Series: Stupid Awesome Love #1
Cover Design: Sofie Hartley, Hart & Bailey Design Co.
Release Date: June 7, 2018
New York City summers are hot and sticky, which only makes what I’m feeling for the asshole in my new building even messier. Usually, I quietly reserve my opinions for my news articles, but when Tony argues with me, he tempts me to give in to my crazy. I yell back. He smiles. Something in me melts.
It was only supposed to be one time, but we can’t get enough.
With Tony I’m a new person, brave and unashamed. But anything between us can only be a fling. He’s offered a job in Rome. That’s good, right? With a long history of unreliable relationships, messy emotions are a complication I don’t need.
Tony…has a sexy new neighbor.
I’ve worked my ass off to climb the ladder at my company, even threw away my passion to prove I’m worth something. When they offer me a high position, I should be focused on my work. But no one’s ever spoken to me the way Sophie does. She pushes buttons I don’t know I have. Forces me to confront a dream I gave up long ago.
In two months, we go our separate ways. No hurt feelings. No misunderstandings. That’s the deal. She doesn’t need to know I’ll be playing for keeps.
The first time we argue, I feel alive. I’m sweating, my blood’s pumping, and my hair is sticking to my face in the stinking New York City humidity. I don’t know what life really is until some asshole starts screaming at me to move my van from his spot, because it feels so damn good to yell right back at him.
“Get your U-Haul out of my parking spot!”
This guy’s hollering at me from across the street.
“Excuse me?” I call back, convinced he isn’t speaking to me. No one ever yells at me. I’m unassuming and introverted. I’m a wallpaper ninja, blending so well people can’t even find me to yell at me.
But the guy across the street sees me, clear as day.
“Are you deaf?” he yells with slow and exaggerated articulation. “Get your damn moving van out of my spot.”
I’m not the type of person to engage in a verbal fight. I’m quiet-even when someone pisses me off. I roll with the chaotic nature of my beautifully harsh city: a strand of seaweed in the ocean, riding the tides. But after surviving the day from hell, only to be accosted by this bear of a man? I fight back, like I never have before.
“Last time I checked there are no spots assigned to people on this block, or anywhere else in Brooklyn.”
“It’s an unwritten rule.”
I mimic his earlier tone, hitting every consonant and unleashing my New York accent to embellish the attitude. “If you couldn’t tell, I’m moving into the building and there’s an actual written rule that if I double-park the U-Haul, I’ll get a ticket.”
“That’s not my problem, baby.” He steps into the street, waiting for a break in traffic to cross. “Find a new spot.”
I nearly drop the moving box in outrage before remembering it has wine glasses mom sent from Napa. Breaking them would be a crime. I’ll need them before this shit day is over, especially after getting a look at the man charging at me like a bull chasing red.
As he crosses the street I expect to see a guido with a beer gut, and while I imagine he’s got a decent percentage of Italian heritage, there sure as hell ain’t no beer gut. Instead I’m greeted by a fit and trim physique, tanned skin, and biceps I could drool over. The muscles in his arms tense and roll with every word, every wild gesticulation. He levels with me on the sidewalk and removes his sunglasses, revealing dark eyes flecked with gold. He’s shockingly handsome—like runway model handsome— combined with the grittiness of a rock star and the best parts of a native New Yorker. I’m wearing the tank top I slept in last night, a ratty old sports bra, and shorts I haven’t washed for two weeks.
This day is the pits.
“Because of your stupid van, I had to circle the surrounding blocks for twenty minutes to find a spot for my pickup truck. A paid, limited-parking, spot.”
“How is your poor car choice my fault? Who in their right mind has a pickup truck and lives in Brooklyn? You’re just asking for endless nights searching for parking. What do you do when it snows?”
The challenge in his eyes is like a book I have to devour. One flexed bicep, an arched eyebrow, and I’m hooked.
He shoots a disparaging glance at my van before asking, “You’re moving into this building?” He points at my new place.
I’ve propped the outer foyer door open and there are boxes preloaded onto a dolly at the top of the stoop.
