Authors: Jill Shalvis
Ty could still see wariness in her jaded eyes as she turned to look at him.
“You already have, Ty.”
“I'm going to put more hands on you.” He edged closer to her.
“Why are you announcing this?” He noted that she didn't move away, so he moved closer again.
“So that you don't kick my ego into next week, my warrior princess.” Cupping her face, he tilted it up. Slowly. Giving her plenty of time to settle in. Or back away.
She didn't back away.
“I'm going to kiss you now. Say yes.”
“Yes or no, Nicole.” He looked deep in her eyes, waiting for her answer.
“Yes. Okay? Yes! Put your hands on me.” Her arms snaked around his neck, her hands fisted in his hair. “Kiss it all away. Can you do that?”
“Oh, yeah.” His hands slid from her face to her hips and he pulled her close. “I can definitely do that.”
We're back to South Village for Nicole's adventure into love. Adventure? Maybe I should say her
straight into love. The genius Dr. Nicole Mann doesn't take to anything that doesn't involve work. Dedicated to her profession and little else, she's what you might call a one-track woman.
That is, until Ty comes along and distracts her with a sexy Irish lilt and a smile that does something funny to her insides. I hope you enjoy her fall!
And next month be sure to catch my third book in the SOUTH VILLAGE SINGLES series,
Messing With Mac,
where we'll see if the last of these three friends can hold on to her vow of singlehood.
I wish you all happy reading!
P.S. I love to hear from readers! You can reach me through my Web site, www.jillshalvis.com, or by writing me at P.O. Box 3945, Truckee, CA 96160-3945.
742âWHO'S THE BOSS?
771âTHE BACHELOR'S BED
804âOUT OF THE BLUE
861âA PRINCE OF A GUY
878âHER PERFECT STRANGER
885âFOR THE LOVE OF NICK
910âROUGHING IT WITH RYAN
63âNAUGHTY BUT NICE
42âKISS ME, KATIE!
HUG ME, HOLLY!
57âBLIND DATE DISASTERS
EAT YOUR HEART OUT
85âA ROYAL MESS
HER KNIGHT TO REMEMBER
To Megan Nicole, my warrior princess
would have changed everything, but there wasn't one in sight. So, as always, Nicole Mann got up with the alarm. As always, she showered, dressed and nuked a breakfast burrito in less than eight minutes.
And as always, she was out the door of her apartment at top speed to get to the hospital for what was likely to be a double shift due to a late-spring flu outbreak.
Yes, her life was completely dictated by her work. So what? Being a doctor was a dream-come-true, and if she'd worked at that dream-come-true nearly every waking moment, forsaking just about everything elseâincluding naked menâshe could live with that. Being a doctor was what she'd wanted since she'd graduated high school fifteen years ago at the perfectly extraordinary age of twelve.
For a woman who prided herself on nerves of steel, Nicole nearly leapt out of her skin at the unexpected whisper coming out of the darkened hallway of her apartment building.
But it wasn't the boogey man or any other menacing threat. It was just the owner of the building and her friend, Taylor Wellington, peeking out her door. Taylor was nice and beautifulâreason enough to hate herâbut she also happened to be in possession of that disarming ability to talk until Nicole's eyes crossed. It completely wore down her defenses.
That they'dâpolar oppositesâbecome friends still baffled Nicole.
“I see you,” Nicole said. “Did I wake you?” Not that the perfectly-put-together Taylor looked anything other thanâ¦well, perfectly put together, but it did happen to be the crack of dawn. A time she considered sacrilegious.
“Oh, no, the living dead couldn't wake me,” Taylor assured her. “I set my alarm so I'd catch you.” Her beautifully made-up eyes toured Nicole. “Honey, I thought we talked about the camouflage gear.”
Nicole looked down at her camouflage cargo pants and green tank top, fitting snug to her lean form. Her wardrobe had been formed back in the expensive days of medical school when she'd been forced to shop in thrift stores, but sue her, she'd developed a fondness for the comfortable garb. That Taylor cared what she wore at all was still a surprise.
Nicole had only lived in this South Village building a few weeks, having moved from another larger
building where no one ever even looked at one another. She'd only moved because that place had been sold and the new owners had plans for it to go co-op. She'd come here for its convenience to the hospital, and because it was small. Fewer people to deal with. That this building was also falling off its axis was neither here nor there, as Nicole didn't care what it looked like, as long as her bed was in it. “Why did you want to catch me?”
“I knew if I didn't, you'd forget. We're planning Suzanne's engagement party tonight.”
Ah, hell. Suzanne Carter lived in the apartment next to Taylor's. The three of them, the only ones in the building, had shared many laughs and much ice cream, but Nicole still didn't want to plan a party where she'd have to dress up and smile and make nice. She hated making nice.
