Authors: Kira Ward
sure he would show, so I was relieved when I saw Jack walk into the club twenty minutes after he was supposed to be there.
“Sorry, man,” he said, patting me on the shoulder as he moved around me to sit at the bar. “They run us like slaves over there.”
“That’s what you get for going the law route. You could have studied architecture and ended up where I am.”
“I would have but I can’t draw a straight line.”
“Kind of a handicap.”
I gestured toward the bartender. He came over and poured me a refill on my bourbon and poured Jack a whiskey. We drank in silence for a few minutes. Then I shoved my shoulder into his.
“Let’s go blow off some steam.”
There was a table of girls across the room. It looked like a group of professional girls out to drink away the stress of their day. One of them was even a red head and she made me think of the pretty girl who just moved in next door to me. In fact, I’d actually been thinking about that girl off and on all day.
What a grown up name for such a gorgeous girl. She couldn’t have been more than twenty, maybe twenty-one. A baby, really. Made me wonder how it made her feel to listen to that girl scream in my bedroom last night. Had anyone ever made her scream that way? I doubted it. She didn’t look like the type who’d had a lot of experience with that sort of thing. But again… I wouldn’t mind teaching her a few things.
“What’s your name?” she asked after I said Hi.
This redhead was definitely older. But she had a nice body and it looked really good in the painted on jeans she was wearing.
“Major.” I let my eyes move slowly up and down the length of her. “Want to dance?”
She licked her lips, wiping away some of the shiny gloss she’d likely just applied.
“Sure,” she said as she took my hand and made a show of sashaying out to the dance floor. I glanced back at Jack, but he was already deep in something like conversation with a dark haired girl.
The music wasn’t nearly as life-altering as it had been at the concert, but it was familiar and it had a good bass beat to it. The girl put on quite a show, rolling her hips and moving her hands over her body, doing things that brought to mind belly dancers and burlesque shows. Not that this girl was any good at it. She nearly tripped over her own feet more than once. But it was still fun to watch.
It was easy to let myself go there on the dance floor. It helped me forget the past, forget who I was and where I’d been. My life had not been all peaches and cream the last few years. I liked to go out because it helped me forget the things I’d done, the people I’d hurt, the life I’d chosen to live.
I wondered when the last time was that I had a real conversation with a girl. With anyone other than Jack. I couldn’t remember. I didn’t used to be that way. I didn’t used to use girls and discard them like spoiled trash. But the days of trust and commitment had gone out the window.
This was easier.
So I danced. And I drank. And, somehow, we—Jack, the two girls, and I—ended up back at my place.
We were drunk, laughing much too loudly. I knew the girl in C wouldn’t like it, but the part of me that cared had gone to bed.
“Where’s the booze?” Jack called as we flowed into the apartment.
“Top right cabinet,” I said, gesturing vaguely at the kitchen.
I fell back on the couch and pulled the redhead—I think she said her name was Daisy or Denny or something like that—onto my lap. She giggled as she twisted around and tried to kiss me. But I dodged her lips and buried my mouth against her throat, making her moan.
“Are these yours?” the other girl asked. She was standing in front of the shadow box my mom had put together for me that I never got around to hanging on the wall.
“Don’t you know he’s a fucking war hero?” Jack asked as he came into the room. “Got the purple heart and the distinguished service medal.”
“I don’t think they care, Jack.”
“Sure we do,” Daisy/Denny said. “That’s pretty impressive.”
“It was a long time ago.”
“Not that long. Five years, maybe,” Jack said.
“Why’d you get the medals?” the other girl asked.
I pushed Daisy/Denny off my lap and stood. “We need some music,” I announced, flipping on the Bluetooth speaker that was connected to my iPod. Immediately something loud and angry drowned out their curiosity.
I grabbed Daisy/Denny and pulled her into my arms, moving right back into the same dance we’d done at the club. She giggled when I slid my hands under her shirt and unfastened the back of her bra. With a deft move, she pulled her bra completely out from under the shirt and held it up to the laughter and applause of our small audience.
