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The sound of a woman's high heels on his driveway drew him slowly back from his reverie of self-pity. Jesus, if this day got any worse he'd have to shoot himself. Although, as much of a son of a bitch as he'd been to his teammates lately, he didn't think there would be any lack of takers for someone to just do it for him. Hell, he could probably sell tickets to the show and make a pile. Of course, he'd be dead and the money wouldn't do him any good, but that was sort of the point. Wasn't it? Just someone to fucking take him out so he didn't have to deal with it all any more?
Christ, Bruschetti, he thought, listen to yourself, could you be any more pathetic? Even he was sick of listening to himself bellyache. Sick of feeling shitty. Sick of his life. Sick of himself.
A five-mile swim in the pre-dawn hours, immediately followed by the day's usual load of PT had left his arms and legs exhausted and his lungs burning. Usually the outlet of the physical training that was so integral to his life and work was his best source of relief. Alcohol was stupid and self-destructive, and sex was out of the question. Today he'd swum, then lifted weights, and finished off with a longer-than-usual run--and he was still pissed off and not fit to be around.
But the sound of what was undeniably a woman coming up his driveway and the smell of something infinitely female had him pulling his head out from under the hood of his classic BMW and wiping his hands on his jeans as he turned to see what new torment was about to be added to his day.
Ah, if it wasn't his new little neighbor. They hadn't met yet, but he'd noticed the moving truck last week. And he'd sure ashell noticed the legs she showed off every night, climbing down out of an SUV that cost more than he made in the last two years, in her tight little suits. If he'd been a total lowlife, he'd have given in to the temptation to get out some binocs and see what kind of underwear she wore underneath those ass-cupping skirts she must paint on. Thong, he'd be willing to bet. It would just be a confirmation of what he knew in his gut, though. Oh yeah, she was definitely a thong kind of woman. But he considered himself only a moderate lowlife, so he'd settled for staring hard through his window and willing her skirt to--just this once, sweet Jesus--split.
He sized her up from her high-heeled feet to her buttoned-up suit coat to her upswept wheat colored hair. Uptight didn't begin to cover it. He was surprised it took the sound of her heels to alert him to her presence. The squeaking of her ass cheeks should have been enough. He kept his expression neutral, but seeing her up close just confirmed what he'd known instinctively: that she was exactly the kind of woman that chapped his butt royally. A hot little package, perfectly displayed to showcase something no man was ever going to get his hands on.
She smiled and thrust out a hand, as if to shake. "Hi. I'm your new neighbor. Lee Ann Hunt. Nice to finally meet you."
He held up his hands and shrugged, indicating the grease on his hands; as though that was the reason he declined to shake her hand. These days he did his best not to touch any woman, unless he absolutely had to.
"Will Bruschetti. Pleased to meet you, too, ma'am."
She looked across the street toward her house, and he could see through the big picture window that the moving boxes no longer obscured the view.
"I finally got everything put away and I'm..." She looked back and her voice trailed away as her gaze flickered over him. She stopped at his chest, her eyes going slightly wider for just a second.
He wondered what her problem was. What? She'd never seen anyone actually working on their own car? In her world, no doubt, underlings in greasy jumpsuits whisked away any vehicle that had the bad taste to malfunction to the never-neverland of broken things. They would be returned later, but only after the problem had been solved and they were once again trouble-free. God-forbid she should be inconvenienced or--perish the thought--chip a nail fixing it herself.
He glanced down to make sure his fly wasn't open. That wasn't it. No, her eyes were definitely fixed on his chest. It was an okay chest--women, especially, usually didn't mind looking at it. And--bingo--there it was.
He hadn't cared what shirt he'd pulled on when he'd come home and realized the water pump on his twenty-year-old BMW--that he'd been hoping would make it one more pay period--had finally given out. The dirty, sweaty, pain in the ass job was going to take up what should have been his last day off for the foreseeable future. But it figured a princess like her wouldn't appreciate the sentiment expressed in the one-line slogan on the shirt his hand had pulled at random from his drawer: "Let the fucking begin".
Will fought a smirk as she put on her game face and struggled to pull herself together. Her eyes narrowed briefly, before she began again.
"Uh ... I'm having a few friends over for a house warming tonight. And I just wanted to say that in case the music gets a little loud..."
Her voice trailed off again and he almost chuckled out loud at the way her eyes slid away, only to return again and again to his chest. He hadn't felt this sense of childish delight since the time he'd let loose with a championship-quality fart during mass and the priest had nearly given himself whiplash doing a double take, trying to pinpoint the offender. The sensation was so strong, he braced for his mother's elbow to his ribs. But she had it together again, and continued on.
"So if the music gets a little loud, just come bang on the door. We shouldn't be going very late, anyway. Or, if you're going to be around, why don't you come by for a while? We'll have food and beer. Nothing too exciting, but if you're not doing anything, we'd love to have you."
