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Mackenzie Reese decided to do the neighborly thing and introduce herself to the man who had just moved in next door. Never mind the fact that she'd been good friends with the previous occupants and missed them deeply. If not for a job transfer overseas, Joelle and David Schofield would still be living there now. But they weren't anymore and she would just have to deal with it.
Mackenzie wouldn't pass judgment on the new homeowner, at least not until she met him. She'd only gotten a glimpse of the man so far. She estimated he was at least six-foursix inches taller than she. His head was shaved bald and he had a black mustache with just the slightest hint of hair on his chin.
He also had a yellow Labrador, though Mackenzie was not especially fond of dogs these days. There had been too many times when some neighborhood dog had managed to get into her flower garden. Once she'd had the gate to her backyard fixed, there hadn't been any more problems with dogs, and Mackenzie intended to keep it that way.
There was no indication that her new neighbor had a wife or children.
Would he send for them once things were set up? Mackenzie had also noted that his silver BMW had Connecticut license plates.
So what brings him to Cheri Village, Vermont?
She could think of any number of things in this growing town not far from Burlington, and probably would be wrong on every one. It was best not to speculate. She supposed he would spill the beans in due time if they ever became friends.
Mackenzie had no problem making new friends. It was relationships she had trouble with. After a failed relationship with her college sweetheart, James, and then yet another with a cheating husband, Brent, she had pretty much sworn off men. Most were more trouble than they were worth. Her neighbor was probably no exception to the rule, even if he was single and available.
Besides, the man probably wouldn't like a woman with a child, anyway.
Mackenzie had a fifteen-year-old son, Ryan, who had recently decided to live with his father and stepmother in California. It had been the last thing Mackenzie had wanted, as she loved Ryan more than anything and felt she'd done a good job raising him all by herself. He was the one good thing to come out of her failed marriage and she would never have sent him away if it had been up to her. But it was Ryan's choice and she believed he was at a stage in his life where he needed a strong male role model to help guide him in the right direction. Her personal issues with Brent aside, she knew Ryan's father could do that.
This had unexpectedly given Mackenzie more freedom to live her life as a long-distance mom and single woman. As a thirty-seven-year-old with two careers, she had lots of pent-up passion and pleasure to give to the right man, should he ever come along.
Mackenzie moved up the blue cobblestone walkway in her mules toward her neighbor's two-story Adirondack-style home. It had red cedar siding and a shingle roof, giving it a rustic feel. There was a turret on each corner, plenty of windows and a burnt sienna wraparound porch. She glanced over at her own Cape Cod-style house with its gray stone exterior, a white slate roof and side gables. Built in the early twentieth century, Mackenzie considered it a historical treasure, though she welcomed the renovations the home had undergone over the years.
Mackenzie could hear the dog barking as she stood at the fiberglass door. Sensing it was on the other side and in no mood to be friendly, she actually considered coming back another time. Then the door opened.
Expecting to see the dog licking its chops, she instead found herself face-to-face with its owner. He was every bit as tall as she imagined, if not taller. The man was solidly built and wearing a formfitting crew-neck shirt and jeans.
Quite handsome, too.
"Hi," she said, managing to find her voice. "I'm Mackenzie Reese, your next-door neighbor. Just thought I'd stop by and welcome you to the block."
"Kind of you to do that." The man smiled broadly, causing Mackenzie to feel as though she'd melt on the spot. "Ian Kelly."
He put out a hand and she shook it, noting his hand was surprisingly soft. For one desperate moment, she wondered how that hand might feel on her body.
"Nice to meet you, Ian," she managed to say, willing her voice to remain steady.
"Likewise. I've been meaning to drop by your place to introduce myself, but I keep getting tied up with one thing or another"
"That's okay," she said. "We're all pretty busy these days."
Ian twisted his lips. "Yeah, I suppose so. It's still no excuse not to be neighborly."
"I promise not to hold it against you." Especially when she was at least as guilty in not stopping by sooner.
He grinned. "Glad to know. I'd hate to get off on the wrong foot right off the bat."
Mackenzie laughed. "Baseball analogy. Interesting." Could he be a professional athlete?