I pulled her back against me, always surprised, but never for long, at how willing women like her tended to be. It was not for me to question, however. I slid my hands right back under her shirt and gave her nipples a little rub against my palms. She sighed as she wrapped her arms around my neck and tugged me closer to her.
Unfortunately, the mood had passed. I don’t know what it was, but I suddenly just wanted them to leave. I thought this was what I wanted, but I just…I just needed some fucking air.
I tugged her arms off of me and walked off, aware of Jack calling after me even as I stepped through the door. I took the stairs two at a time, stepping out the front door just as a car pulled into the small lot. All the spaces were already taken, but it looked like whoever it was might not be sticking around. I stayed in the shadows and watched as the car stopped near the front door, blocking the fire lane.
“I had a great time,” a male voice said.
I knew the woman’s voice. It was my new neighbor. It was a minute before I could see her, but when she stepped into the dim light of the security lamp, it all but took my breath away. She had her hair down and it was long, almost past her shoulder blades, a thick mane of wavy hair that just begged to have someone’s fingers run through it, letting the silky strands catch the light as they fell.
But they wouldn’t be my fingers. The way she was looking at this guy—some blond pretty boy—he was likely to be sharing her bed in a very short time. Was that really her type? Hell, I could flatten him with one good punch.
What was it my daddy used to say? You can never account for taste.
But then he went in for the goodnight kiss, and she turned her head, forcing him to lay a good one on her cheek. I almost felt sorry for the guy.
I was alone a few minutes later when she went inside, and he drove off. I leaned back against the front of the building, half behind a massive oak tree, and tried to figure out what the hell was wrong with me. I had a sure thing up in my apartment and I was standing down there alone, thinking about some girl who wasn’t looking for the type of temporary fun I wanted.
The way she looked at that guy—I couldn’t get it out of my head. It’d been a long time since a girl looked at me that way. And I fucked it up bad enough that if she saw me on the street tomorrow, she’d cross in front of rush hour traffic to get away from me. I was no good… not the kind of guy a girl could trust, let alone one that would inspire that kind of look.
Part of me almost felt sorry for the poor schmuck she did turn that look on. That was a hell of a lot of pressure. But part of me almost envied him.
I shook myself.
Stop feeling sorry for yourself, loser!
I went back inside and rejoined the party. And I enjoyed myself. Immensely.
y eyes burned
. The porno soundtrack was back again last night, along with loud music and laughter that clearly came from more than one girl. What was that guy doing over there, anyway? How many women did he take into his bed at once? I mean, surely, he wasn’t just picking up girls and bringing them back to his apartment, was he? What kind of guy does that anymore?
Whatever it was, I didn’t get to sleep until well after three. And when I did fall asleep, it wasn’t because he’d stopped the noise, but because I got smart enough to get my earphones and turn on some music that drowned out most of the stuff going on in his apartment.
I called the building manager again, twice while the party was going on and again this morning. I wanted to make sure he got the message. That someone got the message.
He wasn’t in the hall when I left for work, thank goodness. Probably sleeping off his little party. I’d be perfectly happy if I never ran into him again.
I walked out of the building, my thoughts already on the day ahead. I had to finish up the washing machine history and start on another, a how-to book on brewing homemade beer. And I promised my mom I would stop by the house after work, let her see that I was still walking, talking, and breathing. And then I had dinner with my dad next week, so I’d have to—
“Oh, my God!”
Someone had keyed my car. My brand new, only driven it three thousand miles, Prius. Someone had taken a sharp object and scraped it up and down the length of my ride. And then they wrote the word ‘slut’ deep enough into the driver’s side door that I could see the bare metal underneath.
Who would do something like that?
The first face to jump into my head was Major. Of course. He was pissed that I’d called the building manager, so he keyed my car.
I spun on my heel and marched back into the building, not stopping until I stood in front of his door. I pounded with both fists until the door was wrenched open by a half-naked man who was
“Who you?” he slurred.
The guy looked me up and down with a disgusting sneer. Then he turned and called, “Hey, man, it’s for you.”
