Belle wanted to tell him to stop but figured it probably wouldn’t help her in the ‘first impression’ department. Once they got to know each other better—well, if they became friendly neighbors—she hoped he’d relax enough around her to stop worrying about it.
Following him down a long hallway she was bombarded with a plethora of pictures. Definitely of Grant and his family. Most of them were with him and two other men who looked similar. His brothers no doubt. A lot of them looked recent and Grant didn’t have any scarring, telling her they were fairly new.
Which she could have guessed anyway. She’d noticed that part of his arm still had pinkish angry looking marks while other areas had faded. Since she worked in the hospital she’d seen enough burn victims to understand he’d still be healing for a while.
Her own giant surgical scar in the middle of her chest had faded with time, but the paler skin was still stark against her darker skin. Most of the time she didn’t even think about it.
They entered a kitchen that was clearly well used. A cutting board with remnants of mushrooms and tomato slices sat on the granite topped island in the middle of the room. There were a few dirty dishes in the sink and she scented various spices. A man who could cook? Damn, why did she find that so sexy?
When Grant slid her package of cookie dough into the stainless steel refrigerator she noticed a plate of obviously homemade cookies on the counter next to it. She winced, feeling a little silly at bringing over the package and must have made a sound because he glanced over his shoulder then tracked her gaze.
His lips quirked. “My brother’s fiancé made those. She’s always sending food over here. You can have one.”
Grabbing one, she followed him out onto his back porch where the mother of all grills sat. The built-in contraption was bigger than her stove and the steel blended with the stone so it wasn’t gaudy or out of place. “My brothers would consider killing you for that thing,” she murmured before taking a bite of the cookie—then made a mental note to snag a couple before she left.
Keeping his right side to her, Grant grinned as he opened the lid. “Yeah, I think my own brothers have considered it a time or two. Neither of their women will let them buy something ‘so ridiculous’, and I’m quoting both of them.”
Six burgers, multiple links of kielbasa and bright colored vegetables on grill sticks lined the top rack in perfectly even rows. Her eyes widened a fraction. Good Lord, the man hadn’t been kidding when he said he’d been planning to grill. “How many brothers do you have?”
“Two. Both older.”
“They’re the ones in the photos I saw on the way in?” Belle took a seat at one of the cushioned chairs underneath a square patio table. The sage green umbrella gave her relief from the sun.
He nodded as he fiddled with one of the knobs. “Yeah. You said you have brothers?”
“Yep. Three of them and they’re all older too.”
Grant shot her a look she couldn’t quite describe as he lowered the lid. It wasn’t exactly heated, but she was under the impression he was checking her out and not in a neighborly fashion. Unlike when Paulos looked at her with male interest, she found she liked being under Grant’s scrutiny.
“I imagine they’re all overprotective,” he said quietly.
She grinned. “Yes and it’s incredibly annoying. When I was in high school it was impossible to date.”
He gave her another look and this time there was no doubt of the frank male interest in his gaze. She was surprised by the way her throat seized. Belle never had a problem talking and male interest was something she’d been dealing with since she was fifteen. If anything, she usually couldn’t shut up. Right now she couldn’t formulate anything coherent. She was too caught up in the blue storm of his eyes.
When he cleared his throat she was able to break contact. Even so, that deep voice of his sent a shiver twining through her when he said, “Do you want something to drink? I’m sorry I didn’t offer you anything before. I’ve got beer and…water.” He grimaced slightly, the action softening his features even as the scars on the side of his face pulled tight. It also highlighted his lips. A man should not have such soft, inviting lips. They seemed so out of place with his harsh, almost sharp features and large build.
And there went that strange flip-flop sensation in her belly. It was so easy to fantasize what it would feel like to have those strong hands and very kissable lips on her. What was wrong with her? She couldn’t be having sexual thoughts about her neighbor. “Beer sounds great.” It was Friday, why not?
When he opened a door on the right side of the grill underneath a long, flat surface likely used for preparing food, she was surprised to see a mini-fridge. Yeah, her brothers would totally kill for this thing. After popping the top, he handed her a Corona and when their fingers brushed, she felt a little spark arc between them. Forcing herself to ignore the heat working its way down her body to the juncture between her thighs she said, “So how long have you lived here?”
