Over seven billion people in the world, and it only took one asshole to piss you off.
Said asshole was why I was lying awake on a Saturday, a day off I gave myself, wanting nothing more than some shut-eye. It was getting harder to do by the minute.
The first time I heard the sound, I thought it sounded like a dying pig. I told myself it would go away. It wasn’t a common occurrence, but it did happen, and it never lasted more than a couple of seconds.
I tossed and turned. I put my pillows over my ears—as close as I could get without stuffing it in anyway—trying to block the sound. I even put my headphones on, but it felt like the two sounds were vying for my undivided attention. After ten minutes—what felt like the longest, most excruciating ten minutes of my life—it was proving to be an exercise in futility.
I wasn’t going to rummage through my drawers to find my earplugs at one-thirty in the morning. Besides, I wasn’t sure I still had them anyway.
Deciding sleep was impossible at this point, I shoved my covers aside and got up.
In the corner of my room between my bedroom door and the wall was a baseball bat my uncle gave me when I was younger. I didn’t play anymore, but I hadn’t had a chance to stow it away somewhere else. I didn’t think he gave it to me with this purpose in mind, though. But right now it seemed like it was trying to give me a message, because it was the perfect opportunity to use it.
I got out of my apartment building in two minutes. I located my target in less than one.
As soon as I made it there, I got ready. I put the bat between my knees and cracked my knuckles. Anticipating the sweet crash I’d been longing to do since I first heard the teeth-gnashing sound, I swung back both my arms, and—
Two arms halted my progress.
I struggled to break free, to no avail.
I moved my head a little to see who it was. “Hi, Tommy,” I tried to say casually.
He was a local officer, looking every bit serious about stopping me. Actually, he usually seemed really serious about everything.
“Whoa, Sierra, calm down.”
“Give me a good reason why I shouldn’t smash this beat up, sad, sorry excuse for a car,” I snarled, struggling to break free. This fucker was disturbing my precious, priceless sleep, and it needed to die.
“Because it’s illegal.” I heard him sigh. His grip didn’t loosen.
My head was going to explode. “Then turn it off!”
“We have to wait for its owner to arrive. I’m here to ensure there’s no property damage.”
“It deserves a little damage for what it’s doing to my brain cells.”
He didn’t understand the agony.
With a calming voice that did nothing to soothe me, he said, “I’m sure the owner will be back very soon.”
“Sure, huh? Did the person call you? Tell you personally? Sign an oath with their blood? Because if the person didn’t,” I said, wanting him to understand, “there’s no guarantee there will be a follow through.”
He muttered something under his breath, but I didn’t really hear. He must’ve sensed that I lost fight, because he loosened his hold on me. “If you hit this car, I’m gonna have to arrest you. We clear?”
“Crystal,” I replied, annoyed at him now.
He let me go.
“By the way, I didn’t know you changed your profession,” I added, grimacing.
“Good night, Sierra,” he breathed out, as if he was holding onto his last bit of patience.
“It’s two in the morning,” I pointed out as I headed back.
He gave me a pointed look before he took earplugs from his pocket, and put them back in his ears. He stood there unmoving, like the car’s own personal bodyguard.
I climbed back up the stairs, my steps heavy. I was fairly sure I was dying a little inside. When the owner came home, I would rip the person a new one.
Pat, an elderly lady, lived a floor below me. She already had her head sticking out. She did a salute. I returned it.
“Grill him for me,” she said quietly.
Oh, what did it really matter?
I didn’t hold back my smile as I replied, “With pleasure.”
* * *
I dozed off for a bit. Then I woke up again, alert and aware of the sound. Unable to fall asleep again, I went to the kitchen to fill myself a glass of milk. I went back to my room, lifting up my laptop lid. I refreshed my email page, wondering if a client responded to a question I’d asked earlier. No new messages.
With growing disappointment, I was about to fall back down to bed when the loud, grating sound abruptly stopped.
There it was—sweet, blessed silence. I could hardly believe it.
It seemed too quiet now. The unusual silence was disturbed by a distinct noise. Not particularly loud, but familiar and recognizable to my ears in my three years of living here. I heard the jangle of keys outside the door, followed by the sound of it twisting inside a slot.
I parted the blinds with a finger, and peered out the window. I saw the faint outline of a man standing at the entryway, about to enter the building. Perfect.
When I heard the door shut, I immediately slipped on a sweater and waited, a hip leaning over my doorway.
He was tall. Much taller than he looked from the view up in my room. Granted, being five-foot three meant most people were taller than me, unless I wore those stupid high heels. Still, though.
And as he nearly made it our level, I was beginning to see the complete picture.
