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'Every girl knows there are days for heels and days for flats. It could be a metaphor for life if you think about it. Let's all make today a heels day, shall we?'
Siren red and dangerously high, they were the sexiest pair of heels Daniel Brannigan had ever seen. Silently cursing the amount of time it took to haul the cage doors into place, he watched them disappear upstairs.
He really wanted to meet the woman in those shoes.
Punching on the button until there was a jerk of upward movement, he tried to play catch-up in the slowest elevator ever invented. After the first of three endlessly monotonous trips, he knew the stairs were going to be his preferred mode of travel in the future. But until he had all of his worldly possessionsfew that they werecarted from his truck to the fifth floor, he didn't have a choice.
A flash of red appeared in his peripheral vision.
Turning in the small space, he assessed each detail as it came into sight. Thin straps circled dainty ankles, the angle of her small feet adding enough shape to her calves to remind him that he was overdue for some R & R. If she lived in the same apartment block he was moving into, it was a complication he could do without. But if the effect her shoes had on his libido was anything to go by, he reckoned it was worth the risk. He hadn't earned the nickname Danger Danny for nothing.
The elevator jarred to an unexpected halt, an elderly woman with a small dog in her arms scowling pointedly at the boxes piled around his feet. 'Going down?'
'Up,' he replied curtly. Rocking forward, he nudged the button with his elbow.
Don't disappear on me, babe.
The adrenalin rush of pursuit had always done it for him, as had the kind of woman it took to wear a skirt so short it made him stifle a groan when it came into view. Flared at mid-smooth-skinned-thigh, the flirty cheerleader number lovingly hugged the curve of her hips before dipping in at a narrow waist. He glanced at the fine-boned hand curled around handles of bags labelled with names that meant nothing to him, mouth curving into a smile at the lack of anything sparkling on her ring finger. On the floor below his, she turned to speak to someone in the hall. To his frustration it meant he couldn't see her face as the elevator creaked by. Instead he was left with an image of tumbling locks of long dark hair and the sound of sparkling feminine laughter.
Fighting with the cage again when the elevator stopped, he did what he had done on his previous trips and nudged a box forward to fill the gap. In the following moment of silence, footsteps sounded on the stairs. A trickle of awareness ran down his spine as he turned, gaze rising until he was looking into large dark eyes. Eyes that narrowed as his smile faded.
'Jorja,' he said dryly.
'Daniel,' she replied in the same tone before she tilted her head and arched a brow. 'Didn't occur to you anyone else might want to use the elevator today?'
'Stairs are good for cardio.'
'That would be a no, then.'
'Offering to help me move in? That's neighbourly of you.' He thrust the box in his arms at her, letting go before she had an opportunity to refuse.
There was a tinkle of breaking glass as it hit the floor between their feet.
'Oops.' She blinked.
Oops, his ass. The fact she'd obviously made interesting changes in wardrobe while he was overseas didn't make her any less irritating than she'd been for the last five and a half years. 'No welcome-home banner?' he asked.
'Wouldn't that suggest I'm happy you're here?'
'You got a problem with me being here, you should have made it known when my application came up in front of the residents committee.'
'What makes you think I didn't?'
'Clue was in the words unanimous decision.' He shrugged. 'What can I say? People like when a cop lives in the building. Makes them feel secure.'
She smiled a saccharine-sweet smile. 'The elderly woman you ticked off two floors down is the head of the residents' committee. I give it a week before she starts a petition to have you evicted.'
Daniel took a measured breath. He had never met another woman who had the same effect on his nerves as fingernails down a chalkboard. 'Know your biggest problem, babe?'
'Don't call me babe.'
'You underestimate my ability to be adorable when I set my mind to it. I can have the poodle lady baking cookies for me inside forty-eight hours.'
'The dog. It's a Bichon frise.' 'It got a name?'
'Gershwin.' She rolled her eyes when she realized what she was doing. 'And I'm afraid that's my quota for helpfulness all used up for the day.'
Bending over, he lifted the box at their feet, held it to his ear and gave it a brisk shake. 'You owe me a half-dozen glasses.'
'Sue me,' she said as she turned on her heel.
As he followed her down the hall Daniel's errant gaze lowered to watch the sway of her hips before he reminded himself who he was looking at. He had done some dumb things in his time but checking out Jorja Dawson was stupid on a whole new level. If she were the last woman left in the state of New York, he would take a vow of celibacy before getting involved with her. He even had a list of reasons why.
Casually tossing long locks of shining hair over her shoulder, she reached into her purse and turned to face him at the door to her apartment. 'I don't suppose you're considering showing your face at Sunday lunch once you've unpacked? Your mother would appreciate it.'
Number six on his list: Family involvement.
He looked into her eyes. 'Will you be there?'
'Never miss it.'
'Tell them I said hi.'
'Are you saying you don't go because I'm there?'
'Don't flatter yourself.' He moved the box in his arms to dig into a pocket for his key. 'If I rearranged my life around you I wouldn't be moving into an apartment across the hall from you. But just so you know' he leaned closer and lowered his voice 'you'll move before I do.'
'You've never stayed anywhere longer than six months,' she stated categorically. 'And even then it was because the army sent you there.'
'Navy,' he corrected without missing a beat. 'And if there's one thing you should keep in mind about the Marines, it's that we don't give up ground.'
'I've lived here for more than four years. I'm not going anywhere.'
'Then I guess we'll be seeing a lot of each other.'
Something he could have done without, frankly. Not that he was likely to tell her, but she was the main reason he'd debated taking the apartment. She was a spy who could report back to the rest of the Brannigan clan in weekly discussions over a roast and cheesecake from Junior's. But as far as Daniel was concerned, if his family wanted to know how he was doing they could ask. When they did, he'd give them the same answer he had for the last eight years. With a few more recent additions to throw them off the trail.
He was fine, thanks. Sure it was good to be home. No, he hadn't had any problems settling back into his unit. Yes, if the Reserves called him up again he would go.
They didn't need to know more than that.
'You know your problem, Daniel?' She angled her head to the irritating angle she did best. 'You think your being here bugs me when to be honest I couldn't care less where you are, what you're doing or who you're doing it with.'
'Is that so?'
'Mmm-hmm.' She nodded. 'I'm not one of those women you can turn into a gibbering idiot with a smile. I just hope your ego can handle that.'
'Careful, Jo, I might take that as a challenge.'
There was a low burst of the same sparkling laughter he heard on the stairwell, making him wonder why it was he hadn't recognized it before. Most likely it was because she didn't laugh much when he was around. The second it looked as if she would, he'd say something to ruin her mood. He'd been good at that long before he'd started to put any effort into it.
'I had no idea you had a sense of humour,' she said with enough derogatory amusement to tempt him to rise to the bait. Before he could, she opened the door to her apartment and stepped over the threshold. She turned, her gaze sliding over his body from head to toe and back up again; her laughter louder as she swung the door shut.
Daniel shook his head. Damn, she bugged him.