We gathered on the sidewalk for hugs and farewells, and all too soon Emmy and Ben were whisked away by their driver to head to the airport.
Braydon turned to me and smiled. “Shall I walk you home?” he asked.
“No.” So much for manners and pleasantries. I knew if I gave him an inch, he’d take a mile.
“Afraid you’ll invite me up?” He grinned, tucking his hands inside his pockets and rocking back on his heels.
“No. I just don’t want you knowing where I live. How do I know you’re not a creeper?”
His face turned serious, his eyebrows knitting together in concern. “You can trust me, Ellie. I’d never do something you didn’t want. And I’d take care of you, you know.”
I nodded. One second we were playful and sarcastic; the next he was turning the tables on me, deepening the conversation to places I couldn’t let myself go. “I’d rather just be alone,” I murmured.
He nodded, watching my closely. “Can’t blame a guy for trying. Enjoy your day, kitten.” He turned and strolled away, leaving me watching his strong back and the delectable way his muscles moved under his T-shirt. With one hand still stuffed in his pocket, his other pulled out his cell phone. He no doubt had a bevy of girls on his contacts list, ready and waiting to warm the spot in his bed that I refused to take. Which was exactly as it should be. I needed to move on from my little Braydon adventure.
The following days at work dragged by at a snail’s pace. I’d worked hard to become a microbiologist at a pharmaceutical firm in Manhattan, and most days it was rewarding. I studied living organisms and watched how they reacted to different stimuli. The last several days, though, I’d felt more alone than ever. Sitting in my windowless lab, I grew lonelier and bitter. Emmy was away for a month in Tahiti. I had no man, no prospects, and not even a pet to snuggle with at night.
On the way home to Queens I stopped to pick up my favorite Mexican food from Mucho Amigo, hoping it would cheer me up. After carrying the Styrofoam containers to my fourth-floor apartment, I kicked off my shoes and placed my food on the coffee table. My loneliness was nothing a spicy chicken enchilada couldn’t fix. I hoped. I checked my personal email messages on my phone while I grabbed a Diet Coke from the fridge. An email from Emmy entitled EMERGENCY caught my attention.
Hoping you can help. We just received a call from the building superintendent that there was a water-main break in our building. They’ve stopped the leak, but he said our apartment flooded. I’m hoping you can go to our place ASAP to dry out our wet belongings so we don’t come home to a mold infestation. We have plenty of towels on hand to dry up the place. Use whatever you need. I’m so sorry, but please know we appreciate it!
P.S. How much do I freakin’ love signing my new last name?!
Son of a—! There went my relaxing dinner plans. I stuffed my uneaten dinner in the fridge, grabbed my purse and keys, then scurried off for Ben and Emmy’s, back in Manhattan, double-checking that I still had their key on my key ring as I fled down the stairs, the appetizing scent of my enchiladas fading in the distance.
Their apartment was pitch black when I arrived. The power must have been shut off when they’d gotten the leak. Great. I felt along the wall and made my way into the kitchen. I’d been here half a dozen times, but not enough to know the place by feel alone in the absolute darkness. I pulled out my cell phone and used the meager light to guide me. Locating a couple of candles and a lighter inside a junk drawer, I instantly felt calmer with the low, flickering flames illuminating the dark, eerily silent apartment.
I surveyed the damage, carrying a candle out in front of me. The living room rug squished under my feet. Not a good sign. The bedroom, home office, and bathrooms seemed unaffected. The damage seemed to be centered in the living room, where everything, including the couch and throw pillows, were damp. Great. How did I get a large sectional out of the apartment by myself? This was just f**king fantastic.
A scrape of metal outside the door caught my attention. The door handle jiggled once, then twice, and a man’s voice cursed. I’d locked the door behind me, but someone was clearly trying to get in. I’d seen too many scary movies with a girl alone in the dark in an unfamiliar place. Every hair on my body stood on end, and my hands shook with fear as I darted for the kitchen and drew a knife from the butcher’s block. The door opened and I sprung forward, the knife out in front of me.
“Holy f**k!” the man swore loudly, guiding my knife-wielding arm away from his midsection and pinning me to the wall. “Kitten? Is that you?”
“Braydon?” I asked, peering at the handsome intruder in the faint light.
“Yeah. It’s me.” He turned me to face him, still holding my arm. “If I release you, you promise not to stab me?”
“Braydon! Stop it. Of course. I thought you were a serial killer.”
He removed the knife from my grasp and set it on the nearby console table beside Ben’s door. “Still, let’s set this over here until you’re feeling less stabby.”
“What are you doing here?” I asked.
“I got a call from Ben. About the flood.”
“I got an email from Emmy.”
We watched each other for a few heartbeats in silence. Being near him again in the darkened, silent apartment sent a rush of awareness skittering over my skin. I remembered how his full mouth felt on mine, the insistence and gentleness of his kiss. I was glad the room was too dim for him to notice my cheeks turn pink and my hands begin to shake.
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