1

Maddie

 

 

“Is he naked? Oh, please tell me he’s naked.”

Even though there was no way for her to see it, I rolled my eyes and pressed the phone closer to my ear. “Yes, Frankie, he is butt naked, working his wood while the midday sun is beating down on him.”

Choosing to focus on my words instead of my sarcasm, my best friend slash sister from another mister sigh. Her voice was all dreamy when she spoke, “Mmm, now that’s what I’m talking about. Is he being rough? I like it when they’re all caveman.” She didn’t even give me time to answer before she fired off another round of questions. “Is he ripped? Does he have huge bulging muscles that make you want to hang on for days and days.”

“Frankie,” I said into the phone. From my second-floor bedroom window I had the perfect view of the man dominating our conversation, the one I couldn’t take my eyes off. “You need help. The professional kind.”

She barked out a laugh and I could easily imagine her flicking her inky hair over her shoulder. “You can always send your hot neighbor over, I bet he’ll be real helpful.”

Groaning, I shook my head even though she couldn’t see me. “I never said he was hot. Hell, I don’t even know if he is; I’ve only seen the back of him.” But if the way his backside was filling out those well-worn jeans was anything to go by, the view would most definitely not be bad. “Before you ask again,” I quickly added. “He is not in his birthday suit.”

“Ah boo,” she whined, and I could only smile. After Frankie caught her boyfriend of almost five years with his fingers in someone else’s cookie jar, she’d completely sworn off men but that didn’t stop her from ogling anything with a stick dangling between its legs.

Looking has never been a crime, she always said.

Good thing too because I’d sure as hell done a lot of looking since my mysterious neighbor had ventured out of his house for the first time since he’d moved in three weeks ago. Even that had been odd. I’d gone to bed with the house next to me still vacant and had woken up just in time to see a U-Haul truck pull away.

Ever since then I had been loitering near the windows, hoping to catch a glimpse of the person or family who’d be interested in the rundown house next door.

“Oh my goodness, are you even listening?” Frankie’s annoyed voice filtered through the line.

“Nope. What were you saying?” I tore my eyes away from the man furiously sawing thick wooden panels to give my Chinese Crested dog, Sheldon, a stern look. He was dancing around on his hind legs, begging me to pick him up. With a sharp jerk of my head, I mouthed the word no. Of course, he didn’t care and chose to scratch my leg instead.

Puffing out a breath, I bent down to scoop the little asshole up and was immediately rewarded with a pink tongue attacking my face. When Sheldon had dealt out enough kisses, he swiveled his head toward the window and pressed his wet nose against the glass.

Guess I wasn’t the only one who wanted to spy.

“… introduce yourself.” I only caught the tail end of Frankie’s sentence but felt too bad to ask her to repeat herself…again.

Taking a shot in the dark, I asked, “You think I should?”

“Well, you’re neighbors, right? It’s the neighborly thing to do.” Her tone warned me there was more to come. Sure enough, a second later, she sweetly added, “Plus then you’ll know what he looks like and then I’ll know if I’m bringing my lawn chair and a pitcher of margaritas.”

My mouth was half-open when mystery man next door pulled the baseball cap off his head and dragged his hand over his short light-brown hair. Something caught my eye. Squinting, I leaned closer to get a better look, knocking my forehead against the glass in the process. “Ouch… Oooh! He has a tattoo.” Rubbing my forehead, I kept my eyes locked on the ink covering his arm.

“He does?” Frankie sounded just as excited as I felt. Our tastes in men might’ve been vastly different but both of us agreed that tattoos instantly took a guy from a 7 to a 9. Especially a full sleeve. “Tell me more?” she cooed in my ear.

“Ugh, I can’t see from up here.” I narrowed my eyes even more as if by some miracle that would magnify whatever I was looking at. “But I’m pretty sure it’s covering his entire arm.”

“Madison Taylor Young, you have to go down there and introduce yourself immediately.” As if understanding every word that Frankie had just uttered, Sheldon set his tiny paws against the window and scratched furiously.

“You two are horrible,” I muttered. My eyes were still stuck on Mr. Tattoo. His cap was back on his head and he was manhandling a piece of wood as if it had offended him. Tugging my lip between my teeth, I mused, “Nothing wrong with a friendly introduction.”

“Nothing at all,” Frankie agreed.

“Okay, fine. You convinced me. I’m going.” Not that I needed coaxing in any way, shape, or form. My neighbor was way too intriguing. I set Sheldon down and after giving myself a quick once over in the mirror, I bounced down the stairs. “Call you later?”

“You better.”

When the other end went dead, I set my phone down on the thin table next to the sliding doors that led to my backyard and stepped outside. One long drag of salty air to my lungs had the smile on my face growing wider.

Closing my eyes, I took in the soothing sound of the waves crashing and reveled in the soft breeze blowing over my face. That right there almost made it worth it to be back.

Almost.

I opened my eyes and shook off the melancholy before it had time to sink its claws in. Now was not the time for it, not when I had more pressing matters to attend to. Like getting acquainted with my hot-assed, tattooed neighbor.

My approach to the little wooden fence that separated our yards was deliberately slow and I wasn’t sure why. It’s not like I was a jump in head first kind of girl but I wasn’t overly cautious either.

And yet, I felt an odd nervousness in my bones the closer I got. He was still hunched over his bench; one hand gripping the wood while the other furiously worked a handsaw. Now that only a few feet separated us, I saw he was taller and broader, and his entire right arm was covered in ink—well, the parts peeking out from under his t-shirt sleeve.

I had to swallow down a little sigh as I took in his big shoulders, narrow waist, and absolutely perfect butt.

Wow.

It took me a few seconds to realize that if he turned around right then, I’d probably look like a creeper. Clearing my throat, I spoke loud and clear. “Hi, I’m—”

“Not interested.”

What?

Taking a step forward, I rested my arms on the fence. “I just want to introduce myself.”

“No.”

At least that’s what I thought the grumble translated to.

My brows knitted together. I was so confused. Never in my life had an attempted introduction gone like that. And I’d spent a year in New York, so that was saying a lot. I also wasn’t one to simply give up. Once I had my mind on something, I had to see it through.

“You’re not interested in making a friend?” I tried again, using the sweetest tone I could.

The big man on the other side shifted, keeping his left side completely out of my view. He was still looking down but I could see a glimpse of a sharp jaw peppered with a few days’ growth.

“No.”

This time I heard him loud and clear. I also happened to notice that if he wasn’t being such a grumpy ass, his voice might’ve sounded sexy. It was deep and gravelly, the kind that could have goosebumps littering your body with just one word.

Licking my lips, I took another approach. “Okay. How about a friendly neighbor? Surely you don’t have a problem with that?”

He let out an audible sigh. Dropping his chin to his chest, he gritted out, “Do your ears not work, woman? Not. Interested.” The tool in his hand fell onto the bench with a loud thud before he turned and stomped into his house.

Completely stunned, all I could do was stare at the door he’d just slammed shut. It was the sound of my phone shrieking to life from inside my house that finally pulled me out of my stupor. With a sharp shake of my head, I pivoted and hurried to answer. I didn’t even have to look to know it was Frankie.

Swiping the green button, I pressed the device against my ear. “He’s an asshole.”