The day had finally come, and I could hardly contain my excitement.
I never knew starting over at the not-so-ripe age of forty would be so freeing. It was like a huge weight lifted off my whole body. I was free!
I didn’t have to look at my ex-fiancé’s face anymore. Nor did I have to watch him openly flirt with all the other nurses. I didn’t have to watch him move on happily with the tramp he cheated on me with.
He was a lot more than a jerk, but I was not thinking about him anymore. Plus, karma always got back at people who deserved her wrath. I was starting my new life in a new city, in my new-to-me house.
The best part of this move was that my best friend since we were in diapers was my neighbor.
We were celebrating this glorious day together with champagne on my front porch, ogling the movers as they unloaded the truck and carried all of my things into the house.
It was a great way to celebrate on a Monday.
See? All Mondays weren’t bad.
Another thing that made this move better for my sanity was that I was closer to my two older brothers. One I adored and loved, Luke. The other was the eldest of the five of us, and… the poor guy wasn’t everyone’s favorite. We all loved him, but we wouldn’t walk out in front of a bus to save him. Oliver was just…Oliver. He was a hard person to figure out. Oh, calm down. We’d save him. We might just shove him out of the way extra hard.
Pushing away thoughts of family and ex-jerk face, I went back to supervising the movers. It was a tough job, but someone had to do it.
“What about that one?” Kendra asked.
I hid my smile behind the crystal flute she had brought with her.
My bestie had taken the day off to celebrate with me. She was a lawyer and had just won a big case, so that gave us double the reasons to celebrate.
I watched mister tall, blond, and delicious with rippling abs, a luscious tush I could’ve bounced a quarter off of and one of those cute little man buns carry a large box toward us.
He was young enough to call me mama but still legal. Maybe being a cougar wasn’t such a bad idea. Just as long as he left before the sun was up. I had no plans to wake up beside another man, ever.
Did you hear me? Ever.
It would give my eldest brother Oliver something else to turn his nose up at and lecture me about why it wasn’t a good idea to date a man young enough to be my son.
At least Luke would support a fling with the hot moving man. On second thought, Luke supported orgies and any manner of sexual escapades. That was a little too many hands, arms, legs, and bodies for me.
No, thank you. Although… maybe… Nope.
As the cutie with the man bun walked past, he batted a pair of lashes that looked like someone had dipped them chocolate, and I glanced down at his pants, totally by accident.
No, really. I didn’t mean to.
But oh, my. His pants fit like they’d been painted on. Molded to every move of his body, but also like they were begging to be torn off. It’d been a while since I’d had a back to rake my fingers down.
Kendra, my bestie for as long as I could remember, cocked a dark brow, then shrugged. “I have socks older than he is.”
I snorted, then giggled. It was probably the champagne, but who cared. “I didn’t say I wanted to marry him.”
God forbid. One bite of that sour apple was enough for me, and even if spitting out that second bite wasn’t my choice, I was over the whole idea. Kendra had it right. Her love ‘em and leave ‘em lifestyle was my inspiration from now on. New start, new motto.
Broken hearts were a young woman’s game, and I wasn’t young enough to be willing to risk another. No way, buddy.
“Since when is a little bump and grind enough for you?” Skeptical was Kendra’s middle name, while a smile flirted with her lips. The skeptical part sure helped in her budding law career as her last name was Justice, after all. Literally.
Kendra didn’t trust easily, which was why she’d stayed single after her divorce almost fifteen years ago.
I shrugged and watched a mover lean against a dolly full of boxes while he rode the truck gate to the ground. Shirtless, muscular, and blond were apparently my new turn-on. Who knew I had a type? “Being left at the altar was eye-opening and threw my entire life in a new direction,” I mumbled.
This direction’s sheen of sweat, when combined with the champagne, put thoughts into my head. Fun thoughts. Sexy thoughts. Thoughts a newly single woman with no prospects had no business having. Or maybe every business having them.
The best part was I didn’t have to wake up next to anyone or answer to anyone. Ever. Again.
“Have you found a job yet?” It figured Kendra would change the subject to something more serious. What a way to snap me back to reality.
She was such a buzzkill sometimes.
“No, but I put in applications and sent out resumes to hospitals within fifty miles and every doctor’s office in the greater Chestnut Hill-Philadelphia area. I also found an agency that offers private nursing. I’m thinking of checking it out.” At this point, I had to take what I could get. My life savings had gone into the sanity-saving move.
Kendra nodded. Her approval wasn’t essential, but the validation was nice. “Have you met the neighbors yet?”
She knew I’d come to tour the house and talk to the previous owner about a week ago. Kendra had been on some witch’s retreat.
Pointing to the house on the other side of mine, she said, “Sara lives there with her 2.5 kids and a husband that is never home. She’s nice but on the snobbish side. She is one hundred percent human, like you. But don’t tell her anything you don’t want the whole neighborhood to know.”
Kendra had connections with the neighborhood I didn’t, yet. There were two reasons for those connections. One, she was a witch. Two, she’d lived in this neighborhood for the past fifteen years. She’d moved right after her divorce to start a new life with her kids. Of course, now she had a great relationship with her ex. They made better friends than lovers, as it had turned out.
It had been the same years ago for me and my ex-husband, Howard Jefferies. Our divorce had been messy and painful, mostly because I hadn’t wanted to admit we’d fallen out of love with each other. I was bitter for a long time before we’d finally become friends.
“No. I’ve been here a couple of times, but always during the day when people are working, I suppose.” I hadn’t met a single soul besides the previous owner, Ava Harper, who was also a witch, and her extended family that had been with her.
Kendra hid her smile with another drink. “The neighbors across the street are,” she leaned closer to me and lowered her voice, “weird.”
