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They stared at each other, like dueling gunslingers waiting to see who would draw first. She'd be damned if she'd blink before he did. Despite his sheer size, drool-worthy body, and oh-my-God sex appeal, Abigail Dunn refused to budge on this issue. Her roommates might think she was one big pushover, but she knew better. It was time he did too.
After several tense moments in silence, Brody Singer rolled his eyes, then pinched the bridge of his nose and sighed in defeat. "Okay. Jesus. You're such a hard-ass. It's not his fault, you know."
"No. It's yours." She crossed her arms over her chest, doing her best not to turn pink when his gaze immediately followed the movement. And stayed there. After a moment, she cleared her throat. "My eyes are up here, Brody." She pointed to her face.
He slowly lifted his gaze to her face but didn't stop leering. Instead, the charming idiot wiggled his brows. "Beautiful. So...big. And so...brown."
She wore a brown sweater today, so she couldn't be sure if he referred to her breasts or her eyes. By the expression on his face, she was betting on the former. Anyone else talking to her like that would have received a kick in the teeth. But from Brody, she felt simultaneously irked and turned on. So not good.
"You know, you're really very good-looking."
He looked puzzled that she'd compliment him, but as he started to smile, she added, "Too bad you ruin it the moment you open your mouth."
He had the gall to laugh. "And the guys think you're shy."
Now she flushed. Dear Lord, did Mike and the others talk about her? Her neighbor, Mike McCauley, was the oldest of the four McCauley brothers, by which Brody had been unofficially adopted at a young age. She'd been dying to get the scoop on the whys and hows of his life, but asking would make it seem as if she wanted to know. And heaven help her if her roommates started on the sparks flaring between her and Brody again. Her head hurt just thinking about it.
Realizing he continued to stare in a way that made her all too aware of her now tingly girlie parts, she blurted, "I am shy."
"Not with me you're not." And that pleased him for some stupid reason, because his grin grew wider.
Abby planted her hands on her hips and counted to ten in her head. In a calmer voice, she explained, "I don't have time for this. I have to make my deadline by Halloween-in five more days. Get that mongrel out of our yard or else."
"You won't call the pound." He didn't seem to be taking her threat seriously.
Abby turned and stared out the back door of her kitchen, not surprised to see dog slobber and a furry face against the door pane. The smashed nose and tongue occasionally gave way to a gaping mouth of sharp teeth as Cujo tried to get more oxygen into his freakishly large body. "Pound? I was thinking the National Guard. That thing is nearly as tall as I am."
"But you're short."
"Not with that rack," he muttered.
"Nothing." He swallowed hard but to his credit kept his gaze above her neckline this time. "Look, I'm sorry. He likes you, Abby. Mutt just wanted to give you a token of his affection."
"You mean the bone he buried in our backyard last week? That token?" She fumed, remembering the broken flower pots and her mauled garden beds. "I don't know why I bother. This isn't even my house. You want to piss off Beth and James, feel free. But when we move out, I'm getting my rent deposit back. If not from them, from you."
He frowned. "You're leaving? You guys just moved in eight months ago."
She hadn't realized he knew that. But considering their many connections, it shouldn't have surprised her. "You're spending too much time with Flynn and Maddie." Maddie, her roommate and best friend, had found a real treasure in Flynn McCauley. Great for Maddie, not so great for Abby.
Flynn and Brody were best friends and business partners. Mike was her neighbor. And Abby, Maddie, and Vanessa-her other roommate-had been pseudo-adopted by the entire McCauley clan. Which meant she saw Brody on a regular basis. She could handle his aggravating attempts at charm, but her libido was making it really hard to remember all the reasons why she should give this man a wide berth.
Like now, when he wouldn't stop staring at her.
"Cut it out."
Did he just step closer? She backed up and found herself against the door. Behind her, that mammoth of a dog whined.
"See? We like you, Abby." Brody smiled, his amber eyes bright, like his golden hair, shining through the gloom of yet another bleak Seattle day.
She held up a hand and met his chest, doing her utmost to ignore the firm muscle under her palm. "Stay." To her bemusement, he did. She did her best not to laugh hysterically at the comparison of man to dog. "I think I made myself clear. Your dog needs to stay at your place. He keeps getting out of Mike's yard, and he's already torn up my garden."
