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Pete Streeter came awake on the third ring—just in time to hear the answering machine pick up the call. Streeter knew what the message would be; he'd been receiving the same one for three days. The message came at all hours of the day and night. It was untraceable, originating from public phones throughout the city. It was cryptic. A single word. "Stop." The voice was electronic. Streeter understood the warning. He also resented it. He swore softly, more out of habit than feeling, then rolled over and went back to sleep.
Louisa Brannigan looked up at her ceiling and tried to control the anger that was bubbling inside her. It was four-thirty in the morning and the idiot upstairs had just gotten another call. He got them all night long. Not that she cared, but her bedside cordless phone picked up his signal. The phone rang a second time, sending her flying from the bed in a rage.
"That's it!" she shouted. "I can't take it anymore. I need my sleep. I need quiet. I need . . ."
She stood with hands and teeth clenched, eyes narrowed, nose wrinkled, but she couldn't think what else she needed, so she snatched the phone from her night table, marched into the bathroom, threw the phone into the toilet, and closed the lid. Almost at once, peace descended on her. "Much better," she said.
Three hours later Louisa opened a tired eye and stared at the digital clock beside her bed. She stared at it for a full minute before her brain kicked in and responded with a shot of adrenaline. She'd slept through the alarm. "Damn."
She hurled herself to her feet and ran to thebathroom with her red flannel nightshirt flapping around her calves. She stopped dead in her tracks when she saw the slim silver antenna caught between the toilet lid and seat. She'd drowned her phone. Raising the lid, she gingerly transferred the phone to the wastebasket. It was impossible not to reflect on the symbolism. Her life, like her phone, was in the hopper.
With no time to waste, she took a quick shower and dashed back to the bedroom, shaking her curly dark brown hair like a dog in a rainstorm. She peered into the mirror over her cherrywood bureau while she picked at her bangs and took stock: Dark circles under her bloodshot blue eyes, definite water retention, and she felt shorter than her usual five feet six. It was not going to be a power day, she decided, turning to her closet with a resigned sigh.
Three weeks earlier she'd celebrated her thirtieth birthday with lunch at the sedate Willard and a late supper at the Hard Rock Cafe. Be eclectic, she'd told herself. Go for it. This morning she wasn't feeling nearly so expansive as she zipped herself into a black wool gabardine skirt. Her blouse was silk and matched the magenta suit jacket. Her earrings were big and chunky and gold. Her mood was dark and cranky.
She trudged to the kitchen, taking note of the grim fact that it was only Tuesday, wondering how she was going to make it through the week when the loser upstairs kept her awake all night long. She'd left polite notes on his front door. She'd called the rental office. To date, she'd avoided confronting him face-to-face. She knew it was a fault. She had problems with confrontation. She was aggressive, but she wasn't assertive. She was a wimp. The admission dragged a groan from her.
The truth was, her problems ran deeper than lack of sleep. She had a monster job that was growing more unwieldly with each passing day. In the beginning being press secretary to Senator Nolan Bishop had meant clipping news articles and keeping his calendar in order. Recently, he'd changed his profile to high, and the office staff was scrambling, trying to adjust to the pressure-cooker atmosphere. Her hours and her responsibilities had doubled. Her new role was exciting, but she was much more tense. Her personal life was non-existent.
She dumped a handful of beans into the coffee grinder, punched the grind button, and took pleasure in the simple act of smashing something into minuscule pieces. She was developing violent tendencies, she thought. "Today coffee beans, tomorrow mass mayhem," she muttered.
She had to get a grip. She dropped a filter into the top of the coffee maker, added the ground coffee, water, and impatiently watched the coffee drip into the glass pot. She was grossly late, but she wasn't leaving the house without her coffee. There were certain rituals that shouldn't be sacrificed. In Louisa Brannigan's opinion, a civilized cup of coffee in the morning was what separated man from beast.
She poured herself a cup and felt a stab of satisfaction when she heard the thunk of her morning paper against the heavy wood front door of the two-story brick row house. Lately, Louisa had taken to telling herself it was the little things in life that really mattered. Lunch at the Willard was nice on her birthday, but fresh sheets, perfectly cooked pasta, glasses without water spots, and five minutes to leaf through the paper before leaving for work were pleasures she could count on day in and day out. She especially loved the five minutes she allotted for the paper. Five minutes of peace and sanity. Five minutes to enjoy her coffee and read the funnies. It wasn't too much to ask, was it?
Pete Streeter also heard the paper hit. When it suited him, Streeter occupied the apartment above Louisa Brannigan's. He had his own entrance, his own on-street parking, and his own hot water heater, but he didn't have his own paper delivery. Ordinarily, Streeter didn't give a fig about the morning paper, but there was a movie review he wanted to read this particular day, so he padded down a flight of stairs and snatched Louisa Brannigan's paper.Naughty Neighbor. Copyright © by Janet Evanovich. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.