Christine pounded on the door for the third time. She shifted from foot to foot and rubbed her arms. Geez, but it was cold out here. She’d run out of her apartment—or rather, she stomped out of her apartment—so angry, she hadn’t thought that it might be below freezing.
She blew out a breath which immediately puffed into a frozen cloud and drifted away. Laughter erupted from inside and she pounded on the door again. She was all for having a good time and understood it was the holidays, but this was ridiculous. Nearly every night her neighbor had some sort of party going on with the loudest music. How was a girl supposed to get any work done if she couldn’t hear herself think?
She stamped her foot and looked down at her toes. Maybe flip-flops weren’t the best footwear this time of year.
Suddenly the door opened. Startled, she stepped back.
He stood in the doorway. Her noisy neighbor who partied every evening.
Leaning a shoulder against the doorframe, his chrystal blue eyes lazily looked her up and down. Messy, black-as-night hair fell over his forehead, hiding the dark slashes of his brows. One hand was shoved into the pocket of very worn, very well-fitting jeans while the other negligently held a beer bottle. A black t-shirt stretched across an impressive chest and was tucked into the loose waistband of those worn jeans.
This wasn’t exactly what she pictured when she’d been told her neighbor was the chef of the town’s only Italian restaurant.
“Yes?” One of those black brows rose.
Get a grip, Christine. It doesn’t matter what he looks like, only that he turns the volume down on this party.
“I’m Christine. I live next door.” She pointed to her door, as if he didn’t know. Which was stupid because she was his only next door neighbor.
His brows lowered and he took a sip of beer, his gaze sweeping over her. Those penetrating eyes made her squirm, reminding her that her toes were nearly frozen. Damn it! She wouldn’t be losing limbs if he’d just keep the noise to a dull roar.
Lord above but his voice was nice. She cleared her throat. “Pleased to meet you.”
A corner of his mouth lifted and amusement danced in those light blue eyes. “Pleased to meet you, too.”
“Hey, Joe, it’s your turn.” A long-legged woman stepped up next to him and he flung his arm around her shoulders. She looked Christine up and down, frowning at the flip-flops.
“I’ll be right in, Julie.” He kissed her on the temple and she disappeared back into the apartment, leaving her disapproval of Christine’s footwear hovering in the frigid air.
Christine shifted again, trying to get the blood flowing to her toes.
“What can I do for you, Christine?”
How was it that he made that innocent question sound not so innocent? And why was it that suddenly she didn’t want it to be innocent? Focus, Christine. Right, the music. Her work. Her deadline. Sheesh, how could she forget her deadline?
A burst of laughter had her glancing over his shoulder. His apartment was like hers in layout but nothing like hers in design. He’d decorated in dark colors, maroons and browns, forest greens and beiges, making it warm and homey. Lit candles littered various surfaces and the dining room table nearly groaned with the food piled on it.
Her stomach growled, reminding her that she hadn’t eaten in… She couldn’t remember the last time she’d eaten. Sometime today. Maybe.
“Would you like to come in? You’re looking cold. And I think you’re hungry.”
He made her sound like an abandoned puppy. “No, thanks. I just wanted to ask if you could possibly turn the music down.” Way to be firm, Christine. Could you sound a little less timid?
He straightened from the doorframe, his movements leisurely. She got the feeling that everything Joe did was leisurely. There seemed to be no hurry in him.
“Sorry if it bothered you.”
She waved her hand in the air, suddenly feeling like a shrew. “Not a problem. I just have a lot of work to do and the music makes it hard to concentrate.”
He looked her up and down again. She hadn’t checked in the mirror before leaving the house so she was probably a mess, but she resisted the urge to touch her hair and straighten her oversized sweatshirt.
“Sure you don’t want something to eat? We have plenty.”
She took another look at that table full of food and thought of the box of cookies and the jar of peanut butter in her cupboard. “No, but thanks. I, uh…” She waved her hand vaguely toward her apartment. The apartment that seemed absolutely perfect when she rented it but now seemed a little cold and a lot empty.
Right. Her deadline. That’s why she needed the cold and empty apartment.
Joe stuck out his hand and for a moment she looked at it in confusion. “Sorry you had to run over to tell me to turn down the music. Sometimes I forget there’s a boarder next door.”
Boarder. That was what she was. The boarder he forgot about. Somehow that didn’t sit right with her but she took his hand anyway and shook it, refusing to give any thought to how warm his fingers were.
“I’ll turn it down.”
She looked up at him. “Turn it down?”
He smiled and holy cow, what a smile it was. Dimples on either side of his mouth and white, white teeth against olive skin. Mother Nature sure knew what she was doing when she made this man.
“The music,” he said. “I’ll turn down the music.”