“Because you were skulking around my backyard,” I say, holding on to my indignation as much as I can while I slur my words. Hello, two bottles of wine. “Who does that besides creeps and perverts?”

“Are you calling me a pervert?” he asks as he lifts an eyebrow.

My pulse does a pause, thunk, thunk, thunk thing, and I might have forgotten how to breathe. I did. Thank God my lungs remember, allowing me to shoot back, “Or a creep. There were two choices there. In fact—”

Abruptly, he releases my wrist and covers his face. He is totally silent, but his shoulders start shaking.

I break off, horror slapping me in the face as he moves on to convulsing.

“Oh my God! You’re having a seizure!”

I remember reading that can happen with really bad head injuries. Fear skates down my spine. What if I really hurt him? I have to call 911.

I start to go for my phone, but his convulsions get worse—much worse—and vague memories of CPR start floating through my head. One thought about convulsions immediately comes to mind—I have to get something leather between his teeth before he bites off his tongue.

I drop on my knees again and grab his shoulders, shoving him back down on the grass with superhuman strength. I reach for his belt and have it unhooked in two seconds flat, then start to whip it off as though I’m being timed for a new Olympic event in undressing a man.

He stills immediately. “Stop!” he gasps out and grabs my hands, still wrapped around one side of his belt. “I was laughing.” He rolls up into a sitting position, pulling his belt loose from my death grip. “Not seizing.”

“Laughing?” I jump to my feet. “I thought I’d hurt you and you were laughing at me? You…you…you big jerk.”

I consider kicking him out of sheer spite but figure that might be overkill. At least the wine dripped down to his white button-up. Good luck getting that out.

“I’m sorry,” he says, still chuckling. “I couldn’t help it. You just looked so earnest trying to explain the difference between a creep and a pervert.”

“Yeah, well, I’ve decided you’re both, so you can leave now. Before I call the cops and report you for trespassing.” I turn and march up the three steps to my patio.

“Wait.” He catches up to me easily, even though I had a head start and he was on the ground. “Don’t you want to know what I was doing in your backyard?”

“Being a creep and a pervert, I assume, as we already established.”

“I was trying to let you know that your garage door is still open.” He isn’t laughing now—not even a superior guffaw. “We’ve had a bunch of robberies in the area lately, and I was afraid the door leading into your house wasn’t locked.”

It seems like a more reasonable excuse than the fact that Mr. Subparagraph Three in the HOA Bylaws was trying to get his rocks off looking in my living room window. Still, he’s not off the hook that easily.

I narrow my eyes at him. “So why didn’t you come to the front door and ring the doorbell?”

“Have you seen your porch?” He shoots me a disbelieving look. “There’s no way I’m taking my life in my hands and walking on that thing.”

It’s a good point, especially considering what Mikey had to say about the porch earlier. But— “Why didn’t you knock on the garage door? Wouldn’t that be the logical next step?”

“It’s what I planned to do, but when I was walking up your driveway, I heard music coming from the backyard—which you have to turn off at ten o’clock, by the way—and I figured I’d see if I could catch you back here.” He holds up his hands in a profession of innocence. “I swear, that’s all there was to it. No creepiness or perverted behavior intended.”

I totally believe him—it also makes much more sense than any other scenario—but I’m pissed off all over again from his comment about the music. Off by ten. Ugh. All these freaking men with their opinions and rules and it has to be this ways that no one actually cares about. “What happens if I don’t turn the music off until 10:01? Or worse, 10:05? Do the HOA police come and arrest me?”

His eyes gleam. “I’m pretty sure you get a warning first.”

“Well, aren’t I lucky?” The words drip with sarcasm.

His smile disappears altogether. “I should be going.”

“Finally, we agree on something!” I’m more than fed up with men telling me what to do. Still, I can’t send him away without at least offering help. “Can I get you some ice? For your head?”

For a second, it seems like he’s thinking about it. “That’s okay. I’ll get some at home.”

“Are you sure? I hit you pretty hard.”

“Believe me, I know exactly how hard you hit me.” His smile comes back for just a moment. “You know, the neighborhood women’s softball league is looking for a pitcher. You’d probably be a shoo-in.”

It’s my turn to laugh—of course, because of the wine, not because Mr. Music Off at Ten is charming. “I’ll keep that in mind.”

“You should. The MVP of each game gets free pizza and beer from Salvaggio’s.”

“Okay, then.” I step inside the house before turning to face him. “I’ll let you see yourself out.”

And then I close the door—and Aunt Maggie’s lemon-yellow-and-ecru-colored giraffe-print living-room curtains—right in his astonished (and still merlot-stained) face.

Chapter Twelve

   I wake up the next morning to more retina-searing sunlight—and this time, it’s about a gazillion times worse, because apparently drinking two bottles of wine is an awful, horrible, no good, very bad idea. Who knew?

My mouth tastes like I spent the night licking rusty scissors and just about every single one of the splinters on the dare-not-walk-on-it front porch was jabbed into my eyes. The single unharmed brain cell in my head is flipping me off, and the bowling ball of bile in my stomach is daring me to sit up and see what happened.

I slam the heels of my hands over my eyes and whimper a little even as I burrow deeper under the covers. I knew I should have pinned a sheet over that window last night, but by the time I got back upstairs, I was too drunk and too tired to hunt down the pushpins I needed to do it.

And that’s why I’m paying the price this morning. Well, that and the pounding hangover that feels like someone is taking a claw hammer to my right eye.

Fun times.

I roll out of bed slowly—like dinosaur-stuck-in-tar-pits slowly—and send up a quick prayer of thanks to whoever is the patron saint of alcohol that my stomach clenches but doesn’t revolt. Then again, it isn’t like there’s anything in there, as the dinner sandwich I planned to eat is still in the fridge. Or at least, I think it is. Everything after helping my neighbor get off on my lawn is a little bit of a blur.