“Few years. It’s a nice area, quiet for the most part.”
She snorted. “Until I disturbed your peace.”
Grinning in that sexy way she was coming to enjoy watching, he sat across from her. “Who was that guy and why was he grabbing you like that?” There was no joking in his voice now. Just a serious, deadly calm.
Okay then. He wasn’t going to be polite and ignore what he’d seen and that made her respect him more. Even if it also made her uncomfortable. Clasping the cold beer in her hands, she balanced it on her bare leg. She cleared her throat as she picked at the label. “Are you sure you want to hear all this?”
“Yes.” No room for argument in that deep voice.
Damn. She was hoping he’d let it go and she could just pretend to be his normal neighbor. Under any other circumstances she wouldn’t tell a virtual stranger anything about her family or personal life, but Grant had put himself in between her and Paulos without her having to ask—not that she ever would have intentionally involved him. She felt like she owed him an explanation. “My family and Paulos’s parents—the Balis’s—have been friends forever. Our grandparents actually came over from Greece together. I…I don’t even know how to explain it really because it’s so stupid. Our parents have joked since we were kids that once he and I got married our two families will finally be related. I don’t know what his deal is but it’s like he’s gotten it into his head that we are supposed to be together regardless of what I want. He took me off guard this morning but I’m not stupid. I’m not going to ignore this but I’m also not involving the police or anything. I’m going to talk to my mom about it and she’ll talk to my dad and…his family will take care of him.”
Grant was silent, those fathomless blue eyes looking at her. It was as if he could see inside her, see every little thing she was thinking. That was slightly terrifying. Finally he spoke again. “Do you have a security system?”
She shook her head. Belle had lived with her family for so long, even through college, because that’s just the way things were done in her family. She’d never thought about things like security systems.
“I can get someone to install one—top of the line—at a deep discount.” For some reason, it didn’t really sound like he was asking. Though it wasn’t exactly a command either.
She wasn’t sure how she felt about that. What she did know was that she liked the way his voice sent pleasurable shivers spiraling through her body. And she was so thankful she had a bra on. Her nipples ached and seemed to flare to life every time he spoke. “Thanks.”
He just nodded in acknowledgment and made a sort of grunting sound. Silence stretched between them and she couldn’t seem to tear her gaze away from his. The way he watched her was almost curious but she couldn’t miss the hint of lust there. Worse, she very much reciprocated. Which was stupid considering she barely knew him. But God, the man just exuded a raw power that turned her on. She knew it was purely physical. The guy was huge with incredibly broad shoulders and a muscled chest that couldn’t be hidden under his shirt. She might have been in a slight state of shock earlier, but she hadn’t missed all the ridges and planes of his body.
Even thinking about seeing him half-dressed again—or completely undressed—was stupid. The couple she’d bought the house from told her everyone in the neighborhood owned. No renters. Clearly he didn’t plan on leaving anytime soon and neither did she. Being attracted to the brooding man next door? That was okay. Acting on it? Most definitely not.
When he finally tore his gaze away and headed for the grill she let out a pent up breath she hadn’t realized she’d been holding. Taking a long swig of her beer, she forced herself not to look at Grant’s very firm ass. Or how big his hands were as he picked up a grilling utensil.
Shutting her eyes, she tried to banish the image of those hands and force herself to stop imagining what it would feel like to have them stroking her naked skin, but it was no use. Belle wanted her neighbor and now that she was finally out from the ridiculously overprotective tendencies of her brothers and parents, she really wanted to go for it. Even if it would come back to bite her in the ass later.
Using the shadows as cover, he grasped the top of the seven foot privacy fence and pulled himself up. Propelling himself over, he landed in Belle Manikas’s backyard with a soft thud.
He waited a moment. A dog barked a few houses away, though he wasn’t sure of the direction. Must be damn annoying for the neighbors at three in the morning. Other than that sound, there were a few crickets but nothing else in the immediate vicinity.
Her house was almost completely dark except for a dim light in one of the upstairs bedrooms. Her room, he figured, since he hadn’t actually been in the house.
But there was no visible movement in the room. Not that it mattered. He loved it when his victims struggled. He planned to make this kill quicker than normal. After having his fun with her, he’d strangle and leave her naked and splayed out in her backyard for her neighbor to find.