“Yeah?” I glanced at the house across the street. “How so?”
It was a large three-story, modern brick home with a balcony that wrapped around the top floor. I wondered if the top floor was one large room or a separate apartment or living space.
Black shutters accented the windows, which appeared to be blacked out. The front door was crimson with black gothic-looking embellishments. There was a front porch on the ground level that was half the length of the front of the house. The lawn was perfectly manicured with lush green grass and expertly trimmed bushes.
“You know, weird.” Kendra cocked an eyebrow. “My kind of weird.”
Maybe she’d had too much to drink, or I had because I wasn’t following whatever it was she hinted at. Then it hit me. Oh! Her kind of weird. “You mean like….” I lowered my voice to a whisper as I looked around to make sure there wasn’t anyone in earshot. “Witches?”
She shook her head, and I grinned. A guessing game. Awesome. I so sucked at those.
I kept my voice low enough so only the two of us could hear. “You said there’s more than witches out there. Is it one of the others?”
This time, she tapped the left side of her nose and smiled. Kendra so loved her dramatics.
“Bears?” I paused for another negative reply then ran through a list. “Dragons? Lions? Cats of any kind?”
“No, no, and no.” She kept her brow cocked and her smirk in place. She loved torturing me with these crazy guess games.
“Llama, dog, sock puppet?”
She burst out laughing at the latter, drawing glances from the movers. We laughed together like old times. God, I’d missed her so much. Being around Kendra was soothing after everything I’d been through.
“If we were playing the hot-cold game, I would say you were getting hot, but you’re very cold.” That helped so much. Not. Cryptic hints were her thing. “Brr.” She ran her hands over her arms and faked a shiver. Then cackled like the witch she was.
“Zombie? Something in the abominable category?” Now I was reaching into the tundra. While Philly was cold in the winter, anything of the snow critter variety wouldn’t stand a chance in a Pennsylvania summer.
“Warmer with zombie, a little too cold with the snowman.”
My tone dropped to reflect my almost boredom. “Ghoul? Ghost? Alien?” She was losing me.
“Oh, come on!” She stood to her full height and leaned against the rail on the porch to stare at me. “You’re dancing right around it.” She let her tongue slip over her canine.
Oh, snap! No way.
“Vampire?” I whispered that one, too, because somewhere I’d read vamps could hear every pin drop in a five-mile radius. Then again, that article was on the internet, and you couldn’t trust anything on the web. At least I didn’t.
I stared at the house again after her wink, indicating that I guessed right. Finally. Now, the gothic embellishments and blacked-out windows made a little more sense. However, the home looked normal at the same time.
“Wow.” Were they friendly vampires?
“Yeah.” She nodded with her lips pursed.
We both shifted to look at the truck, then as one of my boxes went crashing to the ground and the sound of breaking glass tinkled through the air.
I groaned inwardly and hoped it wasn’t something valuable in that box. The movers would be getting a bill for it if it was.
Later, after the hotties had left and the sun began to set, Kendra started unpacking the kitchen while I worked in the living room. Thank goodness they’d put the boxes in the rooms they belonged in, thanks to my OCD in labeling each one.
I was knee-deep in opened boxes and bubble wrap when the doorbell rang. “I’ll get it,” I called to Kendra in the kitchen.
Not waiting for her to answer, I swung the door open and froze.
The most exquisite man I’d ever seen stood in the doorway.
This guy was…tall. Well, taller than my five-one height, but then, most people were. He towered over me with a lean, more athletic than muscular form. His deep amber eyes reminded me of a sunset while his pale skin said he didn’t spend much time in the sun. Light hair, something in the blond to strawberry variety, brushed the tops of shoulders. Shiny, clean, and begging for my fingers to run through the strands.
Smiling as if he could read my mind, Strawberry Man handed me a basket strongly scented by blueberry muffins. The smell made my mouth water. Or was that him? Maybe he was Blueberry Man. Oh, geez. I hadn’t even said a word yet. Had I?
“These are for you.” He nodded toward the basket, looking a little uncomfortable.
Oh, yes, they were. His large hand brushed mine as I grabbed it, and I sucked in a short, quick breath. At some point, I’d become awkward. And ridiculous.
I remembered I hadn’t brushed my hair all day since the movers arrived. Damn.
The porch was smaller with him standing on it, somehow it had shrunk, and I couldn’t draw in a breath around him. Dramatic, yes, but so true. Or maybe he was too hot, and all the oxygen had evaporated in his presence. Either way, I found it hard to breathe and think.
“Th-th-thank you.” I was like a nervous teenager who’d just met her very first pretty boy. I chuckled, hiccupped, and would’ve fallen out the door if not for the frame I’d somehow managed to catch my shirt on.
He nodded and tilted his head, smiling. Damn if my knees didn’t go weak. “No problem. If you need anything at all, I’m Jax, and I live right over there.” He pointed to the house across the street. The back view of his head made my heart pitter-patter and my belly rumble as much as the front.
“You’re the….” I didn’t know if he, if they, were loud and proud with their creatures of the night status, and I didn’t want to take the chance of outing Kendra for telling me. Unfortunately, I thought of it a second after I started speaking. “Neighbor.”
His grin hit me like sunshine poking through the clouds on a rainy day. Ironic, since vampire meant allergic to the sun in a deathly kind of way.
I didn’t know if I should invite him in. What if there was a Mrs. Vampire? The last thing I needed was to become a jealous vampire wife’s main course.
Like the queen of the dorks, I held up the basket, gave it a sniff, then hiccupped again. “Thanks for the goodies.”
As I spoke, I wished again I’d taken a moment to brush my hair or put on a clean shirt before I answered the door. Vampire or not, this guy deserved a neighbor who combed her hair.