“No.” I lay the sarcasm on thick. “I’ve come here to unload this van with the sole purpose of pissing you off. I thought, ‘who in all of New York can I make the most miserable today?’ ” I raise one arm in a fist pump. “I won!”
His eyes widen like he can’t believe I’m not backing down, and I might be hallucinating from the heat, but I swear I catch a smile before he starts laying into me again, our voices getting louder and louder.
“I don’t care what you’re doing; I need this spot for my truck, and you need to move.”
“I will move my truck when I’m good and ready.”
“You’ll move now.”
“No? That’s it?”
“That’s it?” I repeat, dumbfounded. As if the world revolves around this asshole’s giant ego. “I’ll tell you what’s it. It’s ninety-eight degrees outside. I had to take a day off work to move because the management company of this stupid new building insists I move one week after signing the lease, much to the dismay of my boss, who was kinda pissed I didn’t come in today.”
He opens his mouth to speak and I cover it with my hand, unwilling to break my stride. I haven’t unloaded like this in years.
“And then the rental company loses my reservation for the van, and proceeds to send me to two consecutive branches ’till I found one that has the size I reserved. Two branches.”
His eyes narrow as he crosses his arms, but he doesn’t stop me. I’m on a damn roll, releasing pressure built by an awful day, and years of containing my opinion to the written word. I keep my hand on his lips, not because it feels nice or anything, but because I need to get this off my chest and he’s the unlucky bastard who’s gonna hear it. Not even an introvert of my level can keep it cool after the shit storm of my day.
“The Task Rabbit guys I hired to load the truck were an hour late and on the drive over no less than three cabbies¾three¾cut me off on the bridge, and I’m pretty sure I heard one of my boxes fall over and break as I swerved to get out of the way. And now, to put the icing on a great big turd of a cake, a loudmouth jackass is ordering me to move my van after getting a spot directly in front of my new building. He wants to shit on the one good thing that’s happened to me today. You want to know what’s it?” I’m panting it’s so hard to get the last words out.
“That’s fucking it.”
I’ve lived in various spots around New York City my entire life but until this moment I’ve never adhered to the loud-mouthed-I-don’t-need-a-filter culture. With this guy and his amber-streaked hair and gold cross around his neck¾I let go of all my insecurities and worry over what people will think and just let it fly. Over a parking spot, of all things.
A freakin’ parking spot.
When he takes my hand away from his mouth, cradling my wrist with an almost shocking tenderness, making my skin itch, I ask, “Who the fuck do you think you are?”
My yelling draws the attention of passing pedestrians. I think I see a smartphone or two recording us. He sees them too, a frown pulling his features into severity. It transforms his smooth edges into a creature of rougher origins, a true piece of him I find both unnerving and intriguing.
“I think I’m the guy who needs you to move your van, so I can park my pickup truck here, in the only spot on this block that fits it.” His voice is low, but there’s a definite heat behind it. Whether it’s the same annoyed tone from before or something new I can’t tell, and after the scene I just made, I don’t think I want to know.
He’s still holding my hand, swiping his thumb back and forth across my wrist.
“Do you verbally attack every unsuspecting person who parks in your spot, or am I just lucky?”
“Baby, you don’t know what lucky is, but I’d be more than happy to show you.”
That might be a warning or a come on¼or both.
I advance on him, my bravado knowing no ends today. “Don’t call me baby, asshole.”
He matches me step for step. “Till you move out of my spot, I’ll call you what I want, baby.”
I want to kick him, but the way he says baby flashes through my body like a heat wave. A deliciously sexy heat wave.
Actually, I should kick myself to get my good sense back.
His hand is still holding my wrist. I’m starting to think I don’t want him to let go.
“Why don’t you go cool off with a walk around the block, go pump some iron, take some steroids, or do whatever it is you guido types do.”
“You say guido like it’s a bad thing. Where are you from that you can cast aspersions on my character?” He laughs when my eyebrows shoot up, casually leaning toward me as if I didn’t just spit my entire day up on him.
He finally lets go of my wrist, and I feel the loss of his heat, even in the humid air.
“Guidos know big words too, baby.”