"Garden?" Brody looked over her head through the door window. "You mean that dirt in a box? Anything out there was already dead, honey."
"It was dormant and would have been perfect for springtime next year, honey, but Fenris out there already dug up my bulbs."
"Yeah, Fenris. Loki's son? A demon dog that ends the world?"
He seemed to consider the name. "Catchy, but no. Doesn't fit him. Guess we'll stick with Mutt for now."
She gritted her teeth. "I don't care what you name your dog. Just get him out. Of. My. Yard!"
She stormed past him in a whirl of anger, frustrated lust, and hopelessness that she'd be able to concentrate on writing her story now that Mr. Wrong had shown his pretty face to distract her again. Bad enough she saw him in her dreams or when he tagged along with Flynn. But now he invaded her working hours.
"Oh you stupid muse." The damn thing needed to get laid. Then maybe it would stop painting her hero with Brody's face and smile. Riiight. It's your muse that's been celibate for a year. Not you, oh she of the wide ass, freakish desires, and air of desperation... Kevin's words were never far from her mind, and at that moment, she hated him and Brody equally. Kevin had been a jerk, but Brody made her wish for things she'd never have. She paused in the hallway at the doorway to her office.
The front door opened, and Maddie entered with Flynn on her heels. "Hey, Abby, what-"
Abby pointed at Flynn. "This is your fault. Take care of that," she thumbed at the noise behind her, "or I will." She seethed as she closed herself in her study-what she used to think of as her sanctuary-and did her best to ignore Brody's low voice and the happy barking no doubt forecasting a mess in the kitchen.
At the thought that Vanessa would soon be returning, Abby smiled with evil glee. The blond dictator would take care of it. She'd take care of everything. "Now if only she could type..."
Brody knew he shouldn't have opened the door. Now the damn dog was inside and making a friggin' mess. He fought to hold on to Mutt while he watched Abby's finer-than-fine ass disappear into her office. A glance around him showed a beautiful home with a woman's touch. From the kitchen he could see clear to the front door, through the spacious hallway that led to a set of stairs to the left of the front door. The living room off to the right was delineated by a large archway, no door, making the downstairs seem like one big living space with the exception of the powder room and the double doors to the closed office. Where Abby sat fuming at him.
Abby. He sighed. She belonged here, in a place she loved. Unlike him, his hellhound, and his twin who wasn't his twin, currently walking down the hall. Flynn entered the kitchen and stood staring at him with a look of displeasure.
Brody grunted while he tried to restrain an overenthusiastic mix of Irish Wolfhound, Great Dane, and wolf. Or was that Yeti? Hell, the dog weighed over a hundred and twenty pounds and was strong as a bull. And he had a thing for women. Abby was hands down Mutt's favorite, but the leggy redhead making a face at him was the dog's second choice.
"Really, Brody." Maddie pursed her lips. "In the house?"
Flynn swore. "Better get him out of here before Vanessa gets back."
Vanessa, the other roommate. What did Maddie call her? Hitler with a mop. What were the odds three hot single women would move next door to Mike, of all people? The guy lived like a monk. Granted, he had a kid, but they all helped with Colin.
In a perfect world, the girls would have moved next to Brody. He'd have made a move on them way before now. Had a nice threesome or foursome, watched them wrestle each other in bikinis slathered with oil, then cornered Abby as his own after the others begged him not to take a favorite. He smirked at Maddie, who glared back at him.
At least Flynn was no idiot. He'd set his sights on Maddie and made it stick. They were a perfect couple, and she was just girlie enough not to want to interrupt his buddy's bro time while still thinking Flynn walked on water. Just what Brody had always wanted for the man he considered his un-identical twin.
If Flynn could nab a babe like Maddie, Brody could get Abby. Hadn't he always done one better than Flynn when it came to the ladies?
Now how to get Abby to stop running away long enough to get his hands on her. He'd start by investigating that soft brown sweater that hugged her curves. Then move down her legs to that round-"Shit." Mutt lunged out of Brody's hands and dove for Maddie.
She screamed. The woman had a mouth on her that made even the dog flinch. Still, it didn't stop him from a fly tackle.
Only Flynn's timely intervention saved Maddie's pretty dress from big-ass paw prints covered in muck. The dog and mud had a love-love relationship.