“You'd forgotten,” Taylor said.
“No, Iâ¦” Okay, she'd forgotten. She couldn't help it, she was single-minded. Always had been, just ask the family she never managed to see. This year alone, she'd forgotten one sister's homecoming from college, her mother's annual April Fool's Day bash and her own birthday. But her family understood something Taylor didn't.
Nicole was a firm loner. Connections to people tended to give her hives. Ditto planning engagement parties. “I'm sorry. Iâ¦might be late.”
Taylor gave her a long look. “Don't tell me. You have something new to pierce.”
Nicole rolled her eyes. Taylor had been teasing her about the silver hoops she had lining one ear, but Taylor had no way of knowing that each was a trophy of sort, and a badge of honor worn proudly. “Not a new piercing, no.”
With the patience of a saint, Taylor just lifted a brow.
Nicole racked her brain for her elusive people skills, but as she didn't have any, they failed her. “We're short-staffed at the hospital, andâ”
“Save it, Super Girl.” Taylor lifted a hand against the upcoming stream of excuses. “Let's just cut to the chase, shall we? Weddings, and all the trappings, give both of us gas.” She looked right into Nicole's eyes and gave her a take-your-medicine look. “But this is for Suzanne.”
Suzanne had been the only other person besides Taylor to instantly, genuinely accept Nicole, no matter how abrupt, aloof and self-absorbed she was.
The three of them had only met recently after Taylor had inherited this building with no funds to go with it. She'd rented out space to Suzanne first, then Nicole had come along. They had little in common really. Suzanne, a caterer, kept them in to-die-for food and Suzanne's personal favorite, ice cream. Taylor, with her dry wit, kept them all amused and, though
she'd kill Nicole if she heard her say it, mothered them to death. And Nicoleâ¦she had no clue what she added to the mix, so them caring about her still mystified.
But they all shared one common traitâa vow of singlehood. They'd talked about it, often toasted to it and had jointly coveted itâ¦ Until Suzanne had done the unthinkable and fallen in love.
Nicole sighed. “I'll find a way to be here.”
“Don't worry, they say you can't catch wedding fever.”
“Hey, don't worry about me. My work is my life. I'm too into it, too selfish to be anything but single.”
“Right. Our singlehood is firmly intact.”
But they stared at each other, a little unnerved. That Suzanne, one so steadfastly single, was now getting married cast a shadow on their vow. Surely neither of them could possibly make the fall into love. Not when they kept their eyes open and their hearts closed.
Yep, heart firmly closed. They were safe that way, totally and completely safe.
exhausting hours later, again just before dawn, Nicole dragged her sorry, aching body back up the three flights of stairs to her loft apartment.
It was dark again, or still. It seemed she lived in the dark.
Work had been especially brutal. An unexpected heavy fog had created a pile-up on Highway 5 South. As a result of the forty-two car accident, she'd been in emergency surgery all day, without a break to so much as sneeze. She'd removed two spleens, pinned four legs, reset more shattered ribs than she could remember, and had delivered twins in an emergency caesarian.
Then she'd been asked to stay another shift, and after a quick nap when she'd dreamed of being chased by a white wedding dress and cakeâwhere had
come from?âshe'd willingly taken on whatever had come her way. And plenty had.
Now all she wanted was food, a shower and a bed, and not necessarily in that order. She had her Taco Bell bag clutched to her chest, her mouth watering in anticipation of the four regular tacos and extra-large soda. Not the usual breakfast of champions, but food was food and she'd been craving spicy since her second surgery.
And then after the foodâ¦oblivion. At least until she had to be back at the hospital again, which happened to be that afternoon for a staff meeting, and then to cover someone else's shift that night. She already had four surgeries lined up, ready to go.
Had she remembered to grab the hot sauce? She
hoped so, she was pretty certain her kitchenâif you could call the hole in the wall thatâdidn't have any food in it except for something that had gone green a week ago, andâ
“You little buggering piece of shâ” A rustling sound, followed by the squeal of metal on metal, blocked out the rest of that shocking statement made in a deep, Irish brogue. “I'm going toâ¦damn me again, you worked at the last job, so bloody hell if you won't work hereâ¦”
This was spoken so calmly, so confidently in that accent, it took a moment to decipher that the man was making some sort of threat.
Fine. Nicole was in the mood to kick some ass, as long as her Taco Bell didn't get crushed. Once in a while, having an IQ higher than her weight had some benefits. During med school she'd needed an outlet for all the technical work so she'd taken karate. Like everything she set her mind to, she'd excelled.