God, why does fighting with him feel so good? I should want to smack him, and I do, but having his lips so close to mine makes me want different things. Sinful, sexy, and dirty things.
“You perpetuate that stereotype yourself. You’re doing it now, yelling at me like an Italian thug.”
His hand clutches his heart. “You wound me, baby. I should take you inside, throw you over my knee and teach you a lesson.”
His immodest threat makes me blush, but not because I’m scandalized, but because now I know I kinda want it. And God, he sees it. He sees the shift from anger to lust. He sees my skin flush in color from something other than fury, and he grabs hold.
“You can’t tell me to move the van,” I say before he can interject with another baby.
“I can tell you whatever I want; it’s up to you to behave and actually do it.”
“Who says I need to behave?”
“The laws of decency.”
“You’re screaming at an innocent woman like a madman, and you have the balls to call me indecent?”
“I have balls for many different scenarios. I keep them in a velvet-lined drawer and take them out when such occasions arise.”
Don’t laugh. Don’t fucking laugh.
I open my mouth to start another round, but before I can get a word in His Almighty Dickishness turns on a dime and flashes a roguish grin, the asshole gone in a flash. The result is devastating. His body is all fully-grown man, but his smile is whimsical and childlike, more open than what I’m prepared for. I was raised on cynicism and sarcasm. Pure honesty is alarming.
“Listen, the longer we stand here, the hotter and crankier I get. I’m gonna speed this up for us. What floor you movin’ into?”
He runs his hands through his hair, seeking an outlet. I know the feeling; I’m as jittery as kid with A.D.D. “I’m gonna help you move so you can get your ugly van out of my way.”
His offer, combined with the sudden change in his demeanor, throws me so far off balance I answer without thinking, “Third floor.”
“What a coincidence. I’m on the fourth. Welcome to the building. C’mon, baby, show me what you need moved.”
“You live here?”
“Yes.” He peers into the van, seeing all the boxes and furniture pieces I could cram into it. “Were you gonna move that loveseat by yourself?”
“You live here.” I point at my new address, making it obviously clear which building I mean because I need to know absolutely, without any doubt, that the man I’ve just screamed at, like a an unashamed weirdo, like I’m never gonna see him again, lives one floor above me. “At this building.”
“Yes. This building.” He grins, his teeth accompanied by a sparkle.
It is singularly unfair that a man so annoying can be so profoundly attractive. He’s checking all my boxes. Which only makes me angrier.
“I don’t need your help.” What I don’t need is this big gulp of man in my apartment. “I’m stronger than I look.”
He sighs, leans against the hated van with his arms in his pockets. Unassuming. Harmless. Ha!
“I’m sorry I yelled at you earlier.”
I dip my chin and stare at him with an eyebrow arched in sarcastic doubt.
“Okay, I am sorry I made your day harder. Let me make it up to you. Let me help you move in.”
He doesn’t wait for me to accept, of course, just turns back to the open van, eyeing it like a mountain to be climbed.
“What do you want moved first?”
He’s genuine. He’s actually offering to help me, after spending a good twenty minutes making an ass of himself by demanding I move for his benefit. And all of sudden he’s helping me, like this is who he was all along. Like I’m not the only one who’s had a shit day.
“How about the ones labeled kitchen? That’s the best room in my apartment.” he chuckles to himself. I figure it must be an inside joke until he proves he’s gotta have the single most massive ego in all of Brooklyn. “It’s only the best due to my superb cooking. Do you like linguine?”
“Yes,” I mumble automatically, unable to deal with the shift in his demeanor. I’m practically out of breath from hollering at him, and my body is on a knife’s edge, tempted by this hunk of man, and he’s talking about fucking linguine.
“Baby.” There’s that word again. “You haven’t had linguine till you’ve had my linguine.”
Oh, I want his linguine.
Without another word he gathers two boxes, one on each shoulder. He looks like a textbook illustration of an ancient Roman hauling cement blocks to build a great structure.
He catches me staring and winks.
