Lifting his head out of the pool, his feet touched the cement in the shallow end. A raised male voice came from the direction of next door. Then the sound of a distressed female voice—with a healthy dose of panic.

Hell no.

Not caring enough to stop and cover up he got out of the water. The voices grew even louder. Cursing his limp, he yanked open the door to his privacy fence, then tried his neighbor’s. It easily swung open.

For a moment Grant saw red at the scene in front of him. A tall, lean dark-haired man with an olive complexion had his hands wrapped around the upper arms of the woman he’d seen this morning through the window. The woman was struggling against him, her hand on the middle of the man’s chest. The bastard only tightened his grip.

“What the fuck are you doing?” Grant boomed, his voice just a notch short of shouting.

The two people froze. When the man looked over his shoulder at Grant his hands immediately dropped, though his expression was hostile. “Who are you?”

“I live next door,” he said, lowering his voice this time. “And you didn’t answer me.”

Relief flicked in the woman’s green eyes as she took a not-so-subtle step back from the man, rubbing her upper arms where the imprint of the man’s fingers stood out on her smooth skin.

“This is a private matter,” the man said, his dark eyes flashing with annoyance.

Grant ignored him as he focused on the clearly frightened gorgeous woman. “Is this man your boyfriend or family member?” Not that Grant really cared because this asshole was leaving no matter what. He just wanted to know what type of situation he was dealing with.

The woman snorted, taking him by surprise. “No. And he was just leaving.”

The man swiveled back to her and took a step forward. “Damn it—”

Grant had moved across the few yards before he’d realized it. The man was about an inch taller than him, putting him at six foot three. But he was lean and a little lanky and even with Grant’s bad leg he had no doubt he could flatten him. Hand to hand combat was his specialty and something told him that a guy who didn’t have a problem roughing up a woman would be a complete pussy up against a man.

Something about Grant’s expression must have conveyed he was ready to take him down because the guy lifted his hands and took a small step back, nearly tripping over his feet. “This was just a misunderstanding.”

“The lady told you to leave.” There was an edge to Grant’s voice.

The man shot an angry look at the woman but hurried toward the gate. Once he reached it he said, “This isn’t over,” as he practically sprinted away.

Staying where he was, Grant ran his gaze over the woman. He tried to keep it clinical, but it was difficult. Petite but curvy, the brunette had her arms wrapped tightly around herself. Now that he was seeing her up close he realized she likely had Mediterranean heritage. Her skin was a smooth, olive complexion similar to the man who’d just left. But her face was incredibly pale, almost ashen.

Not wanting to scare her, he stayed immobile even though something deep inside him told him to gather her in his arms and comfort her. Yeah, he was sure that would go over real well.

Clearing his throat, he said, “I’m Grant Caldwell. I live next door. Are you okay?”

She opened her mouth, those full lips parting—making him think thoughts he had no business thinking—but just as quickly she shut it as she shook her head. That’s when he realized her entire body was shaking.


“Did he hurt you?” he growled, ready to go after the guy.

She shook her head again.

As a detective—former detective—he’d dealt with plenty of victims before. Not that he was even certain she was one, but he didn’t like seeing any female in distress.

“Why don’t you have a seat?” He motioned to one of the cushioned patio chairs underneath the porch overhang.

Nodding, she collapsed onto one of them. Aware that he was dripping wet, but not wanting to hover and freak her out further, he sat on the edge of the one next to her. “Do I need to call someone or—”

“No. God, no. Sorry, I’m not normally so…at a loss for words. That was Paulos and long, annoying story short, he’s a giant ass. He’s the son of my parent’s friends, the Balis’s and…you so don’t need to hear my entire life story.” She let out a long breath as she focused those emerald green eyes on him. “I promise to be a drama-free neighbor. I know this is an awful first impression.” She smiled self-deprecatingly and he sucked in a quiet breath.

The woman should not be allowed to smile. It made her…stunning. In his foggy brain he groped for words, realizing he needed to respond. “What just happened was clearly not your fault. I’m with—was with the Miami PD and it looked like that guy was manhandling you.”

“I know. I’m not even going to deny it, but I can’t deal with him right now and I don’t want to make an issue of it. He surprised me and it won’t happen again and…God, I haven’t even introduced myself. I’m Belle Manikas. Thanks for coming to my rescue even though I have a feeling that right now you’re trying to think of a polite way to get the hell out of here and away from the crazy neighbor.”

