“And there she is, completely oblivious that she’s making me nuts and turning me on all at the same time,” Greg grumbled, as if fed up.
Cody noticed his friend went all intense and alert every time his eyes landed on his sweetly tempting neighbor, Sarah Templeton.
“Her name ought to be Sarah Temptation, for Christ’s sake.”
Cody laughed full out. Greg’s disgruntled attitude was getting to be a favorite past time for him. “Greg, if you want her, why don’t you just go get her?” He heard Greg emit a low growl and Cody pushed a little harder. “You’ve been watching her steadily for the past two months now, and I get the feeling you’ve wanted a taste of her for the entire two years that you’ve lived in this complex with her, yet you’ve only ever been polite and friendly. I’ve never seen you like this with a woman. Hell, most of the time you don’t even bother with niceties. It’s all, ‘I want you, you want me, let’s have sex’. You’re pushy and stubborn and you never balk at going after what you want. And it’s becoming pathetically clear that you want Sarah. For the love of God, at this point I want you to have her! I’m getting sick of hearing you bitch and moan.”
Cody Walters had never seen his friend like this. He’d been Greg’s closest friend since high school. They’d both had a penchant for getting into trouble, which had quickly forged a bond between the two. Together, they had come up with new and inventive ways of getting themselves into one mess after another. However, as they’d gotten older and a tad bit wiser, they’d grown out of their rowdiness and had even managed to turn all that clever thinking into a productive building and remodeling company. Cody was the guy to wrangle the jobs while Greg worked the figures, and they both utilized the muscles that God had given them to get the job done. They had employees and an office to work out of now, and after seven years, the G & C Building and Remodeling business was only getting stronger.
Still, if Greg didn’t quit acting like a lovesick pup every time he saw his cute little blonde-haired neighbor, he was going to have to hit the big lug over the head and lay him out on Sarah’s porch with sign that read, ‘take me…please’.
“It’s not that I don’t want to go over there, ring her doorbell and kiss her senseless, Cody. I’d give my left nut to be able to do that; but the morning after would be damned awkward considering she lives right across the courtyard. She’d be faced with seeing me everyday and she’d be embarrassed.” He sighed. “I don’t want her to feel uncomfortable in her own home.”
Cody shoved a hand through his hair and stood. He’d been nursing a beer for the past hour and it was obvious that they weren’t going to be getting anything accomplished on the new office building across town. The real estate company wanted some updates done and G&C was supposed to put in a bid Monday morning, bright and early. So far, all he’d gotten out of Greg was a few distracted comments. He was too busy staring out his front window to do anything productive. It was Friday afternoon and it had been raining all day, otherwise they would have been on a job site. The rain had forced them to put off work, so they’d thought they’d work up an estimate on their next job instead. It had since stopped raining and the sun had begun to shine again, bright and hot. June was like that in Chestnut, Ohio. Nevertheless, Greg was frigging useless so long as he had Sarah Temptation stirring his blood every time she walked out her front door. And it was time he said as much to Greg.
He moved to the window next to Greg and looked out. Cody whistled low. Sarah was now bent over, pulling weeds out of her miniscule flowerbed. Evidently, she’d decided to take advantage of the wet ground. She wore a pair of old, frayed, jean shorts that had stains on the back pockets and a black tank top. Her blonde hair was pulled into a messy ponytail and she appeared barely old enough to drive. He knew she was somewhere in her twenties, but no one would know it by the looks of her now. “She is a sweet little thing, isn’t she?”
Greg swung his icy blue gaze towards him for the first time in half an hour and ground out, “Don’t even think it, Cody.”
Cody allowed a small smile to slip across his face, but then his thoughts scattered as something else caught his attention. In the condominium two doors down from Sarah’s, a man sat on his front patio in a lawn chair pretending to read the newspaper, but Cody realized the man was really watching Sarah. By the carnal glances he gave her, his thoughts were not at all pure or neighborly either. “I think you have a bit of competition, bud.”
Greg’s brows drew together as he looked in the direction that Cody had pointed. “What the hell?”
Curious, Cody asked, “You know him?”
Greg rubbed his chin in contemplation and muttered, “No. He must be new to the complex.”
“Well, it sure didn’t take him long to discover where the most succulent fruits grew, did it?”
Greg stared at the newcomer and Cody watched his muscles pump up as he worked himself into a frenzy of possessive rage. Interesting. Cody had never seen his friend act jealous or possessive before. That he was doing it now, over a woman he hadn’t even kissed, was a revelation indeed. The new guy on the block may be just the thing to push Greg into action, which would mean getting Sarah out of his system and his friend’s head back on business where it should be.
Cody pushed away from the window, slapped Greg on the back, and proceeded to goad him into action. “You’d better get your ass in gear if you want to be the man who tempts sweet Sarah out of her clothes and into the nearest bed.”
