Authors: Jessica Prince
I burst into full-bodied laughter as the doors opened on our floor.
“Glad you find this amusing,” she grumbled.
I reached in and grabbed her arm, gently pulling her out of the lift as I continued to chuckle. “Come on. The next person to get in that thing is in for a surprise.”
“But…” She looked over her shoulder at the elevator doors as I led her toward our apartments. “I need to clean it. Aren’t there cameras or something? I don’t want to get in trouble.”
“Stop worrying. There aren’t any cameras.”
“How do you know?” she asked, eyeing me skeptically as she pushed her glasses up the bridge of her nose. She really was cute. As I studied her face I found myself wondering if she was someone I’d be interested in if I was able to get my fucked-up head straight.
“I have my ways.” I grinned. “Believe me. You’re not going to get busted, I promise. And I needed a laugh, so thanks for that.”
We paused in front of her door and she looked down at her dog. “He really is a menace, isn’t he?”
“Maybe some obedience classes?” I suggested, trying not to think of how cute her face looked when her nose was all scrunched up like that.
“I tried that already. He flunked out.” My head fell back on another bark of laughter. “All right, jackass,” she spoke over my hysterics. Despite the words, I could hear the smile in her voice as I got my breathing back under control. “I’m glad we were able to provide some comic relief, but it’s time for bed. I’ll see you around.”
She turned to unlock the door and I was hit with a sudden pang of displeasure at the thought of our time together being cut short.
Jesus, I really needed to get some fucking sleep.
“Yeah… same here,” I responded, lifting my hand in a wave. “Good night, Delilah.”
“Night, Rich.” She smiled back once she was in her apartment. “And I’ll be sure to keep the early morning wakeup routine down tomorrow. Wouldn’t want you missing out on anymore of your beauty sleep.” With a wink, she closed the door, leaving me standing there wondering if the nerdy, eccentric neighbor might just be the one to take my mind off a certain woman in a red dress.
Or if neighbors with benefits was a slippery slope I’d want to steer clear of.
I CHOSE SUNDAY MORNINGS
as laundry day because the basement laundry room was typically empty of other tenants during the early morning hours. That meant I got to fold all my unmentionables in peace, without fear of turning beet red if anyone were to see I favored lacy boy shorts over thongs.
With Zayn crooning “Pillowtalk” in my ear, I folded as I sang and danced around without a care, getting lost in what had to be the ultimate baby-making song.
And we’ll piss off the neighbors
!” I belted out, eyes closed, t-shirt clutched to my chest dramatically. I was so lost in my own little world that I hadn’t noticed I was no longer alone. That was, until one of my earbuds was pulled out, the song replaced by a deep voice saying, “Don’t you think you’ve already done enough of that?”
With a bone-rattling scream of terror, I spun around so fast, arms flailing, that I lost my footing, nearly face-planting on the cold concrete floor before two strong hands caught me around my waist, effectively saving me from many embarrassing bruises.
!” I gasped, placing a hand to my chest as my heart tried to break through.
“Shit, I’m so sorry.”
My eyes collided with Richard’s smiling ones and I glared.
“Then why do you look like you’re trying not to smile?” I snapped, still a little shaky from fright. My eyes trained on his mouth as he bit his lips between his teeth to keep from laughing. An immediate wave of lust slammed into me as I recalled all the amazing things he was capable of doing with that mouth.
He held his hands up in surrender. “I’m sorry. I’m sorry,” he said through a small laugh. “It’s just… mother of pearl?
what you yell when someone scares you?” He lost his battle and broke out into deep, rumbling laughter that caused my belly to flutter.
Feeling defensive, I propped my hands on my waist and scowled. The threatening stance would have been much more effective had I not needed to reach up and push my glasses back up the bridge of my nose. “Yeah, so what? It’s a perfectly acceptable expression.”
“It is.” He smiled that killer smile that made me want to swoon. “I just didn’t expect
mother of pearl
to be shouted by the same woman who was just singing about fucking and fighting, that’s all.”
He winked and I felt every inch of my body flush bright red with embarrassment. How long had he been standing there listening to me? I covered my face with my hands and groaned. “Oh God. How much did you hear?”
His thick laughter sounded through the room again as I felt the touch of his fingers around my wrists. He pulled my palms away and grinned down at me. “Enough to be
intrigued by what you’re listening to.”
I didn’t think it was possible to turn any redder than I already was. I was wrong. And because of my embarrassment, I began rambling pointless information. “Zayn was part of One Direction. He left the boy band before they broke up and released his own album. Personally, I think it was a pretty smart business move. And it helps that he was one of the better looking ones. I mean, people go insane for Harry but I’m all,
? As far as I’m concerned, the dude always looks like he needed a bath like a week ago. And what woman would want that?” I let out a bout of nervous laughter followed by — you guessed it — a loud snort.