"Swear to God, one of these days I'm going to bury you where no one can find you, Brody." Flynn glared at him as he and Mutt danced. The dog had his paws on Flynn's shoulders and was trying to lick him to death while Maddie erupted into gales of laughter. Flynn frowned over his shoulder at her. "Yeah, it's funny now. But you were screaming two seconds ago."
From down the hallway, he heard a door open and his heart raced. Abby returned wearing sexy reading glasses, and she'd put her hair up in a loose knot. That, along with her soft sweater and leg-hugging denim, caused every nerve in Brody's body to stand on end. Thank God for tight jeans.
He glanced away from Abby to the dog and swallowed hard, avoiding the knowing smirk Flynn shot him. They'd talked about Brody's penchant for the prim and proper type, and for Abby in particular. For his last birthday, the guys had taken him to a gentleman's club, where a woman dressed like a librarian had stripped down to pasties and a G-string while grinding all over him.
And she had nothing on Abby Dunn.
"You are so pathetic," Flynn muttered and shoved the dog off him.
"What the hell is all this racket?" Abby yelled. "I'm trying to work." Her gaze zeroed in on Mutt. Before the dog could attack, she commanded, "Sit."
To Brody's astonishment, Mutt sat and wagged his tail like crazy, his gaze glued to Abby. Can't fault him for that.
Brody wanted to wag at her too. The woman was his every dream come to life. Curvy in all the right places with dark hair, rich brown eyes, full lips, and a smile that lit her from the inside out. When she used it. Unlike now, as she glared from the dog to him.
He coughed to clear his throat. "He looked so sad by himself, so I let him in just for a minute. I swear. I was trying to take him back outside when Maddie distracted me-"
"Please. I walked down my own hallway to my own kitchen."
"-and Flynn tried playing hero instead of letting me take my unloved dog back out into the cold. Away from all this animal bigotry. The hatred. The lies. You poor, misunderstood thing," he crooned and gained Mutt's attention again. The dog walked back to him and stood quivering under his hand, no doubt dying to run back to Abby.
He wondered what she'd do if he imitated his dog, just jumped her and slobbered all over her. The idea had real merit, especially since she stood there looking like a centerfold, her sweater cupping her beautiful curves, her lips parted as she readied to blast him all over again.
She must have changed her mind, because she groaned. "For the love of God, just please, take him outside. Or-"
Just then, the front door opened and the clicking of heels drew closer. Heels. Shit. Vanessa had returned.
"Full house, I see..." She paused at the entrance to the kitchen, not a hair out of place, her pristine pantsuit unwrinkled, her subtle makeup unblemished. A professional to the nth degree. "What is this?" the blond bombshell shrieked as she stared at the mud all over the place.
Abby smirked at him before disappearing down the hallway once more. Flynn and Maddie shook their heads, then quickly skirted around the infuriated clean freak staring a hole through his head.
"Oh, ah, hey, Vanessa." He tried to appear smaller as he and the dog cowered together.
"What the fuck is all over the kitchen?"
Before he could blink, she had him by the collar. Not the dog. Him. Despite looking down at her, he felt a bit on edge when confronted with such unbridled fury. He wouldn't put it past her to kick his dog. Or him.
An hour and a half later in his upstairs bathroom, he glared at Mutt after finishing the messiest dog bath known to man. The dog sulked as Brody finished drying him off. "No more. I'm on thin ice with Abby as it is. Come on, Mutt. Help me out, man."
The dog sneered at him before loping off into the room he'd claimed as his own. Brody's bedroom.
With a sigh, Brody stared around the mess of his bathroom and left it. Wet dog smell, slimy mud, fur, and all.
Exhausted after the day from hell, he settled into the comfortable couch in the living room. Rain continued to pour outside and the sky had gone from cloudy to gunmetal gray. The chill outside emphasized the heating problems in the place, which reminded him of his neighbor in the duplex next door. Brody could handle the cold. His neighbor, not so much.
Brody reluctantly rose and called to the dog, "I'll be right back."
He didn't expect an answer, but he thought it pretty damn pathetic that while Flynn was no doubt getting felt up by his redhead, Brody had a pissy dog for company. "Blood brother, my ass. Where is he when I'm drowning in misery?" he mumbled as he left the warmth of his home and stood shivering on Seth's porch next door.
