I'm used to going for the easy things in life.
The easy A in school.
The easy lay in bed. The easy life my trust fund affords me.
Until I met Shelby.
Never in my life have I found retro T-shirts and lip balm so damn sexy.
She's exactly what I never knew I wanted.
And she's anything but easy.
But suddenly, easy is overrated.
Only one damn problem... For Shelby, hating me is easy.
For the first time in my life, I have to work for something. And though she may not be easy...she'll be worth it.
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By Katana Collins, Candace Havens
Entangled Publishing, LLCCopyright © 2016 Katana Collins
All rights reserved.
My entire life — all twenty-one years — can fit in sixteen boxes. Putting the car into park, I looked over my shoulder into the backseat at the meticulously stacked brown rectangles. The half of the car I packed was thoughtfully arranged from large to small, with the boxes marked "fragile" placed on the top. My best friend Reagan's side was jammed in like a failed Tetris game. Not that I really cared. What was really going to break? A five-dollar picture frame I got from Target? The most valuable thing I owned wasn't packed inside a box, but the car that contained everything — my mom's 1969 MG Midget.
Reagan bounced in the passenger seat beside me, clapping her hands. "Dude, you've got to chill out," I told her. "You're like a freaking jackrabbit on speed over there."
"And you're acting like a sloth. How are you not more excited about this?" She flashed me a big, toothy grin.
I was excited. Even if I didn't wear my emotions on my sleeve like Reagan, that didn't mean I wasn't feeling them. Getting out of the car, I looked up at 148 Congress Ave — a beautiful, modern building that stood tallest of any residential complex in Charleston. Reagan wobbled out of the passenger seat, teetering in heels and a fuchsia miniskirt. I raised an eyebrow in her direction. "I thought you said you'd have no problem moving boxes in that," I said, grabbing a box out of my backseat and hoisting it onto my hip.
Her chin tilted centimeters higher. "I won't have a problem. I might just be a little slower than you two. Anyway, not all of us are comfortable wearing a dirty T-shirt littered with churro crumbs."
I looked down, and sure enough, the Nintendo logo was covered in crumbs and cinnamon sugar. Damn. I hated when she was right. "Um, excuse me, this is vintage," I said, brushing the crumbs off the 80s T-shirt I had managed to grab at Goodwill a few years ago. It was my favorite, and the cotton was so buttery soft. Mm, butter.
Harrison slammed his driver's side door before giving a whistle, looking up at my new building. The truck bed was filled with what few pieces of furniture I had acquired in the last few years. Thank God for friends with trucks, right? "Pretty nice looking," he said. "More than a step up from being a resident advisor over at the dorms, huh?"
"Yeah." And it only took me three years, four jobs, and endless persistence to get the place, since I wasn't exactly a prime candidate to most landlords. A parentless girl up to her neck in student loans? Yeah, doesn't really instill much confidence.
Reagan grabbed a couple of boxes as well. "Let's get this over with. I was promised pizza."
Moving sucks. Usually. But this time? I would finally be in my own apartment — a place where freshman wouldn't come knocking every time a roommate ate their yogurt. One where drunken eighteen-year-olds wouldn't lock themselves out and come crying to me at four in the morning. It was mine.
I'd been saving for years and had enough in my account for a year's worth of rent and then some. I managed to get the smallest, cheapest apartment in the building — size didn't matter to me. I know that all women say that, but I actually meant it. At least, when it came to apartments, I did. For all I cared, this place barely needed a kitchen. As long as it had the keypad lock and the twenty-four-hour doorman, I was set. Luxury was for suckers. But security? Safety? That was key.
Holy shit. I had a doorman. Me. For years, the closest thing I had to a doorman was the mouse that lived in my closet, and my "security system" was the bat I kept next to my door. While standing there, unmoving, frozen like an idiot, I made eye contact with the doorman through the floor to ceiling windows in the lobby. Though he was dressed professionally in business attire, his messy blond hair, blue eyes, and tanned complexion implied that he spent more days at the beach than sitting inside at a desk. His full lips turned up into a welcoming smile.
He rushed for the door, directly toward me. I knew he was just coming to open the door for me. I knew my friends were right there, and that it was broad daylight. And yet, even with logic and rationale on my side, that familiar panic of a strange man charging at me festered, clawing at the base of my ribs. Come on, girl. Get it together. A hot guy opening a door for you is not a reason to flip the hell out. He grabbed the handle, and as the door opened, a breeze caught my hair, flipping it up into the wind. Insecurity rose, and I quickly smoothed my bangs over the scar at my left temple.
As I gained my composure, he stood tall, gesturing for me to enter. Maybe he hadn't seen my damned-near anxiety attack. Maybe, just maybe, luck was on my side, for once.
"Thank you," I said. I stepped into the entryway as that momentary panic reduced to a low simmer. He was just a normal guy, doing his job and helping the new girl get into the building.