He had to give her credit. Whatever she did for a living not only paid well, but required her to think on her feet and keep her cool. Probably some advertising executive downtown. He could just see her, pitching ideas for soap commercials for two-hundred dollars an hour. What must that be like? Being paid forty-thousand for thinking up "Zoom, zoom," or "Can you hear me NOW?"
And the entire time she was standing up in front of the boardroom, rattling off sales statistics and ripping through her Power Point presentation, she'd be fingering the top button on her blouse. No doubt she'd crank up the air-conditioning so that her nipples were perky and make sure her shirt gapped open when she bent over to point out some completely obvious point in the handouts. She'd use that sweet body to sell her catch phrase and have some dumbass corporate stiff completely stiff for her. Mr. Corporate-type would be so enthralled thinking about having her bent over the boardroom table, that he'd nod like a bobble-head doll and fork over the big bucks that paid for her big bucks wheels and thousand dollar suits.
"Thanks for the heads-up, but don't worry about the noise, ma'am. I can sleep in a war zone. A little music won't bother me."
What probably sounded like gross exaggeration was truer than blondie would ever know. He really could sleep in a war zone--and had on more than one occasion. He just wished he could sleep anywhere else.
"Well. Okay then." She paused to look down at his shirt one more time. "It was nice to meet you, Will. And please come by for a little while, if you can. I really would like to have you."
She turned to go and Will felt his eyes drawn irresistibly to the princess's seriously luscious backside. Long, lean legs with good definition to the muscle were shown off perfectly by her high-heeled shoes. And that ass, well ... he'd dream about that little darlin'. If he ever got to sleep.
"I really would like to have you." No, she didn't repeat herself; he was just hearing her words echo in his head like a shot fired in the eerie quiet of the desert. Oh, sweet thing. Not like I'd like to have you. Up against the wall, hard and fast. Stretched out on a bed, nice and slow. He could think of a half-dozen ways he'd like to have her--and that was just the first day. He didn't have to like her to want a little taste of what she had. Good thing it looked likely that the team would be shipping out any day now. Otherwise he had a feeling he'd find himself obsessing over some high-maintenance ass and rethinking this whole 'no sex' thing.
Well. Hadn't that just been a little slice of heaven? She'd been called 'officious', 'prickly,' 'controlling,' and 'difficult' in her short but otherwise unremarkable career and those were just the ones actually said to her face. One could only imagine what went on behind her back.
She had faced down outraged professional athletes who hadn't been shown the money and rock stars in full tantrum because some hapless stoner groupie hadn't brushed her teeth three times before giving him a blowjob. She'd even stood up to her mother the year she'd had the audacity to choose to spend the Thanksgiving holiday weekend with a boyfriend in Colorado, rather than put in the requisite appearance at the family table.
But she couldn't ever recall experiencing quite the mix of embarrassment--and she wasn't sure what--she had just struggled through. What was so difficult about introducing yourself to a neighbor? Piece of cake. She met and dealt successfully with every difficult personality type on the planet for a living. So why could the previous five-minute interview now be included among the top ten most difficult of her life?
Oh, come on, sistah. Don't try to play yourself. Okay. So maybe it had to do with the little fact that Mr. Tall-Dark-and-Grumpy pushed buttons you didn't even know you had. One look in those big brown eyes and you were a goner.
Lee Ann shook her head to herself and kept on walking. She needed to get home and check a mirror to see if she had actually been drooling during their little tête-à-tête. Control was a core value for her and she'd never felt more out of it in her entire life; she had been caught in the grip of the most powerful personal charisma she'd ever come up against. That was saying something, considering she made her living babysitting half of People Magazine's Fifty Most Beautiful list. She'd spent time around enough of the firm's clients to know good looking when she saw it. But she'd never before experienced that helpless feeling of instantaneous, total physical attraction.
Will Bruschetti. My God, he was beautiful. There was no other word for it. She'd never met anyone so perfectly gorgeous, or ever been so embarrassed in her life. She'd frozen to the spot when he turned around and she'd gotten her first good look at her new neighbor. Well, the whole street was full of new neighbors to her, but that was beside the point. When she'd gotten her first up-close look at this particular new neighbor, that is. She'd only seen him from afar up until a few minutes ago and, aside from being able to tell he moved with an athlete's unselfconscious coordination and appeared to be well put together, she'd simply had no idea she had just moved in across the street from the planet's most attractive man.
It might help if I knew what I said to him. Lee Ann realized she had absolutely no flipping idea what they'd talked about. He fastened the most penetrating stare on her she'd ever experienced and she'd been mesmerized. She remembered his shirt, though. 'Let the fucking begin.' Oh my God. Like she'd needed a visual prompt to fantasize about him once she'd looked into his eyes and gotten a look at that body. That had been written on his shirt, hadn't it? It hadn't been some weird Carrie-like manifestation of her thoughts. Had it? Or worse, all in her head?