Grant couldn’t help it. A bark of laughter escaped as she rambled. He could listen to this woman talk all day. “No, I’m not.” He glanced over his shoulder to the gate, thinking about the guy Paulos.

“He won’t be back. Not today anyway. Trust me,” she said quietly.

He wanted to grill her, but knew this wasn’t the time or place. Whoever that guy was wouldn’t be bothering her again if Grant had anything to say about it. But he needed to get more info from her and he had to be subtle about it. “Listen, I was about to turn on the grill and cook some burgers in the backyard for an early lunch. Want to meet me in about twenty minutes?” Not wanting to leave her alone but not wanting to sit around with his scarred body visible for much longer, Grant tossed the invitation out there.

The second the words were out he wanted to take them back. The majority of his scars were on his back but his left arm was completely covered too. Not to mention his neck and part of his face. It wasn’t the same angry red puckered markings from even two months ago, but the fading marks were very visible and not going away. Oddly enough she didn’t even seem to notice. Of course he knew that she did, but she wasn’t staring at them. Probably because she was still in a state of shock or something.

What the hell was he thinking? He hadn’t had much social contact with anyone in the last six months and considering his constant dark mood he wasn’t fit for decent company. Unfortunately the thought of not getting to know this woman was almost depressing.

Smiling, she nodded. “Sure. Maybe I can prove to you I’m not going to be your crazy neighbor. Want me to bring anything over?”

Not trusting himself to say anything more, he shook his head, stood and backed toward the fence. He kept his body turned from her, not wanting to give her the full view and scare the hell out of her. As soon as he shut the fence door behind himself, he frowned at his stupidity. What the hell was he doing?

* * * * *

Belle smoothed a hand over her denim skirt with shaking hands before knocking on her neighbor’s door. God, he probably thought she was a lunatic. Part of her worried that Grant had asked her over out of politeness and was now regretting the invite.

When the door opened a second later she couldn’t help but smile for her sexy, brooding, scarred neighbor. He was wearing a long-sleeved T-shirt which was surprising given the warmer weather. Did he have it on to hide the scars she’d seen on his left arm earlier? She didn’t care about stuff like that—she had a scar of her own—but maybe it bothered him. Though with those startling blue, almost indigo eyes, it was hard to look anywhere but into those depths. When he’d scared Paulos off earlier she’d been mesmerized by Grant’s eyes. Well, that and his clear strength. The man was built like a line backer and in incredibly good shape. It was hard to miss that kind of raw power.

After the way he’d come to her rescue, but kept an obvious distance so he wouldn’t scare her, she knew he was safe. It felt weird to link that word with such a huge man but deep in her gut she sensed it. Considering that her family was so big, loud and annoyingly overprotective she’d finally moved out just to get some freaking peace and quiet, she hadn’t thought she’d want to spend time with anyone but herself. But grilling out with a neighbor was normal. Doing that with thirty-one of your first freaking cousins on a regular basis—not so much. And God knew she craved some normalcy in her life.

Grant gave her a heated look that took her off guard for a moment before he glanced down at the package in her hand. Eyes narrowing, he paused. “What is that?”

“Uh, I didn’t want to come over empty-handed and thought maybe we could pop this in the oven or something.” Belle didn’t cook well—much to her mother’s horror—so she’d brought over a package of premade cookie dough. Also something that could quite possibly give her mother a heart attack. But it was all she’d had in her refrigerator other than baking soda and eggs.

Her neighbor’s lips quirked up and he laughed, a deep bold sound. It was the second time he’d done it since they’d met and she had to admit that she loved the sound. It did something strange to her insides, making her…aware of how very male Grant was.

“Thanks.” He took the package, still chuckling under his breath as he led her into his foyer.

She noticed he kept the left side of his face turned away from her even when he’d laughed and it bothered her. The fading red marks that covered the side of his face and his ear were definitely noticeable, but it wasn’t as bad as he obviously thought it was. She nearly snorted at the thought of this blatantly sexual man trying to hide part of himself from her. God, who didn’t have scars whether physical or emotional? Besides, the type of man who rushed over at the sound of a stranger in distress—that was the kind of person she wanted to know.