Greg pulled away from the window and smiled. It wasn’t at all a nice smile either, more like a baring of teeth from a mountain lion. “I believe you may be right. It’s time I got Sarah all to myself, once and for all.”
* * * *
Sarah felt ridiculous standing in the wet mulch as she attempted to yank out one weed after another, but she took pride in her condominium. She’d worked hard to have a place of her own since getting out from under her father’s thumb. He’d been a controlling and condescending man and she alone had taken the brunt of his forceful will. Being the only child with a mother who had skipped out only months after giving birth, Will Templeton had used her to exact revenge upon the woman who’d wronged him. At every turn, Sarah was told how she was exactly like her mother. Just as useless, just as unappreciative. It had taken all her will power to realize he was nothing more than a bitter man who didn’t value the joys of fatherhood.
She wanted a family, lots of kids, and a husband who would dote on them, but, at the ripe age of twenty-five, she was no closer to having that dream come true than she had been at twenty-four or twenty-three. She was the only twenty-five year old virgin she knew and she was pretty damn sure she would be heading straight to old maid status if she didn’t do something to kick her sex life into gear. If she couldn’t have children and a husband, the very least she could have is some fun.
Oh, it wasn’t as if she was invisible to men, but none had ever made her want to take off her clothes. She’d had a few boyfriends, but the relationships had always left her wanting more, as if there was something, or someone, out there just waiting for her.
Sarah yanked extra hard on the weed at her idealistic notions. Her father would roll his eyes and scoff if he knew she was thinking such things. He was a no-nonsense man and his attitude had always been that she was better off never falling in love. Love caused pain, he’d say. She heard him mutter those words thousands of times. “Sarah, trust me. I know best. Love is like fog—one minute you can nearly taste it, the very next it’s gone, and you’re left wondering if it’d all been nothing more than an illusion to start with.”
She’d kept her thoughts to herself and let him rant. He wouldn’t take stock in anything she—a woman—had to say anyway so she’d never bothered to change his mind. Again, she yanked at a weed, realizing too late that it’d been a flower. “Damn it!”
“I’m eternally grateful that I’m not green and growing in your garden.”
Sarah stumbled at the husky drawl and fell face first into her patch of daffodils. She twisted around, careful not to destroy her flowers completely and saw that the voice belonged to none other than Greg Stiles, her sexy, dark-haired neighbor with the brooding good looks that belonged on the cover of a hot romance novel. He was big, standing at the very least, six foot two, and had the solid body that could only be gained by hours and hours of hard work. She had admired him from afar for the entire two years that she’d lived at Willow Glenn Condominiums, but he always seemed to be avoiding her, as if it pained him to be in her presence. Too late, she realized she was just sitting in mulch and staring.
He stood above her, wearing a pair of well-worn jeans that molded beautifully to his hard thighs and cupped his sex in a way that made her mouth water, and a black t-shirt with a rip at the hem. His legs were braced apart, arms crossed over his chest, and a devilish smile was on his handsome face. Great, she amused him. The story of her life.
“Would you like a hand up, sweetheart?”
Sweetheart? An endearment, or had he forgotten her name? Most likely the latter. Sarah sighed and held out her hand. “If it wouldn’t be too much trouble.” He winked at her, then yanked. She stumbled to her feet, only this time it was to land against Greg’s powerful chest. She paused a minute, allowing herself to savor the experience of being embraced by the hunky construction worker. Sarah felt her body respond to the warmth and scent of him in a way like never before. Could she finally have found the man to take her from virgin spinster to seductive siren?
Unfortunately, another male voice intruded on her delirium. A little too late she realized the intimate way Greg held her and she sprung backwards. Greg gave her a mischievous grin, which made her want to smack him.
“Hi, thought I’d take this opportunity to introduce myself,” the newcomer said. “Name’s Blake Richards; I just moved in a few days ago.” He held out his hand to Sarah first and she was struck by the steely glint in his silver eyes. Unlike Greg, Blake was dressed in a pair of expensive black slacks and a white shirt, unbuttoned at the collar with the sleeves rolled up. The mop of his shining black hair made his gaze seem all the more mesmerizing. She’d seen him moving in. She hadn’t wanted to be nosy, but she’d noticed that he’d moved in alone and she’d been curious about him. He’d driven into their complex in a black convertible BMW and he’d looked mysterious and alluring, drawing all the ladies’ attention right away. But she hadn’t seen him since.
Sarah reached out and shook his hand, smiling a friendly greeting. “Good to meet you, Blake. I’m Sarah Templeton and this is Greg Stiles,” she explained, indicating Greg, who’d been staring at the man, frowning something fierce, and being entirely too rude for her comfort. “Welcome to the neighborhood.”
A wicked grin spread across Blake’s face. “Why thank you, Sarah.”