"Bad habit of mine when it comes to getting to know someone."
"I'd say both feet are solidly on the ground as far as I'm concerned," she told him.
Ian gave an amused chuckle. "I can already tell that we're going to get along just fine."
"Is that what your crystal ball is telling you?" Mackenzie teased him.
"Actually it's more my gut instincts and seeing what's right in front of me."
"Hmm " She was unsure how to top that.
There was a pause as their gazes met. Mackenzie felt an intense heat radiate from his stare. He had deep, gray-brown eyes that did not blink.
Ian broke the silence, frowning. "Where are my manners? Do you want to come in?"
Though tempted to see what the man had done with the place now that it was his, Mackenzie checked herself. "Maybe some other time. I have to get to work."
He gave her a look of disappointment, but quickly recovered. "That's cool. I was about to take Otis out for a walk anyway."
She cocked her brow. "I take it Otis is your dog?"
He grinned sexily. "Yeah. He gets antsy when he's stuck inside for too long."
"Don't we all," she couldn't help but say. Just be sure to keep him from tearing up my yard and we won't have any problems. "Well, I'll let you get to it. See you around."
"Count on it," Ian responded as though he knew something she didn't.
Ian Kelly watched with more than a little interest as his attractive neighbor sashayed away. He'd been checking her out from afar since he'd moved in, but hadn't been prepared for this up-close look. She was all that and then some.
Tall and slender with just the right curves and bends, she was wearing a coral shirtdress that seemed as though it were made for her body. He liked her shoulder-length, brunette hair. It was brushed back, layered and parted on the side. It went well with her high cheekbones and square face. He guessed Mackenzie was in her mid-thirties or just a few years under his forty.
He'd noted that she wasn't wearing a wedding ring. So she is single, too. And there was no indication that she had any kids. Another good sign. The last thing he was looking for was to become a daddy for the first time. Not that he had an issue with children, per se. He simply wasn't willing to take on that responsibility right now.
Ian definitely liked what he saw in Mackenzie. She was certainly a far cry from his last neighbor in Westport, Connecticut. While seventy-five-year-old Sarah Mae Stevenson was the most likeable person in the world, almost like a mother to him, she wasn't quite what he had in mind for exploring his romantic fantasies.
However, Mackenzie just might be. Something told Ian she would be able to keep up with him under the sheets every step of the way. The very notion gave Ian an adrenaline rushone he hadn't felt in a while.
Had his neighbor really been able to have such a powerful effect on him in just a couple of minutes? Or had he gotten carried away with his imagination?
The fact was he'd never been able to settle down for one woman. That was because he hadn't met someone who could really capture his attention for very long. But if Mackenzie was half as interesting inside as she was sexy outside, perhaps he would be singing a different tune this time around.
Ian went to get Otis, whom he'd reluctantly put in a downstairs bedroom so as not to intimidate his visitor. The dog was truly harmless, but there was no reason to get off on the wrong foot with someone who might not be comfortable with dogs. He opened the door and the Lab jumped up on him as if reuniting with a long-lost friend. Ian felt the dog's wet tongue graze his chin lovingly.
"Sorry about that, boy. I didn't want you to scare the poor lady to death with your brand of affection. Give her time and I know you'll have her eating out of your hands."
Ian watched the dog race out of the room and down the hall. There was plenty of room for him to roam inside. That had been one of the main selling points of this house. Another plus was the incredible view of the Green Mountains. The Lamoille River was practically at his beck and call. Then there was the proximity to the resort town of Burlington. It offered an easy escape for fun and frolic outside of Cheri Village.
He considered it an added bonus that his next-door neighbor was a real hottie. Ian wondered just how long it would take to get to know her better.
Mackenzie was still thinking about her encounter with Ian when she got to work. She didn't expect to be impressed by the guy next door, but there was no getting around the fact that Ian Kelly was a sight to beholdbroad featured, fit and tall enough to be able to handle a woman like her. He was all man and he made Mackenzie wonder why she'd waited so long to introduce herself.
But even that wasn't enough for her to fall all over the next-door neighbor. Assuming he didn't already have a lady, she wouldn't allow herself to get too carried away after one brief meeting anyway.