Bring it on. She took a defensive stance, then dropped it to set her food down on the top step. No need to risk breakfast. She moved up the last step. There was nothing on this level but her loft and the attic. Nothing but the narrow hallway, which at the moment had a man lying full-length in it. His arms were outstretched, and he held some sort of measuring tool along the scarred wooden planks, swearing the air blue in the most interesting of Irish lilts.
Nicole had to laugh. Or she would have, if she could have taken her eyes off that long, lean, hard male body stretched out so enticingly on the floor in front of her. He had legs from here to Timbuktu, covered in Levi's that most effectively accented the muscles in his thighs and calves.
And then there was his butt, which was very lovingly cupped in that worn denim. His shirt had ridden up, showing a good amount of tanned, damp skin stretched taut over the rippling sinew of his lower back. The rest of it wasn't bad either, smooth and sleek in the plain light-blue T-shirt that invited her to Bite Me in bold black letters.
In spite of the scare he'd given her, she grinned. Bite Me was her official motto. “Umâ¦excuse me.”
His arms, stretched over his head, didn't drop the strange gadget in his hands, which was sending out red lighted bleeps. In fact he didn't do anything but sigh. “Be a luv,” he said in a voice deep and husky as sin but suddenly utterly devoid of the accent. “And hand me my notes?”
Nicole, still in her defensive stance, craned her neck and saw a small notepad at his hip. It looked as if it had been roughly stuffed in and out of a pocket on a regular basis.
Apparently she hesitated a hair too long, because he pushed up to his elbows and turned his head, giving her a glimpse of jet-black hair cut so short it stuck
up in spikes, hitting her with the lightest, most crystal-clear blue eyes she'd ever seen.
He took one look at her with her fists still up, her legs slightly bent and let out another sigh, rubbing his jaw. “We going to duke it out over a notepad then?”
She dropped her fists to her sides, and, keeping her eyes on the most gorgeous stranger she'd ever seen, she bent for her Taco Bell bag. “Who are you and why were you swearing in my hallway?”
“Heard that, did you?” He flashed a grin. “I don't suppose you'd not repeat any of it to the owner? She specifically said no swearing in her hallways.”
Hmm. Nicole was surprised Taylor hadn't put this man under lock and key in her bedroom, given her fondness for horizontal gymnastics, and the fact that sexuality rolled off this man in waves.
With one smooth motion, he came to his feet, startling her anew because, granted, she was on the shrimpy side of average height, but he and his hard-as-granite body had to top six feet by several inches.
Which meant her head, if she lifted her nose to nosebleed height, maybe came to his broad shoulder. Between their height discrepancy and her sudden, startling attraction to him, she felt defensive. She hated feeling defensive. It tended to put her on the offensive. Taking one step back, she balanced her weight on the balls of her feet, once again ready for anything.
“Wouldn't have used that language if I'd have heard you coming.” A bit chagrined now, he cocked his head and scratched his jaw, which, judging by the dark shadow there, he hadn't shaved in a few days. “Went and startled you, I see.”
She narrowed her eyes. Yep, his accent was gone, but there was something stilted about how he sounded now, as if he were hiding something.
She knew well enough about hiding secrets, but didn't like it when others did the same. “Answer my questions, please.”
As she'd raised an accusatory finger directed toward his very fine chest, he lifted his hands in surrender. “No need to shoot, I'm just the architect. Ty Patrick O'Grady at your service.”
“For the building here. It's going to be renovated.” As if to prove he was harmlessâharmless, ha!âhe propped up the wall with his shoulder and gave her a disarming little half smile that sent sparks of awareness shivering down her spine. “Needs an architect before anything else, you know,” he said. “Turns out this place is a historical monument, and is in desperate need of some serious structural repair.”
As the place was smack dab in the middle of elegant, sophisticated South Village, where the rich came to play, and everyone else came to pretend to be rich, Nicole decided she could buy that. Especially
since this particular building was the current eyesore of the entire block.
Taylor had been having one expert or another through here for weeks in anticipation of a major renovation. “So you're working up a bid for the owner? Suzanne?” she asked, watching him carefully.
Now he smiled, slow and sure. “No, not Suzanne.
but good try. It'd take more than a peewee to trip me up, darlin'.”
A peewee? He'd just called her a peewee? She'd give him peewee.
He lifted one jet-black brow at the narrowing of her eyes, and dared to smile at her obvious temper. “Want to see my ID or are you just going to clobber me with that lovely smelling Taco Bell bag?”
“What happened to your accent?”
His face went curiously blank. “What accent?”
“You had an Irish accent. Are you an immigrant?”
“Yep, just got off the boat from Australia, mate.” He grinned. “Or maybe that wasâ¦” His accent went from Aussie to Austrian in a heartbeat. “From another continent entirely.”
A smart-ass. “It's awfully late to be working on a bid.”
“You mean early, don't you?”