Nothing happened for a long minute. And then Major was just there, leaning against the doorframe like it was the only thing that could hold him up. Like his friend, he was half-naked, wearing only a pair of boxer briefs that barely concealed anything. I blushed, looking away as quickly as I could, but not before I noted the many, many tattoos that decorated his bare chest and belly.
“Something wrong?” he asked, his tone suggesting he was much more alert than he appeared.
“I think I had every right to call the building manager. You know how thin these walls are. You were being so loud that I couldn’t sleep.”
“Yeah, about that… I was gonna—”
“You didn’t have to key my car!”
I pulled myself up to my full height, which is sort of tall for a woman. I can look most men in the eye, or nearly so. But not Major. He was so much taller than me that I still had to tilt my head back a little in order to meet his eye. Even now as he slumped a little in the door way he was looking down on me.
“You keyed my car.”
“I did no such thing.”
“Someone did and you’re the only person who might have a motive.”
His eyes narrowed as he slowly straightened up. “What motive do I have to key someone’s car? Someone I don’t even know?”
“I called the building manager on you.”
Amusement danced in his eyes at that. “And you think that bothered me enough to key your car? You really are full of yourself.”
My spine stiffened. I glared at him, hoping the look was as fierce as I wanted it to be.
“There’s several thousand dollars’ worth of damage to my car. I’m going to have to have the whole thing repainted. Do you really think it’s fair for me to have to pay for that?”
“It’s really none of my business,” he said, stepping back like he was going to close the door.
Before I realized what I was doing, I stepped into him and shoved a finger into his chest, right between two tattoos—one that seemed to be some sort of eagle with huge wings and one that was a heart that might have once had a name in it, but was now filled with intricate patterns that played in the lines of the outer heart.
“You can’t just vandalize someone’s property and get away with it!”
Again his eyes narrowed. He grabbed my wrist and had me up against the wall outside his apartment door before I could react. I was suddenly very aware of how near naked he was as he pressed his body against mine, trapping me between the wall and his body. And his body was very warm, the kind of warm that comes from lying in bed under the covers. And, of course, that brought to mind erotic thoughts that I really shouldn’t have been having at that moment.
“I didn’t vandalize your car,” he said, his lips very close to my ear. “I wouldn’t waste my time doing something so petty. So why don’t you run along, go to your fancy little job with all your fancy little friends and leave me the hell alone.”
And then he was gone, slamming the door of his apartment so hard that the wall vibrated against my back.
I closed my eyes, my heart pounding so hard I almost couldn’t catch my breath for a moment. But was it fear that caused it, or something else?
That was something I really didn’t want to explore right then.
, I actually felt bad for the noise Jack, the girls, and I made that night. I was in a mood and I did things I shouldn’t have, but I did try to keep the noise level down. Yet, I still got a call at eight o’clock from Todd, reminding me that I had a new neighbor now and I needed to keep the noise down. Okay, so maybe we should move the parties to Jack’s place. He had a nice place in a modern building closer to downtown. I had no problem partying there and I was pretty sure that most of Jack’s neighbors would have been a little more understanding, anyway.
But then she accuses me of keying her car?
Fuck that! I have never done anything like that before. Why would I start now? And to think I thought the girl was attractive. She suddenly became quite unattractive when she poked her finger into my chest. I lost my temper, I admit that. But then having her pressed against me like that…I needed to stay away from her. She was trouble.
“What was that all about?” Jack asked from where he was reclining on the couch, the pillow and blankets I’d supplied him with last night pulled over him.
“Neighbor. I guess we were a little loud last night.”
Jack laughed. “Yeah, I guess we were.”
I padded into the kitchen and took a swig out of the orange juice bottle. It burned my throat, reminding me of how much I drank the night before. I wanted to have another drink, but I supposed eight-thirty in the morning was a little early for that sort of thing. Instead, I went to take a shower, standing under the hot water for a long time.
Lack of sleep was beginning to catch up to me. It’s not like I sleep that well anyway, but lately…work always distracted me. It helped me deal with the nightmares and the memories. I needed to look for a new project. That was the benefit of being freelance. I could pick and choose the jobs I worked on instead of waiting for some guy in a suit to assign me to something I might not be inspired by. Designing buildings had a lot in common with other artistic endeavors. I needed to be inspired to create the best work. And you could see it in my designs. My clients were always over the moon for whatever I gave them and that was almost as satisfying as going to the job site and watching my vision come to life.