Why don't you see if a friendship develops before trying to get the man into bed?
Mackenzie walked through the doors of Magnificent Hair Salon, which she co-owned with her best friend, Sophia Rock-ford. They had bought the salon three years ago and now had a staff of six hairstylists. It was the perfect place to be for the latest hairstyles and clients were guaranteed to leave with a smile on their faces.
Sophia, a tall and slender ex-model, greeted her. "So, I see you finally decided to show up."
Mackenzie cocked a brow. A quick glance at her watch revealed she was actually half an hour ahead of opening.
"Did we have an earlier appointment that I forgot?"
Sophia laughed. "Nope. Just messing with you, girlfriend. You're never late."
Mackenzie flashed a humorless smile. "I try not to be."
"Hey, I was wondering, did you ever get up the nerve to check out your new neighbor?"
Did I ever. Mackenzie blushed at the thought and wondered if Sophia, who seemed to have more men than she could count, had mental telepathy.
"I met him today."
"And ?" Sophie looked at her. "Do tell."
"We barely said more than hello and goodbye," Mackenzie replied, wishing she'd had more time to converse.
Sophia batted her eyes. "And I'm supposed to believe that?"
"Why wouldn't you?"
"Because I know you, and there's always a lot more words than that to pass through those pouty lips. Particularly when trying to make a good first impression."
Mackenzie's mouth dropped. "Who said anything about making a good first impression?"
"Well, you certainly didn't want to make a bad one, did you?" Sophia asked.
Mackenzie cracked a smile, wondering why she even bothered with Ms. Snoop. "In this case it wasn't about impressions," she tried to convince herself. "All I wanted to do was welcome the man to the block."
"I'll bet you did just that."
Mackenzie fluttered her lashes. "Meaning?" Why am I being so defensive?
"Meaning nothing other than I'm sure you made him feel like he belonged."
"Not sure I would go that far," Mackenzie said. "I did what any good neighbor would dointroduced myself. End of story."
"Or beginning of one."
Mackenzie held her tongue, wondering if in fact this might be the start of a good friendship or more.
Sophia looked at her polished nails. "Well, at least you broke the ice."
"It was never that chilly between us." In fact, she found the opposite to be true, feeling the heat from Ian as though he had breathed fire at her.
"Well, that's a good sign. What does he look like? Is he single?"
Mackenzie laughed. "Sounds as if you're auditioning the man to play a leading role in your love life."
Sophia tossed back her blond-and-burgundy Senegalese twists. "And what if I am?"
A wave of jealousy gnawed at Mackenzie. She and Sophia had never competed for a man before. Though both were divorced, it was Sophia who had expressed her freedom through various male conquests. Mackenzie preferred to focus much of her time working on customers' hair and her part-time gig as a lounge singer. When at home, she liked to work on her flower garden and catch up on reading. And of course, she enjoyed the precious time she spent with Ryan.
Men were not part of the picture these days.
But that could change with Ian, assuming Sophia didn't set her sights on him.
"Then he's yours!" Mackenzie said, hoping Sophia wasn't serious.
Sophia wet her glossy lips. "I don't think so. I've got my hands full right now trying to decide if Alfonso or Derrick have what I'm looking for. I'm just trying to get the 411 on the man to see if he might be right for you."
Mackenzie was happy to hear that, though in the end she had to decide for herself if a man was worthy of her attention.
"Well, he's gorgeous. He's tall, bald and muscular. He has a nice mustache. Need I say more?"
"Sounds like a real catch." Sophia batted her lashes. "And no wife or girlfriend in the picture?"
"Not that I've seen. Of course I haven't exactly asked him about his love life."
"Guess you'll find out soon enough one way or another."
Mackenzie chuckled. "I'm really not planning to start dating my next-door neighbor. Right now I'd settle for just getting along with him and his dog."
"What type of dog?"
"A Lab, I think. Why?"
Sophia met her eyes. "Getting to know a man's dog and the particulars of its species is the best way to get to know the man himself."
Mackenzie arched a brow. "And just when did you acquire this knowledge?"
"Since I started seeing a man with a cute Dalmatian that seems to be the center of his life."