I will not let Lord Linguine show me up. I will prove I can do this by myself, and maybe that will make him go away. I grab a box, then another, and another, balancing them and forcing myself to smile. These boxes weigh nothing. I’m not killing myself in the heat to prove anything. I perform heavy lifting on a regular basis.
“I’m fine,” I grunt, hobbling up the steps to the building, the weight of the boxes turning me slower than molasses.
The elevator is out of order¾don’t cry, don’t cry¾so it’s pointless to use the dolly. We’re forced to take the stairs.
“Are you sure?” he asks.
“Stop asking me,” I grunt.
Christ, this hurts so much. I’m going to die. My knees will break, and I’ll crumble in on myself, forced to listen to Lord Linguine laugh as he steps over me.
My foot catches on the top step, and the boxes start to tumble. Before I can even cry out, he’s there, deftly placing his boxes down to help me, making sure I don’t fall. One hand on my waist, the other supporting the three boxes.
“Thanks.” The adrenaline from the near fall pulses through my veins as I look up at him. We’re close, barely a breath apart, and I can’t catch my breath. I can’t stop looking into his eyes.
Is it possible for a man’s gaze to smolder and shine at the same time?
He sounds normal, no longer filled with false bravado, almost kind.
“What would my Ma say if I let you land ass up?”
There’s the idiot I’ve come to know.
We make it to the third floor, and I almost collapse when we reach my door.
“Is it unlocked?” Linguine asks, shuffling in front of me.
He slides the door open, sets the boxes in the kitchen where I direct him to, as if they’re light as a feather, then comes over and takes all three of my boxes away. He doesn’t so much as grimace from the weight, and I hate him more than ever.
“Let’s take a break¾”
“Shut up, there’s still more.”
I ignore his deep chuckles as we go back to the van.
I don’t repeat my earlier folly, but I make him carry the heavier stuff to pay him back for being so smug. He doesn’t complain, just lugs another two boxes onto his shoulders and places them where I tell him.
I trail behind him each time we go back down the stairs to the first floor. His back muscles flex with every step, on display through the thin, white tank top. It’s a nice view, and I don’t stop myself from raking my gaze down his waist to what I can only describe as the most delicious bubble butt ensconced in pants tailor-made for his ass.
He faces me once he hits the sidewalk, a self-satisfied smirk highlighting a mouth and cheekbones I’m slowly starting to obsess over in my head, and I think he knows I’ve been looking. I don’t care. I’m taking full advantage of the view while I can, except when he calls me on it.
“You looking at my ass, baby?”
“No,” I say too quickly, cursing my lack of finesse.
“I can feel your eyes on me.”
“You’re hallucinating.” We get to the van, and I’m surprised by how little is left to move.
“Don’t worry, I’ve been looking at yours too.”
“You son of a¾”
“I’ve got time for one more trip,” he says, his arm brushing mine as he reaches for more boxes.
Electricity shoots through my body. Our eyes meet. He licks his lips. I can’t have him in my apartment anymore, filling it up with his raw energy and body so beautiful I’ve come to appreciate it for the work of art it is.
“You can stop right now, I didn’t need your help when I started, and I don’t need it now.”
He ignores me, grabbing another two boxes.
“I said I don’t need your¾” He grabs two more boxes and runs up to the building, like a puppy stealing a shoe, trying to instigate a play session. Except this is a grown man who I can barely look at without thinking dirty thoughts. “¾what a freaking asshole¼”
We’re in my apartment again, the space getting smaller and smaller with every second I’m near him. We’re so close to each other, yet a million miles away.
He sets the boxes by the entrance and runs his fingers through his hair as he straightens from a crouch, his slacks stretched taut over muscular thighs.
His hair looks soft. Does he highlight it to get that color? Beautiful amber streaks piercing through pitch black.
I push my hands through my curly, pixie-length haircut, mussing it up to distract myself. I gnaw at my bottom lip and press down till I feel a pinch, a reminder not to stare at him. It’s just so damn hard.
He catches me looking again, and I glance away, coming down from the high of strong emotions and physical exertion. But it’s not enough. I feel anxious and incomplete, like I’m missing something.
Like whatever is passing between us isn’t over.