Rumpled clothes, but a steady, confident stride. He was walking up the stairs, two at a time. I don’t think he even noticed me, never mind that I was out for blood, arms folded over my chest.
When his head tilted up a little, I finally saw what he looked like, and I whistled low. He had a square jaw and wore a day-old stubble, and it only served to give him a rugged look that made him damn sexy. The weariness etched on his face did nothing to dispel the image it conjured in my mind—me tangled up in bed with him, and the feel of his lips, his skin against mine. I shivered.
I was not weak. I needed a clear head to deal with this. Sexy men, sleeplessness, and headache-inducing car alarms were all a little too much at the moment.
I cleared my throat and drawled, “You may not realize it’s kinda early, lover boy, but some people do want to sleep.”
As if he just broke off some kind of internal debate, his unfocused eyes cleared, and they went right to me.
He blinked slowly, and as if just taking me in for the first time, he turned the charm on. With half-lidded eyes and a smile that put a sparkle in them, he replied, “Hey, neighbor.”
His focus on me, his voice, smooth and seductive, was far more devastating than watching him, catching him unaware.
I nearly hated him on sight.
He was having a good time the whole night, and he came back thinking he could score. Again. What, last night didn’t tire him out? Geez.
I shot him a glare, refusing to be drawn by this unexpected, stupid, misguided attraction. “Your car alarm’s been ringing. For two hours.”
He winced, the smile immediately dropping. “Sorry about that. Tried to get here as fast as I could.”
He looked genuinely apologetic. Except he didn’t offer me a remotely acceptable reason. He didn’t offer me a reason, period. Not that it was really my business. I just thought it might’ve worked a little to appease me, and maybe a reason that could help me accept why I had to suffer two hours of the torture.
“Right. Well, if it happens again, my hand might just accidentally slip.” I pasted on a smile.
His eyes swung to the bat I held in my hands, and I thought I saw mirth flash in those eyes, and his lips curve up just a little. He didn’t look convinced that I could do some actual damage. Well, we all knew what happened with the word assume.
“Looking forward to seeing more of you,” he drawled. The mere thought of it was already maddening.
I didn’t give him a reply, because I was already walking back inside, and by the time he uttered the last word, my door clicked shut.
* * *
The second time I clashed with my neighbor, he made me his mortal enemy—he just didn’t know it yet. Or maybe he knew and he just didn’t care.
It was a quiet Sunday night, I was tired, and I wanted pizza. I dialed the phone, chose a barbecue-flavored one, and waited for what seemed like forever. I opened my laptop and loaded a cooking show. It did help me, but nothing beat real practice.
They were making some kind of Thai curry. I watched it with intense focus, making sure I’d do the exact same thing the next time I attempted making one.
When the familiar ringing came, I jumped up excitedly.
Only my door didn’t ring, it was from his door. Disappointment swept through me. Then there was silence from his end. He didn’t even bother going back in, because I didn’t hear his door shut at all. I rushed to my front door and opened it just slightly, my head peeking out.
He looked at me, his lips tugging up, amused.
“Did you order pizza too?” I asked him, suspicious.
He shrugged. “No.”
My blood boiled. “That’s my pizza.”
He raised a brow. “I paid for it.”
I could smell the cheese from here. My mouth watered.
“Well, I ordered it,” I pressed, completely opening the door and stepping out. My hands were already reaching for it before I could stop myself. It was the lure of the pizza. It was calling my name. “And here, take my money.” I shoved a wad of bills towards him, but they only drifted to the floor. He didn’t make a move to take them.
To my horror, he opened the box, took a slice and bit in.
“What are you doing?” I shrieked.
I will kill him. Slowly. Painfully.
He paid me no attention. “I never got your name,” he said after taking the first bite.
The cheese. The ham. The barbecue sauce.
I glowered at him. If he noticed the hostile vibes I was sending him, he remained unaffected.
“That’s because I never told you,” I replied acidly.
“Now would be a good time to tell me. Mmm. Fuck me, this is good.” He sounded surprised.
My eye twitched. “Of course it’s good, it’s the Denvers’.”
He was holding my pizza hostage. He didn’t know what he was in for.
He looked at me expectantly, like he was waiting for something.
“You can’t be serious,” I said as realization struck me.
That smug smile finally stretched wide on his face. It was distractingly gorgeous and vexing. It should be illegal. “I’m very serious.”
If he held my pizza hostage only to get my name, then he must’ve wanted it bad. Therefore, I wasn’t going to tell him.
Or that was my logic anyway.
I glowered at him. “I’m ordering another pizza,” I told him slowly. “I’m going to sit here outside, making sure you never touch it. And I’m never speaking to you again.”