Authors: Serena Bell
Tags: #free, #short story, #romance, #contemporary, #Valentine’s Day, #hot, #steamy, #sexy, #fun, #ledge, #roof, #ladder, #rescue
Copyright © 2014 Serena Bell
All rights reserved.
Cover design by Book Beautiful
Cover photograph by BlueSkyImages | Fotalia.com
Line editing by Samantha Wayland
Copyediting by Jessica Auerbach and Suzann Goldberg
This story is a work of fiction. References to real people, events, establishments, organizations, or locations are intended only to provide a sense of authenticity and are used fictitiously. All other characters, and all incidents and dialogue, are drawn from the author’s imagination and are not to be construed as real.
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For Mr. Bell, my rescuer.
Molly Mack was
teetering on a ledge.
This was no metaphor for shaky mental health. This was the narrow span of solid terrain outside her apartment window, overhanging the world below.
Molly pressed one palm against the building and bent as far as she could, but her Jimmy Choo was still out of reach.
She took one more step toward her brand-new stiletto, slipped, and almost fell. Adrenaline surged through her and she clung to the siding. She
get to it.
Fine, she’d abandon the shoe for now. She’d get herself back inside through the window, and she’d figure out some other way to rescue Jimmy.
But her near fall had triggered some self-protective instinct. Suddenly, she was sharply aware that the ledge she stood on was a century old and had probably never been built to code in the first place. She was all-too-conscious of the twenty foot drop to the sidewalk and street below.
It was far enough to make jumping impossible, and the distance back to the window now struck her as enormous. Even if she hadn’t been wearing the world’s teeniest Valentine’s Day-red dress, and even if her body weren’t wrapped mummy-tight in a foundation garment, and even if she didn’t have on thigh high stockings and no panties, there was no freaking way she would have been able to summon back the rage-fueled nerve that had stranded her out here in the first place.
She was stuck. And
It was warmish for nighttime on February 14 in the Boston area, forty-five degrees maybe, but no comfort for a girl whose dress contained four square feet of material. She was shivering like mad and her feet were already lumps of ice, which didn’t add to her confidence in her footing. At least there was no snow or ice up here.
Her other consolation was that on her dark Somerville street, there appeared to be no one to witness her humiliation, although that also reduced her hopes for a rescue.
Her toes were starting to hurt. Could you get frostbite at this temperature? They didn’t seem to have a lot of feeling left in them, beside the ache. Maybe she’d be safer—and warmer—if she sat. She lowered herself slowly down, and
, that felt a little less precarious. Maybe she could scoot her way back to the window? Although now that she examined it closely, the ledge was covered with rough tar shingles secured by intermittent rusty nails. Not a good surface for sliding on mostly exposed thighs.
If Molly’s mother could see her now, she’d say, “This is why we wear undies.” Or, “This is what comes of vanity.” Or, most likely, “Did you try that dress on before you bought it? It’s at least two sizes too small.”
Molly blamed Peyton.
If Peyton hadn’t stood her up on her birthday two months ago, they would have eaten at Sergio’s that night. If they’d already tried Sergio’s, they wouldn’t have had coveted, prix fixe, Valentine’s Day reservations for tonight. So she wouldn’t have been quite so poised to fly into a fit of fury when, after bathing and sloughing and waxing and shaving and plucking, after blowing her hair dry right side up and upside down, after applying hair oil and powder and lotion and deodorant and foundation, after sweating profusely while struggling into the restrictive undergarment and the laughable dress, after throwing open a window to cool off her efforts and the stream radiator heat that never, ever went below seventy-five degrees, after meticulously making up her smoky eyes and her kiss-me, glossy mouth, she got a phone call from Peyton saying he was so, so, so sorry for the very late notice, but he’d met someone else and it felt wrong, just wrong, not to be with this new woman on Valentine’s Day.
She admitted to herself—because when you were stuck on a ledge there was nothing else to do but be honest with yourself—that she should have known things with Peyton would end badly. He had, after all, very slightly overlapped his previous girlfriend with her. At thirty-three, she should have been wise enough to see the writing on the wall then, but she had a noisy biological clock and this bad habit of giving people second chances. And for many months, she hadn’t regretted giving him that second chance. He’d been charming, full of fun ideas, and expert at coaxing her to escape her cozy, introverted existence and try new things. She’d fantasized about convincing him to settle down and have kids with her.
She further admitted that her rage tonight had been amplified by the fact that she’d enjoyed a little private session in the bathtub—pre-foreplay. She’d brought herself further and faster than she had planned, but pulled back from the brink to save herself for Peyton, later, in the hopes of reviving what had recently become a pretty darn dull intimate life. Instead, she’d found herself stood-up, horny, and in possession of an expensive pair of stiletto heels.
She’d thrown the shoe, meaning to hit the wall, and here she was.
Shit. So much for no witnesses
, it was
. Not Peyton-
, but the hot downstairs tenant. The one who most of the time barely gave her a tight nod of acknowledgment when she passed him. The one who made her feel like she took up too much space, and said too many stupid things. People who said almost nothing and kept their faces relatively expressionless did that to her. It was too bad she wasn’t quite introverted enough to shut the hell up. Instead, he always seemed to make her babble.
He was standing on the ground, and even though he was far below her and the angle was all wrong, she squeezed her thighs together a little tighter, just in case. The squeezing turned out to be a mistake on top of all the self-love in the bathtub. And on top of the rather attractive picture he made down there, all broad and dark, and seen from this perspective, quite impressive across the shoulders. Apparently, the sexy kind of heat didn’t care how cold the weather was.