I’d gotten a couple of calls the past week. Maybe I’d follow up. I’d originally wanted to take a month off, but maybe that was too long.
I stepped out of the shower and dried off, ran a razor over my jaw, and tugged on a pair of jeans. I heard the doorbell, but it only barely registered. Then Jack was knocking on my door, dressed in the same wrinkled suit he’d worn to the club.
“You have company.”
“Cops. They want to talk to you about some vandalism.”
“Are you kidding me? She called the police?”
Jack shrugged. “I don’t know. They wouldn’t tell me anything.”
I tugged on a shirt and followed Jack back out into the living room. Sure enough, there were not one, but two uniformed police officers standing in the middle of the room, looking around at my belongings.
“Mr. Rutherford?” one of them asked as he watched me approach through weary eyes.
“Major,” I said, holding out a hand of greeting.
The cop shook my hand, but the weariness in his eyes only grew.
But his partner had spotted the shadow box—I really needed to put that somewhere else!—and he was clearly impressed. He looked me up and down, then offered his hand as well.
“Thank you for your service,” he said politely.
I inclined my head, but I never really knew what to say when someone said that to me. What do you say? I joined the Navy at eighteen because my mom was at her wits end and I was one stupid prank from ending up in jail. I didn’t do it out of some noble thought of serving my country. That was just a happy coincidence. Two tours in Afghanistan and I was done, ready to get my college degree and start my life over again. So, all that gratitude was wasted on me.
“What can I help you with?” I asked.
The first cop, clearly thrown by his partner’s words, hemmed and hawed for a minute. So the other took over, flipping open a notebook like a television detective.
“Your neighbor, Sloane Graham, reported some vandalism to her car this morning. She suggested that someone here at the building might have done it in retaliation for her making a noise complaint?”
I crossed my arms over my chest and nodded. “She stopped by this morning and asked me about it. But I was up here all night with some friends. I didn’t see anything.”
The cop studied my face for a second. “She suggested that you might have done it.”
Jack kind of coughed, a sound that was as much laughter as it was a clearing of the throat. “Not possible. He was up here all night with me and a couple of friends.”
“You can vouch for that?” the other cop asked.
“Yes, sir. The only time we left this apartment was around four when we escorted our dates downstairs to meet their cab.”
“Did you see anything at that time?”
Jack shook his head. “No sir.”
“Her car was unmarked at that time,” I said, though I really couldn’t be sure. It was dark and I was drunk. I barely remember whether the cab driver was a man or a woman.
“Okay. We just had to ask. You understand,” the second cop said, closing his notebook. “Thank you for your time.”
He shook my hand again, then gestured to the other to follow him out. I got the impression that his partner was unsatisfied, but he followed anyway. The moment they were out the door, I shut and locked it, then slammed my fist against the heavy wood.
“What was that all about?” Jack asked.
“Apparently my new neighbor thinks that I’m an immature asshole who would key her car just because she called the building manager on me two days in a row.”
“Bitch,” Jack said, nodding his head in amused agreement.
“It’s not funny.”
“It is a little funny.”
I brushed past him and went into the living room, snatching up the shadow box and putting it on a high shelf in the closet. Jack watched, concern in his eyes even though he didn’t say anything. Jack and I enlisted together, went over there together, came back together after the first tour. He has a permanent limp from that tour, a scar on his outer thigh that loosens girl’s thighs quicker than any words he could possibly speak. He took advantage of the GI bill, heading to college a few years earlier than me. I went back to get revenge on the assholes who gave him that scar.
Jack was my friend. He knew me well enough not to say anything. “I’ve got to get to the office. I’m already late.”
I nodded. “I’ll see you around.”
“Play nice, Major,” he said, that concern growing deeper in his eyes. “Don’t give her any reason to make trouble for you.”
“Don’t worry. As far as I’m concerned, Miss Graham is just the girl next door.”