The old man answered on the fifth knock. "What?" he snapped.
"Is it me, or is everyone on the planet in a mood today?" Brody sighed. "You going to let me in or what?"
Seth mumbled under his breath but opened the door.
Brody entered and hid a grimace, not wanting to offend. But damn, what were Seth's kids thinking to let the old man live by himself? He could have starred in his own episode of Hoarders. Newspaper stacks lined the hallway, and though clutter filled every available bookcase, bureau, and table, a clear path remained throughout the living room into the dining room and kitchen.
Remembering the gasket he'd forgotten the last time he'd been over, Brody reached into his pocket and gripped it. "I'll be in the kitchen."
"Sure, make yourself at home," Seth called after him with no small amount of sarcasm.
Brody returned from the kitchen moments later. "Kitchen sink's good as new."
"Thanks." Seth stared at him, then frowned. "It's Friday night. Why are you here?"
"Shouldn't you be with your brothers?"
Normally, Brody spent his Friday evenings playing cards at Mike's. But Cameron, the youngest McCauley, was out of town. And no way was Flynn's girlfriend taking his place. If you didn't have a Y chromosome, you didn't rate an invite to poker night. Three guys wouldn't cut it... Then again, Colin was almost six. The kid could palm a card and knew how to stack a deck, thanks to Brody's clever teaching.
"You know, you make a good point." Brody quickly double-checked the thermostat and the plumbing in the downstairs bathroom. All good. Seth wouldn't freeze to death. "You got food?"
"You are one nosy neighbor," Seth half frowned, trying unsuccessfully to hide a grin. "Yeah, yeah, I have food. Damn, son. I'm supposed to feed you now too? Invite yourself over for dinner, why don't you?"
Brody ignored him, as he normally did. He and the old man had an unspoken agreement. They liked the hell out of each other but refused to admit it. Before Brody had bought his half of the large building from Seth, he'd been the ideal tenant. Nothing had changed since he'd purchased the place. He still fixed both sides of the house, and Seth continued to treat Brody like an unwelcome relation. That, and the guy was always giving him stuff. Ancient record albums, figurines, things Brody didn't feel right taking-the old man's treasures. Brody had protested that he'd fix the house for free, but Seth wouldn't hear it. Proud old bastard. He totally reminded Brody of a crotchety James McCauley.
"And you know, it wouldn't hurt you to get a love life. Ain't seen a woman around in a while. You gone gay, boy?"
Brody blinked. "Ah, no. Not yet."
Seth shrugged. "Boy or girl, at least you wouldn't be moping around on a Friday night."
"Who's moping? I'm relaxing after a hard day's work."
Seth raised a brow.
"We had to fix a leak then relocate a water line in a new construction complex in Tacoma. And the traffic was nuts."
Brody nodded. "Okay then."
"Okay." Seth just stared at him.
Feeling foolish, Brody glared, warned the crankpot not to screw with the dog by pounding on the walls, and left. He returned to his bedroom and thought about just staying in for the night, but he wanted some company.
Being around Abby frazzled him. Brody had been scoring with girls since the seventh grade when he'd grown out of his awkward stage and into his voice. Maturing early had its perks, and girls noticing him was a win-win, any way he looked at it. Hanging with the tough McCauleys had helped too. No one screwed with Mike's younger brothers. Though Brody's blond hair and obviously different last name said otherwise, the McCauleys had always treated him like a sibling. One that annoyed Mike, bossed Cam, and got into mischief with Flynn on a daily basis.
But now that Flynn had Maddie, it kind of left Brody at loose ends. Then there was that fascination with Abby that wouldn't quit.
"I am so screwed." He sighed. He wanted Abby like crazy. But there seemed to be no end to the obstacles standing in his way.
As he undressed and then scraped away the fur from the tub the dog had just used, he considered his myriad problems. Brody turned on the shower and waited with bated breath. After a minute or two, he stepped under the spray of hot water. No problem with the water heater tonight, thank God.
He watched rivulets of water race down the tile, just as fast as Abby ran from him time and time again. Granted, he hadn't exactly made his intentions clear. He flirted, leered, and teased. But he hadn't asked her out yet. Because she'd deny him.