Without thinking, I lifted my lashes, and our eyes connected. The bolt of adrenaline was more potent than pure caffeine.
His grin widened. "No problem," he answered in a raspy drawl that was all southern gentleman with a touch of bad boy. "Welcome to the building."
I opened my mouth to say thank you again, just as Reagan slammed into me from behind, sending the items in my box flying across the floor.
Yep, that was more like it. My life in a nutshell. I wasn't the girl who demurely stepped past a hot guy. I was the girl who face-planted in front of him. Heat rushed to my cheeks as I dropped to my knees, gathering the spilled items.
"Sorry," Reagan squealed, peeking out from behind several tall boxes loaded in her arms. "Harrison forced me to take more, and I didn't see you there."
I waved her apology away. "It's fine. Here." I grabbed my new set of keys, tossing them to her. "You and Harrison go on up — fourteenth flour, apartment 1420. I'll be up in a second."
Harrison followed her to the elevators. "You sure?"
I nodded, and as the doorman crouched beside me, Reagan grabbed Harrison's sleeve, tugging him onto the elevator. He handed me some textbooks that had gone flying, pausing to look at the cover to my Advanced French book. His gaze drifted from the book back to my eyes — and, holy shit, his were such an electric shade of blue that a current resonated down my entire body.
Jesus, you'd think I'd never seen a hot guy before. I took the book from him and tucked it back into the box. "Thanks."
Yes, Shelby, he is hot. He is also your doorman. A guy you have to see on a daily basis.Oh God. What if my toilet overflows? What if I clog my toilet, and he's the only one working and —
And then he grinned again. Any concern I had about seeing him every day evaporated. That smile created two dimples on either side of his mouth. Wow. Just ... wow. Those dimples — I'd seen them before. You don't forget a smile like that easily. I caught my bottom lip, eyes narrowing as I studied his face. "You look familiar. Do you go to CSU?"
He leaned back on his haunches, his stare lingering for more than a second on my lips. When he finally met my eyes again, he offered me that sexy little half smirk thing once more. "Yeah, I do. I thought I recognized you, too. I don't really see you out much, though."
I shrugged, grabbing some random items — Chap Stick, deodorant, lotion — that had fallen and stuffing them back into the box. "I keep really busy. You must work a lot, too, though, right?"
He gave me an odd look, cocking his head. "What do you mean?"
My hand shook as I grabbed a box of Tic Tacs, the last item that spilled from my box. I was almost back to myself. Almost back to normal Shelby — or as normal as Shelby gets. "Moonlighting here as the doorman must take up a lot of time." I smiled. I liked that he was a student and held a job — just like me. And working in the service industry was thankless. As a waitress at Charleston's most notorious five-star historic restaurant, I should know. Though — thank God — I could finally cut back my hours there.
He pushed off his knees, leaning once more against the counter. "Oh, sure. I keep busy," he answered. "What about you? Find yourself moonlighting anywhere?" There was a twinkle in his eyes, and he loosened his tie.
I gave an exaggerated eye roll. "Who, me? I thought only heiresses and trustafarians were allowed to live here."
He raised a brow. "So, you're an heiress then?"
I pulled out the hem of my Nintendo shirt and did a twirl for him. "I'm offended that you can't tell."
For a moment there, I wasn't sure he got my humor. He regarded me cautiously, as though sizing me up. Then, taking in my worn jeans, retro tee, and (I'm sure) messy ponytail, his mouth twitched with that same smirk. Only this time, it didn't quite reach his eyes. "Of course, of course." He mocked a bow, tipping an invisible hat. And when he looked up through a web of thick lashes, my breath nearly gave way.
"You know I'm screwing with you, right?" I matched his grin and hoisted the box onto my other hip.
His smirk widened, slipping into a smile. And hot damn, that smile. It could easily be responsible for global warming. "Oh, you can screw with me whenever you want, darlin'."
I opened my mouth to answer, but the words got completely lost on the way out. Like, they disappeared into a different universe or something. The tingle moved to a full on electric bolt through my body, and to my absolute disbelief, the tips of my breasts responded as though I had walked into a freezer.
Normally, that kind of line would scream asshole, but from him it was hot.
He laughed at my lack of response and gestured to the box. "Can I help you with that? Shelby, right?"
His voice slid into me, under my skin, where I was pretty sure it could take up permanent residence. I nodded. God, I needed to get a grip. "Yeah, Shelby. And — I ... no. But thank you. Someone needs to stay here by the desk, right?"
"Right, right," he said. "Someone's gotta open the door for all those heiresses." Amusement flashed in his eyes, and he laughed, dropping his head. "I have to tell you, I'm not —"
Harrison and Reagan popped out of the elevator, interrupting us. Harrison walked quickly by for the next load of boxes, while Reagan stopped in front of me, putting hands to her hips and tapping her toe. "You two are adorable and all, but I am not moving all your shit for you." Pressing her palms to my back, she gave me a gentle push to the elevators.
