?” Rhian picked up the conversation as though I hadn’t said anything about my parentless status.
“She just went out.”
“Have you met any of her friends yet? Any of them guys? Hot guys? Hot enough to haul you out of your four year dry spell?”
The skeptical laughter on my lips died when an image of the Suit popped into my mind. Feeling my skin prickle at the thought of him, I found myself grow quiet. It wasn’t the first time he’d flashed across my thoughts in the last seven days.
“What’s this?” Rhian asked in answer to my silence. “Is one of them a hottie?”
“No,” I brushed her off as I shoveled the Suit out of my thoughts. “I haven’t met any of Ellie’s friends yet.”
Not really. The last thing I need is a guy in my life. “Listen, I’ve got to get this done. Talk to you later?”
“Sure, hon. Talk later.”
We hung up and I sighed, gazing at all my boxes. All I really wanted to do was flop back on the bed and take a long nap.
“Ugh, let’s do this.”
A few hours later, I was completely unpacked. All of my boxes were folded up neatly and stored in the hall closet. My clothes were hung up and folded away. My books were lined up on the bookshelf and my laptop was open on the desk, ready for my words. A photograph of my parents sat on my bedside table, another of Rhian and I at a Halloween party graced the bookshelf, and by my laptop on the desk, sat my favorite photo. It was a picture of me holding Beth, my parents standing behind me. We were sitting out in the backyard at a barbecue the summer before they died. My neighbor had taken the shot.
I knew photos usually invited questions, but I couldn’t bring myself to put those photographs away. They were a painful reminder that loving people only led to heartbreak… but I couldn’t bear to part with them.
I kissed my fingertips and placed them gently against the photo of my parents.
I miss you.
After a moment, a bead of sweat rolling down my nape drew me out of my melancholic fog and I wrinkled my nose. It was a hot day and I had blasted through the unpacking like The Terminator after John Connor.
Time to try out that gorgeous bath tub.
Pouring in some bubble bath and running the hot water, I immediately began to relax at the rich smell of lotus blossoms. Back in my bedroom, I peeled out of my sweaty shirt and shorts and felt a smug liberation as I walked down the hall, nak*d in my new apartment.
I smiled, gazing around at it, still not quite believing all ‘the pretty’ was mine for at least the next six months.
With music blasting from my smartphone, I sank deep into the tub and began to doze. It was only the growing chill of the water that nudged me to wakefulness. Feeling soothed and as content as I could be, I clambered inelegantly out of the tub and reached for my phone. As soon as silence reigned around me, I glanced over at the towel rail and froze.
There were no towels. I scowled at the towel rail as if it was its fault. I could have sworn Ellie had towels on there last week. Now I was going to have to drip water all down the hall.
Grumbling under my breath, I wrenched the bathroom door open and stepped out into the airy hallway.
“Uh… hullo,” a deep voice choked out, snapping my eyes up off the puddle I was making on the hardwood flooring.
A squeal of shock got crushed in my windpipe as I gazed into the eyes of the Suit.
What was he doing here? In my house? STALKER!
My mouth hung open as I tried to work out what the hell was going on; it took me a moment to realize his eyes weren’t on my face. They were running all over my very nak*d body.
With a garbled noise of distress I clamped an arm over my br**sts and a hand in front of my vajajay. Pale blue eyes met my horrified grey gaze. “What are you doing in my apartment?” I glanced hurriedly around for a weapon. Umbrella? It had a metal point… that might work.
Another choking noise snapped my eyes back to his, and a flush of unwanted and totally inappropriate heat hit me between the legs. He had ‘that look’ again. That dark, sexually avarice look. I hated that my body responded so instantly to ‘that look’ considering the guy might be a serial killer.
“Turn around!” I yelled, trying to cover up how vulnerable I felt.
Immediately, the Suit held up his hands in surrender and he spun slowly around, his back to me. My eyes narrowed at the sight of his shaking shoulders. The bastard was laughing at me.
Heart racing, I moved to rush towards my room to grab some clothes – and possibly a baseball bat – when my eyes snagged on a photo on Ellie’s memo board. It was a picture of Ellie… and the Suit.
What the hell?
Why had I not noticed this? Oh yeah. Because I didn’t like to ask questions. Disgruntled at my own crap observational skills, I threw a quick look over my shoulder. I was gratified to find the Suit wasn’t peeking. Skittering off to my room, his deep voice followed me, rumbling down the hall to my ears. “I’m Braden Carmichael. Ellie’s brother.”
Of course he was, I thought grumpily, patting myself dry with a towel before shoving my angry limbs through a pair of shorts and a tank top.
With my dark blonde, brownish hair piled in a wet mess atop my head, I stormed back out into the hall to face him.
Braden had turned around, his lips quirked up at the corner now as he ran his eyes over me. The fact that I was dressed didn’t matter. He was still seeing me nak*d. I could tell.
My hands flew to my h*ps in belligerent humiliation. “And you just walk in here without knocking?”
A dark eyebrow rose at my tone. “It is my flat.”
“It’s common courtesy to freaking knock,” I argued.
His reply consisted of him shrugging and then jamming his hands casually into his suit pants. He’d taken his jacket off somewhere and his white shirt sleeves were rolled up to the elbow, revealing tan, masculine forearms.
A knot of need tightened in my gut at the sight of those sexy forearms.
Fuckity, shit, fuck.
I flushed inwardly. “Aren’t you going to apologize?”
Braden gifted me a roguish smile. “I never apologize unless I mean it. And I’m not apologizing for this. It’s been the highlight of my week. Possibly my year.” His grin was so easy-going–coaxing me to smile back at him. I wouldn’t.
Braden was Ellie’s brother. He had a girlfriend.
And I was way too attracted to this stranger for it to be healthy.
“Wow, what a boring life you must lead,” I replied haughtily and weakly as I walked by him. You try being witty after flashing your girl pieces to some guy you barely know. I couldn’t really give him much of a wide berth and had to ignore the flutter of butterflies in my stomach as I caught a whiff of the delicious cologne he was wearing.
Grunting at my observation, Braden followed me. I could feel the heat of him at my back as I entered the sitting room.
His jacket was tossed across an armchair and a near empty mug of coffee was sitting beside an open newspaper on the coffee table. He’d just made himself at home while I was soaking in the tub, completely oblivious.
Annoyed, I shot him a dirty look over my shoulder.
His boyish grin hit me in the chest and I looked away quickly, perching on the arm of the couch as Braden sank casually into the armchair. The grin was gone now. He stared up at me with just a small smile playing on his lips, like he was thinking of a private joke. Or me nak*d.
Despite my resistance to him, I didn’t want him to think that my nak*dness was funny.