And there was that weird resemblance she had to Lea, Mike's dead wife.
Brody groaned. How to make a move on the woman he couldn't get out of his mind without offending Mike? And if he did get a date, how not to mess things up with Abby so badly that he wrecked Flynn's relationship with Maddie? Because Maddie and Abby were tight, and Flynn had no intention of dropping his new squeeze. It was like geometry all over again. The transcendental proof, cause and effect-and now he had a massive headache.
Nothing a good beer and a beat-down over Mike couldn't cure. He just had to make sure he partnered with Colin, because lately Flynn was next to useless in a game. His head in the clouds, dreaming about Maddie. But the kid had potential.
Brody finished washing himself and continued to think of a way around Abby's wariness. Charm and flirting hadn't worked. The dog obviously wasn't getting him closer. So how to work an angle under her shields and into her pants, but far enough away from her heart so that when they ended, she and his brothers wouldn't be gunning for him?
Abby stared longingly at the wet windowpane, wishing she could rzewind the clock.
"Missing your honey man?" Vanessa drawled. "Why don't you just put the guy out of his misery and sleep with him?"
"As much as I appreciate your honesty-"
"-I don't need comments from the peanut gallery. I'm not missing anyone."
"Uh-huh. That's why you keep looking at Mike's house through the window."
Abby turned to glare at her roommate. Vanessa was Maddie's cousin, yet the two couldn't have been more different. Maddie had a vibrant joy, dramatic flair, and warm beauty. She glowed with her love for Flynn. Abby's creative mind likened Vanessa more to an icy Valkyrie. A warrior in business, logical, and eminently better suited to dealing with stress, Vanessa never panicked or didn't know what to do. She was like perfection on two long legs that ended in a gorgeous brain that never quit. Currently single due to her own desire for solitude, not because men didn't want her.
Abby should have hated her for that alone. So much confidence, and the woman deserved every bit of it. Yet she remained loyal to friends and family. And as much as Abby sometimes wished Vanessa would ease up, the woman regarded her as part of her family unit.
After drawing in a deep breath, Abby let it out and explained to Vanessa, once again, what the neighbor really meant to her. "I write, Vanessa. You know this. You also know I use the guys next door as reference material."
"Blah blah blah. Yeah. You want to make your male characters real, so you eavesdrop on the guys talking smack over cards on Fridays. I know. But that doesn't explain why you're always looking at Brody's ass. Mind you, it's a fine ass. But your interest seems much more prurient than scholarly."
Vanessa's blue eyes sparkled, her joy in the verbal battle clear.
Catching the spirit, Abby shot back, "Well, at least I have plans for the weekend."
Vanessa raised a blond brow and crossed her arms over her chest. "So do I."
Abby looked her over. From Vanessa's size eleven running shoes to the running shorts and T-shirt sporting a Go Vegan or Go Home slogan. "Some Friday. You're going to drive to the gym to work out after putting in a full day." Abby huffed. "At least I have a good excuse for no social prospects. My deadline is looming."
"True." Vanessa shrugged. "But I use exercise to relieve stress. You say you want to listen to the guys for research, but in this weather, you can't hear a blasted thing anyone is saying with their windows closed. So I ask again, why are you staring at Mike's house? I'll tell you why. Because you and that blond doofus can't get enough of each other."
"He is that," Abby agreed. A great big galoot who'd rescued a monstrous stray dog from euthanasia at the pound, who taught his nephew how to cheat at cards and cry on command, and who'd been protective of his best friend when Flynn and Maddie had been on the rocks a month ago. Then what else Vanessa said penetrated. "Wait. What?" Get enough of each other?
"It's so obvious. Just sleep with him. Get it out of your system. Then use it to write those smut scenes you're always going on about in your books. And presto. Deadline problem solved."
The familiar argument made her see red. "Smut? I write erotic romance. Not porn. Not smut. Not raunchy-"
"Right. Raunchy." Vanessa snapped her fingers. "That's the word I wanted when I was telling Francie about your book the other day."
More comfortable arguing about her profession than about the crazy feelings for Brody she had no business even thinking about, Abby lit into her roommate with gusto. It took everything inside her not to follow the flashing headlights when a truck pulled into Mike's drive.