Kill me. Kill me now.
I expected him to be staring down at me like I was an escaped carnie or something when I finally got the nerve to look back at him, but the smile was still on his face, and those bright blue eyes shined under the florescent lights of laundry room. He wasn’t looking at me like I was crazy, but like he was thoroughly entertained. The concept was completely foreign to me. While Brant and I dated, he was constantly rolling his eyes or reminding me to keep quiet whenever we’d go out in public, his only concern being how I could possibly embarrass him in front of friends and strangers. The way Richard was looking at me was different. It was almost as if he actually
hearing me rant about nothing.
“Sorry,” I whispered sheepishly.
Richard’s head cocked to the side as he studied me so closely I could almost feel his eyes touching my skin. “For what?”
“Uh…” I had no response.
Richard stepped closer, speaking softly as he tucked a strand of hair that had fallen from my bun behind my ear. “Don’t apologize. I think you’re funny. I’ve laughed around you more than I have in a very long time.” His touch left a trail of fire across my flesh, and I was suddenly
aware of the fact that we were alone… in a basement laundry room… made of concrete… that was more than likely soundproof.
“No! Bad Delilah!”
I chastised. This was a man who’d completely forgotten about our one epic night together, after all. There was no way in Hell I’d allow myself to fall — well,
— for another man who was completely wrong for me.
Nope. Not going to happen.
I took a few steps back and spun to the table where I’d been folding my clothes. “Well,” I said, holding my laundry basket up and shoving everything on the table into the basket with one long swipe of my arm. “I’m all done here.” I turned back to him with a big smile that probably made me look kind of manic. “I’ll just let you,” I waved my hand around, “get to it I guess. Happy laundering!”
Shit! Did I really just say that?
Then I shot out of the room, speed walking all the way to the elevators like cardio was my thing. It was
my thing. I hated cardio. Cardio gave me hives. Cardio could die and go straight to Hell.
I dropped my head just as soon as the doors closed, letting out a pained groan. “
I might as well just get a thousand cats, stop bathing, and call it a day.”
I closed myself in the sanctuary of my apartment, slamming and locking the door like I had a serial killer trailing after me, and spun around to be met by Devon’s startled gaze from her spot on the couch. “Too much coffee? You’re looking exceptionally hyper this morning.”
I grunted and stomped to my bedroom. It wasn’t until I got there and started putting all my clean clothes away that I realized one very important thing.
In my haste to escape, I’d left all my underwear in the washer. No way I was going back down there.
LATER THAT AFTERNOON, AFTER
careful reconnaissance to make sure the cost was clear, I left our apartment for my weekly family dinner. I walked into my parents’ house, a quaint little brownstone in Brooklyn that I’d spent most of my life in, to the sound of children being murdered.
Okay, not really. But they were screaming their heads off.
“Annabelle Marie Northcutt! You stop pulling your sister’s hair
or, so help me God, I’m going to shave all of yours off as punishment!”
I followed the shrieking into the family room, where utter chaos had clearly ensued.
Just a typical Sunday in the Northcutt household.
“Ah, family,” I breathed with a smile on my face. “Such a joy, really.”
“Aunt Lilah!” my nieces Annabelle and Madison screeched before jumping up from the floor and charging me. I let out an
as I was hit by the twin three-year-old tornados. For such little girls, they packed some serious power. I looked over and gave my sister-in-law Claudia a warm smile, taking in her frazzled expression as she held my newest nephew Carter to her chest to nurse, a baby blanket draped over her shoulder for concealment. She looked about ready to lose it. My suspicions were confirmed when she whispered in a ragged voice, “Please, if you ever loved me, just hit me over the head with a heavy object and knock me the H–E-Double hockey sticks out. At least then I might get some sleep.”
“Aunt Lilah! Aunt Lilah!” I looked away from Claudia to the little hellions still attached to my leg. “Annie pulled my hair!”
The other twin looked like she was about to burst a blood vessel as she declared, “Maddie started it!”
“Okay!” I shouted over the both of them, placing my hands on the tops of their heads and forcing them to look up at me. “Your Mommy looks like she’s about two seconds from bursting into tears because you two can’t stop fighting and let her feed your little brother. The next one to misbehave is going home with me—” They both released me to jump up and down, fists in the air, as they screamed, “
” That was, until I finished my sentence. “Where Auntie Devon will be in charge for the rest of the night,” I added ominously.
Both little girls’ mouths clamped shut instantly. To say Devon wasn’t very good with children was putting it politely. I brought her to a family barbeque in the park once, and the girls have never forgotten it. Needless to say, they hadn’t left with the warm and fuzzies about my best friend. There had been one unfortunate game of hide-and-seek that ended in tears, screams, and a month’s worth of night terrors.