“I don’t think it’s safe to sit up there.”
She thought hard about playing it innocent. She could pretend she’d come out here for a breath of fresh air before her hot date. Then she’d have to screw her courage to the sticking place and crawl back inside. He’d be none the wiser.
Or she could cut her losses — after all, he already thought she was a fool — and admit the truth: She was a bad-tempered, shoe-throwing woman who’d been jilted on Valentine’s Day, and she was experiencing a form of desperation that made losing her reservation at Sergio’s and knowing that she’d just been humiliatingly dumped by her loser boyfriend of six months seem insignificant.
“I’m stuck,” she confessed. It felt like the first intelligent thing she’d done all evening.
In the gray-yellow light of the sodium arc streetlamp, she could make out his ruggedly handsome face—clean shaven, strong lines, good angles, but something a little uneven, not at all pretty boy. Right now it conveyed equal parts surprise and disdain. “How exactly did you get out there?”
“Climbed out the window?” Her voice emerged shaky and uncertain.
“Can’t you climb back in?”
Here was the humiliating part. “I’m scared,” she admitted.
“Weren’t you scared on the way out?”
No, I was too busy hating my ex-boyfriend and wanting my expensive shoe back, in equal proportions.
No way would she ’fess up to that part. He already thought she was a total freak. “Somehow it felt easier to get out here than it does to get back.”
“Huh,” he said.
She was grateful that he hadn’t laughed. Of course, now that she thought about it, she wasn’t sure she’d ever seen him laugh. Or even smile.
“What if I talk you through it?”
The offer surprised her. It seemed somehow—soft. Soft in a way it had never occurred to her he might be. There was nothing soft at all about his physique, which was all muscle and sinew—she assumed he did something involving manual labor because no guy she knew looked like that unless he was lifting things all day.
“I could try,” she said.
“You could stay sitting and slide along the edge.”
“I could if I were wearing thick jeans.”
This drew his eyes to her legs, and she warmed as he scanned upward from there. Thoughtfully, but not lasciviously or critically. It seemed safest to cross her ankles, so she did, but this made her aware again of her own body, of a slight slick of wetness, and—
As if he could see her thoughts, his expression changed slightly. Narrowed.
“That seems like a dumb thing to wear to sit on that ledge.”
“I liked you better when you didn’t talk.”
Was that a hint of a smile, before he crossed his arms and turned to walk away?
“No!” she cried. “Don’t go!”
He stopped, turned back. She was practically a hundred percent certain he’d be smiling if he let himself, and for some reason, that not-quite-smile warmed her from the center out. It didn’t do much for the goosebumps or the shivering, though.
“You don’t happen to have a key on you, do you?” he asked. “I could come in through your apartment and help you back in.”
She shook her head.
“Anyone else have a key?”
, she thought. But there was no way in hell she was calling Peyton. She had to keep some last shred of her dignity intact. “Joe has one.” That was their landlord.
“I’ll call him.” He lifted his phone, and she had a strong flash of hope as he dialed and put it to his ear, but it faded again when he began leaving a message.
The other thing about calling Peyton was that if Peyton came, this guy would almost certainly leave. And she didn’t want him to leave. She
him. She liked his almost-smile and the fact that—now that he was actually conversing with her—he was dry and funny. She liked that he was helping her problem-solve, that he’d called Joe for her, and that he didn’t appear to be inclined to give up too easily, but was now pacing around the corners of the house and back again—hunting, she had to assume, for solutions.
“You must be freezing.”
“I’ve been warmer.”
“Hang on,” he said, and disappeared.
It took him an interminable amount of time to return, but when he did, he had a big fleece blanket with him. “I’m going to throw this to you.”
“Thank you,” she said, but only because it felt premature to say,
I love you
, which is what she’d thought when he’d reappeared with the blanket.
He stood back and hurled the blanket at her. His first toss fell short, but the next time it landed in her lap. Grateful, she wrapped herself up.
“Warm up a little, and then—can you stand, do you think?”
“Honestly? I’m not even sure how I’d do that.” At least with the blanket, there was less chance she’d flash her bare crotch at him.
“I have an idea. I’m pretty sure Joe’s got a ladder in the basement.”
“Ohhh,” she said longingly. “A ladder. That would be glorious.”
“Doesn’t take much to make you happy, does it?” he asked, and for sure that was the leading edge of a smile.
It actually doesn’t,
she thought. And was suddenly mad.
She wasn’t high maintenance. She didn’t want much. Just a boyfriend who wasn’t an asshole. Who liked her for who she was and wasn’t always trying to talk her into being more extroverted, then criticizing her for talking too much at parties. Who showed up when he said he would, had sex with her more than once a week, and gave a crap whether she had an orgasm or not.
“Hang on,” he said, and once again, he disappeared. He was gone longer this time, but having seen him reappear once, she had faith he’d do it again. This time, when he came back into view, he had a ladder under his arm, which he extended and propped against the house.
“I’m coming up. Once I’m up there, I can help you back inside.”
“I’d rather go down the ladder.”
“There’s a lot of ice down here. There’s not a good place to set the ladder feet. I think it might actually be safer for us to get you in through the window than to have you climb down.”
“Does that mean it’s not safe for you to climb up the ladder?”
He was already climbing.
“Don’t climb if it’s not safe. I don’t want you to fall. And, you know, sue me. Or get hurt.”