“I’d say thank you, but I don’t think you helping me makes up for your dickishness earlier.” I shrug, unrepentant.
He doesn’t move, just keeps looking at me as his hands slowly lower. No other response. My heart beats a little faster when he licks his lips, and wet heat that has nothing to do with summer humidity blooms between my legs.
“You can go now.” I don’t really want him to go. I want him to stand in the middle of my apartment, so I can stare at him a while longer. The last time I was near a man so beautiful was for an article I wrote on the trials of the male model life. Those guys are paid to be gorgeous, but they’ve got nothing on Lord Linguine.
He nods, as though he hears and understands, but makes no moves to leave. He just keeps looking at me, and now he’s touching his bottom lip with his thumb. Dear Lord, his mouth is sumptuous. No, not just sumptuous. It’s fat and thick, made more tantalizing by the way it plumps whenever he bites down.
Who is this guy?
He’s been carrying my heaviest boxes up and down the stairs without a drop of perspiration, like some Greek god. I’m sweating worse than a roasted pig and am most likely still flushed and red after our argument¾thanks, Irish coloring. My clothes are wrinkled and gross, and I can’t recall if I brushed my teeth this morning.
But I know the look he’s giving me, like there’s nothing in the world he wants more. It should scare me. I don’t know him at all, and yet¼and yet¼that itch in my skin is all from him. One argumentative word from my new neighbor and I’ve unleashed more personality on the world than in the past five years.
Male desire emanates from his gaze like the sun at high noon; no doubt I’ll get burned if I don’t protect myself. I would usually feel uncomfortable, wary even, if someone I don’t know keeps staring at me like he does, but after spending the last hour with him—feeling his hand on my back when I nearly missed a step on one of our ascents, staring at his ass, watching his muscles tense and roll with every step, watching his lips like my favorite TV show—all I feel is an intense need.
The realization slaps me in the face so hard I nearly take a step back.
I want Lord Linguine. I want his beautiful body covering mine. I want his lips on places that haven’t felt the touch of a man in longer than I care to admit. I want him inside me. I want him to use my body till I’m wrung out and this awful day is erased.
But all I say is, “See you around the building.”
Again, no response, just staring, with the occasional lip licks or flickers of his gaze. He’s looking at my body the same way I’m looking at his. Seeing him want me only makes me want him more.
Proof of his humanity shows as moisture drips down the side of his tanned face, tripping over a thin layer of manicured stubble. Shit, he’s beautiful, in a brutal, New York City way. And considering the way he shifts, his tight-fitting trousers stretching taut, a long hard line now highlighted at the front of his pants, I’m pretty sure he’s thinking the same thing about me.
I bite my bottom lip deliberately to see what he does. He watches the move then finally speaks. His voice is as far from the riotous nature of our initial encounter as it can get.
“I could stay, help you unpack some stuff.”
I nearly prevaricate, but decide to stick to honesty. We both know what’s happening here.
“That’s not what would happen if you stayed.”
“It’s your choice. If you don’t want me to stay, I’ll leave. We’ll nod at each other as we pass in the hallway, like this was an unremarkable encounter. We’ll go back to being strangers. I don’t want that, but I promise I’ll leave if you do.”
“Oh, now you care what I think?” Stalling. Stalling, I am so stalling.
“I’ve been hanging on your every word for the past hour, and in no world would I ever want to make a woman uncomfortable, so yeah, I care a whole fucking lot.” His body is tense, practically vibrating, yet he stays put. Waiting for me.
“Tell me what you want, baby.”
Do I want what he’s offering?
“I’ll make you feel so good.”
Uninhibited sex between strangers?
After the day I’ve had?
He takes a step forward. We’re nearly on top of each other now. My hands itch to touch him. “Say yes.”
Fuck yes, I do.
A New York native, Ceri now lives in California with her two cats, Mercy and Eugene Fitzherbert, who should be very thankful she didn’t name him frying pan. She is a proud functioning introvert and lover of all things geeky. You can find her haunting the Twitter machine or posting pictures of her ridiculous cats on Instagram.
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