I shrugged, and the guy grinned back at me as another man, older and also in a suit, came up from the basement. He shook hands with the hot guy, who waved before pushing through the front door, relieved of his shift for the day.
Damn. I hadn't even gotten his name.
* * *
A few hours later, I put the last book onto my shelf with a contented sigh, straightening the framed picture of my mom and me beside it. Done. For the first time in three years, I was actually glad to have spent my adult life in the dorms. It made for a quick and easy move. Harrison gave me some of his furniture — a bookshelf, a futon, a trunk that I'd be using as a coffee table, and a couple other odds and ends.
The minimalist lifestyle suited me well. And the lack of furniture made the small apartment more roomy. Glass half full, right?
From above us came a pounding noise, not dissimilar to the sound of elephants stampeding. I stole a quick glance at the clock — a little past eleven. "What the hell are they doing up there?" I looked to the ceiling as though it held all the answers. Music, heavy on the bass, pumped through the vents and the walls vibrated with the pulsing rhythm.
Reagan followed my gaze. "It's the fifteenth floor up there, right? That's the penthouse."
She shrugged. "So nothing," she said. "Just, I bet they throw some kick-ass parties."
I snorted, curling my lip at the thought. "Of course they do. And they get away with noise pollution while they're at it."
Harrison snaked an arm around my shoulders and pulled me in for a hug. "C'mon. Don't let the penthouse folks ruin moving day. This place is amazing."
I rolled my eyes and gave him a gentle push. "Oh, please. You both live in Newbury Commons. Your apartments are triple the size of this place."
Reagan dropped herself onto the futon — my futon — and kicked her feet up on the trunk. "Sure, if you like buildings that are a hundred years old."
"You live in the historic district. All the buildings there are a hundred years old."
She shrugged and rolled her eyes, grabbing a slice of pizza. "Whatever. All I'm saying is that you live in a brand new building. With state of the art everything."
My stomach flipped. I did, didn't I? And it was officially mine. "It is pretty great, isn't it?"
Another slamming sound came from above, followed by a chorus of shouts.
Harrison grinned, ignoring the party, and looked to me with raised eyebrows. "It is. My dad says it's one of the safest buildings in Charleston."
"Then how come you didn't get this place?" Reagan asked, dabbing the grease off of her slice with a napkin.
Harrison grew quiet and looked down at his shoes. "Oh, you know ... it's a little small for me." He looked up sheepishly, and a stray bit of dark hair fell into his eyes. He brushed it back with a shrug.
That same excitement I had been feeling all day dropped, and my stomach turned. "Is that how I got this apartment?" I asked quietly. Part of me didn't want to know the answer. "Did your dad pull strings to get me in here?"
"Naw." He shrugged, turning away, and dropped to the floor, reaching for his own slice of pizza.
I dove forward, sliding the box away. "Harrison ..." I warned, narrowing my eyes at him.
Finally, he sighed. "Fine ... kind of. When this apartment opened up, it was too small for me, but I also knew you had an application in for the building. He made a call." My glare hardened as heat burned through my gut, and out of instinct, I brushed a finger over the scar at my temple. It sliced down my hairline to the base of my ear. My knuckle swept across the wisps of my long bangs, and I swallowed, my throat suddenly dry. "One call." Harrison threw his hands into the air. "That was it, I swear."
"I don't want his help. Ever." That man had made my life a living hell for years. I didn't care if he was genuinely trying to make amends. It was too little too late.
He continued to stare at the corner of the trunk. "All right. I'm sorry."
"Harrison, I mean it —"
"I know. I get it," he said, finally looking at me. "I'm sorry. But for the record, he did it for me as much as you. It means a lot to me that you're in a safe place, especially now that your mom ..." He trailed off, swallowing. "Now that you're on your own. Don't make it into something bigger than that. You're happy here. Let yourself be happy."
I gave in, nodding. Harrison loved me — he was the closest thing to a brother I'd ever have, and he was just trying to make my life easier. I couldn't blame him for that.
I slid the pizza box back over to his end of the table.
"If it helps, I don't think his call even did anything. Your application was next up, anyway." He grabbed a slice and grunted as melted cheese slid off.
It did help. A little. But I wasn't about to say that out loud. "Should we study?" I grabbed the used French book I had just picked up for classes tomorrow and crossed my fingers that the person before me was some sort of genius who took awesome notes in the margins.
Ugh, French. The necessary evil I needed to pass in order to get my international business degree. I'd known Spanish for years. And Italian was relatively similar, but French was a bitch. Languages never came easy for me to begin with, so why I chose international business was a mystery, even to me. Well, except the fact that it was almost a guaranteed job placement. Business degrees were solid, and international business? That meant I wasn't limited to only domestic jobs; I had my pick of the world — in theory.
Excerpted from Blind Spot by Katana Collins, Candace Havens. Copyright © 2016 Katana Collins. Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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