How utterly and totally humiliating. There had been an almost out-of-body quality to it. She had realized--as it was happening--that she was completely physically attracted and was just as equally helpless to do anything about it. Deer in the headlights, butterfly on a pin, glued to the spot; choose your analogy--that'd been her. She'd stood there looking at him and his perfectly proportioned, gorgeously muscled hardbody, listening to herself babble about God knew what ... and had had zero ability to do a damn thing about any of it.
Maybe she'd catch a break and find out he drank a lot and wouldn't remember anything about it the next time they met. No! They couldn't meet again. What if it wasn't some weird hormonally induced freak thing and it happened again? No, she just must be ovulating and her body was simply responding to some super-charged pheromones her sex-on-a-stick neighbor gave off. Yeah, that sounded good. Better than the alternative, certainly.
As she reached her front door, she consoled herself that at least she hadn't let it show on the outside. The only thing keeping her from marching inside and calling the moving company back to pack her things right back up again and move out was that she didn't think she had tipped her hand. At least her legal training, not to mention the lessons she'd learned at her mother's knee, had spared her the final humiliation of having her new neighbor realize exactly how attracted she'd been.
She gave thanks, and not for the first time, that at least mental telepathy and mind reading only existed in fantasy and science fiction books. She could still settle in and go about her life because her new neighbor couldn't have been reading her thoughts when she'd been gazing sappily into his eyes and thinking how wonderful that hair, that looked so soft and was cut so short on the sides, would feel caressing her inner thighs. "Let the fucking begin." "Now, please?" She'd almost blurted.
Lee Ann heard her phone ringing she as fit her key in the lock and, as a matter of pride, resisted the impulse to hurry to answer it. It was a proven fact that when the phone rang on your way in or out the front door, it was never good news. If whoever was trying to interfere with her personal time didn't have the steely resolve it took to wait until she got in, well that was just fine with her. Besides, she'd only had the number for a little over a week and had deliberately not left a forwarding number on her old one. The odds against it being anyone she really wanted to talk to were extremely long. She'd been promising herself a run all day and now, thanks to one Will Bruschetti, she had just added 'sexual frustration' to the list of things she would be running off.
As she stripped off her suit, she wondered if it made her a bad person that she considered 'owns his own dry cleaning business' to be legitimate grounds to date someone. God knew she had to do something, now that her income was going to be seriously downsized. That nagging little voice in her head that was always such a drag but usually turned out to be right, was telling her that her days of Armani trunk shows were over. There was no shame in shopping at Ann Taylor. She could adjust. She could do this.
As she was pulling on her favorite old cotton running shorts and a jog bra, she heard her phone ring again. Ah, caller i.d.--what western civilization had been working toward for four thousand years.
"Hey, you. What are you doing? How's life in the country? On your way out to milk the cows, dah-ling?"
She would not laugh. She would eat her last pair of Prada shoes before she laughed. The gratingly perky voice on the other end could only belong to her best friend, Natalie. They'd met two years ago, when Lee Ann hadn't been able to postpone graduating any longer and had come to work in the family business, when Natalie Ahn had been an administrative assistant for all of two weeks in her father's law office. It had taken Lee Ann all of about one day to realize that the angelic smile and professional office manner hid the soul of a subversive and an instigator. The two had bonded on the spot.
"Hey, yourself. No, just going out for a run. And tell me, were you always this much of a bitch, or has distance just lent me clarity?"
Natalie did laugh. "Um, gee, let me think, yes," her friend fired back without missing a beat. "I can tell already, you've lost your edge. Ready to admit you've made a huge mistake and come back home to civilization?"
"Um, gee, let me think, no. Ready to give up living in that hellhole and try things where someone can say 'Hi, how are you doing?' without you thinking 'I wonder what he meant by that?'" She was tired of defending her choices. It was time to grow up and she'd taken the first step. "So are you coming tonight?"
She was nearly finished dressing in her running clothes. She grabbed a banana and her shoes and headed out the door. As she sat down on her front steps to put on her shoes, she noticed her neighbor was still doing things to his car. It looked as though he'd progressed to actually working on it, while what appeared to be large chunks of its guts lay strewn across the driveway.
"Duh. Yes. You may be pigheaded and deranged, but you're still my pigheaded and deranged friend. Anything I can bring for the party? Alcohol? Spinach dip? Ricky Walters?"
"Oh God, no!" The words were out and she wished she could call them back. The last thing she needed was Nat digging into that mess.
"Not exactly the response I was expecting. Usually people beg for my spinach dip." Natalie's voice had a note to it that Lee Ann knew from sad experience meant her friend knew she was on to something. "He's a nice guy. Maybe you should think about calling him."
This was a conversation she so did not want to be having. "If he's such a nice guy, why don't you call him?"
"What makes you think I haven't? Astonishing, I know, but my own adorable self doesn't appear to have what it takes to scratch his itch. And that's a whole lotta itch to scratch, girlfriend." Her friend's husky laugh was one of her most attractive features and she could tell by its appearance that, for once, Natalie was backing off.
"Sorry, but the new me doesn't do shallow anymore."
Posted February 6, 2011
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Posted March 14, 2011
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