The way he said her name, as if savoring it on his tongue, seemed intimate and a too forward to her. Her thoughts scattered as Blake turned his attention to Greg, holding his hand out to him as well. Greg stared another few seconds before clasping his hand in a firm grip.
“Welcome to the neighborhood, Blake,” Greg hissed, his voice low and dark, as if he’d had to force the words out. Suddenly, Greg dropped Blake’s hand and turned back to her, dismissing the man entirely, and pinned her in place. “Sarah, I wanted to ask you, if you don’t have any other plans that is, if you’d have dinner with me tonight?”
That stunned her speechless. Greg had always seemed to take great measures in avoiding her. She had even wondered if he disliked her for some reason. Hearing him invite her to dinner now was not at all what she would have expected. In secret, she’d wondered more than a few times what it would be like to have Greg Stiles alone. She’d seen him with other women. It wasn’t a lot of women, and Greg was always very discreet, but she’d secretly envied those girls. And hadn’t she just been thinking that it was time for her get on with her life and quit dwelling on the husband and children dream? Oh, she still wanted those things, but if she sat around and waited for them to come to her, she’d be old and gray and very much alone. She didn’t want to end up bitter like her father, shunning the very idea of love and happiness.
“I’d like that, Greg,” she blurted out before she could change her mind. Sarah watched in fascination as a slow, intimate smile came over his face, changing the harsh planes and angles in an instant. Now he acted more like the playful flirt she’d witnessed just moments ago. She cleared her throat and got her mind back on track in the process. “What time should I be ready?”
“I can pick you up at seven; does that work for you?”
Her heart beat faster at the idea of having a date with the rugged Greg Stiles. “Sure,” she stuttered out , then as an afterthought, “What should I wear?”
He examined her from head to toe and Sarah could feel the heat of his chocolate-brown eyes all over her body. It was the first time she became aware of how dirty and awful she must look. Especially after falling into the wet mulch. Surely he’d change his mind once he came to his senses… She was really hoping he wouldn’t change his mind.
When his heated gaze came back to hers there was a most sinful curve to his lips and the sweet cadence in his voice fairly vibrated all over her as he murmured, “A skirt. Definitely a skirt.” She blinked several times, wondering what had suddenly come over her neighbor, and her face grew hot when she saw the amusement on Blake Richards’ face. She’d practically forgotten he stood there!
“No, what I meant was, do I wear casual or dressy, Greg?” she bit out, angry that he could be so forward as to dictate what she wore, but he was already sauntering off, whistling of all things, which left her alone with their new neighbor.
Great, just great.
She swallowed her embarrassment and reached for something to say when she thought of Blake’s sweet, classy car. “I love your car. What do you do for a living that affords you that little beauty?”
“I’m in banking. Not exactly an exciting job, but it manages to pay well.” He reached out and wiped at a smudge of dirt on her nose. “What about you, Sarah?”
“We have something in common it seems; my job isn’t anything glamorous either. I’m a manager in a dental office.”
He nodded, as if sympathizing. “Insurance companies and files all day?”
She laughed. “Yep, that pretty much sums it up.”
He quirked his head to the side. “So, what did you want to be when you were a little girl?”
She sobered instantly. Looking down at her clothes, Sarah started swiping at her shorts and shirt, attempting unsuccessfully to get the already ground in dirt off, as she considered whether or not she really wanted to get into this touchy subject. “It’ll sound really lame, I’m afraid.”
“Try me, Sarah.”
The deeply whispered words made her wonder if he was still talking about childhood dreams. She shrugged, figuring it couldn’t hurt to tell him. “I wanted to be a wife and mother. I used to dream of being a stay-home mom. The kind who’d have cookies hot and fresh from the oven when the kids got off the bus. A mother who would tuck them in at night with a bedtime story. I used to imagine myself cooking dinner and greeting my husband with a kiss every day when he got home from work.” She sighed; thinking of that dream made her wistful. “It’s not at all politically correct, but there it is.”
He reached a hand out, touched her cheek with a finger and stroked. “No, it’s not very PC, but it is very appealing all the same.”
She mentally smacked herself for her fanciful notions and asked, “So, how about you?”
He frowned, as if suddenly uncomfortable with the conversation. “I wanted to be what a lot of boys long to become. A firefighter.”
Now that did surprise her. The handsome and well-dressed man standing in front of her could easily pose for GQ. He’d look perfect sitting in a boardroom, but wearing a firefighter suit with soot streaking his face? She honestly had a hard time picturing it. It just went to show that you should never judge a book by the cover.
She smiled, feeling genuinely at ease, as if she’d known him much longer than just a few minutes. “Well, I don’t know about you, Blake, but I’m not quite ready to give up on that dream.” Blake grinned right back. “You know, Sarah Templeton? I think I’m going to really enjoy living at Willow Glenn.”