Nana waved as she exited through the doorway. “Have a lovely dinner. You can microwave something. Just pull the blinds.” As if microwaving a low-cal burrito was illicit. She hustled to join her friend Ina, and as soon as Bella’s meal ticket exited the house, the cat waddled off, tail twitching.
Alone with Dan, I made the most important decision of the day. “Mexican. Let me change and I’ll be right back.”
“Sure.” He took in my wrinkled work clothing. “Take your time.”
The wooden stair treads creaked as I climbed to my small bedroom. The hall runner was freshly vacuumed, and under the incandescent light, every inch of woodwork gleamed and smelled of fresh, lemony wax. I don’t know how Nan kept the house in tiptop shape when she was hardly home. She had bridge and supper clubs and senior shopping trips. I was exhausted hearing about her calendar, and until recently, I’d been somewhat envious, but the elbow grease required to keep a house this size clean left me wondering if the Merry Maids stopped by when I was at work.
My own room was austere as a monk’s cell. Bed made, shoes lined, book on the nightstand. Unlike any monk, my closet overflowed with snappy, pressed laundry, thanks to my fashion sense, Joey’s ability to find a deal, and Uncle Tino’s dry-cleaning business. He even delivered.
Yes, we were just going to another restaurant after a long day spent working in the food industry, but upon closer inspection of my shirt, I was sure I had some of Dan’s dried DNA flecking the front.
I peeled the soiled garment away, and as it landed in the hamper, my bedroom door clicked shut. I spun, and Dan’s hooded eyes devoured me. “Don’t let me stop you.”
He’d climbed the squeaky, century-old stairs without a sound. I shouldn’t be surprised, but I was. “How’d you get up here so fast?’
“I’m a sneaky bastard. You remind me daily.”
“Then why are you smiling? It’s not a compliment.”
He absorbed the details of my sparse bedroom in a glance. The twin bed. An old painted dresser. The Louisville Slugger my pop had given me for “protection.” There wasn’t much, actually. I’d downsized when I’d come to live under the Cooper roof, so thick in debt from living my fool’s dream in the West Village, I’d had to sell my furniture, and put my remaining few possessions in the attic.
“I always wondered what your room looked like.”
“Did you? Well, now you know my decor lacks verve. It does the job.” The room had been decorated for a male, at least, but Nan’s stamp was in every detail. The blue throw rug, the blue curtains, the blue wallpaper. Her palette was gender specific. “You shouldn’t be here.”
“Why? Aren’t I welcome?” Dan scoped the novel I’d left on the nightstand. His finger traced the spine, but his attention remained on me. He looked pleased as fucking punch, go figure. Like he was about to claim a prize. “Have you entertained men in this room?”
“Entertained? A man? In this room? What am I? A fan dancer?” I laughed. “You’ve got to be kidding.”
He shook his head. “No. I’m not.”
“Well, I haven’t. Nan would have had her ear to a glass on the wall.” There wasn’t enough Viagra in the entire state of New York to compensate for that image.
“Good thing she’s not here, then.” He pressed on the bed with both palms until the springs squeaked. “You’re so tense. You should relax. Maybe a massage will calm you. It’s just you and me and this junior-sized mattress. We should test its quality.”
“I am not having sex in this house.” The ghost of my disapproving grandfather, still recovering from my grandmother’s decorating excess, lurked somewhere above us. Watching. “No. Not going to happen.”
Dan’s response? He took his T-shirt off, exactly as he had earlier, and let it fall on the rug. His gaze dipped to my navel. My gaze was riveted on the V of chest hair that pointed straight south to his crotch. He smiled. “We could just have a little sex. Take your pants off.”
My jaw hardened. “No. I thought you were starving. I am.”
He stepped closer, and I backed up, which put me partially in the closet, and that was no place for Caesar Romano to be. It was like divine intervention. Get the fuck out of the closet. I moved closer to Dan, and I couldn’t help admire the width of his biceps and the play of shadow on his lean stomach. And the way his smile deepened as I waffled. Or the obvious thrill he took when I made up my mind.
“Now we’re talking.” He loosened his belt, clickity-clack, and down went his jeans. A flick and both socks sailed through the air. In a flash, former Detective Daniel Green Albright, aka heartthrob, stood mouthwateringly nude in my small, lonely, pathetically-spare bedroom. Hard-edged, long-limbed, full mast, scars and all—he was a wet dream.
Still, I reminded him, “Smug is unbecoming.”
“You love it.”
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