I stared at the bright pink thong draped across the hand railing on the landing I shared with the new neighbor I had yet to meet. My first semi-introduction to him was last night when my work was ground to a halt by the high-pitched squealing coming from next door.
My neighbor’s girlfriend was loud during sex.
Very, very loud.
Although frustrating, there was nothing I could do but wait for it to end. It took so long (I had to give them points for stamina) it was time for me to go to sleep and I’d gotten hardly any editing done.
Now the squealer’s thong was drip-drying on my handrail.
Aghast at the thought of my clean and well-maintained stairwell suddenly turning into the set for Shameless, I could do nothing but stare at the offending item in horror.
The sound of my neighbor’s door opening jerked my attention from the thong to his door.
Stepping out of the doorway, phone to his ear, was an exceptionally tall man. My eyes roamed over the broad shoulders and muscular biceps and stopped on the black tattoo that took up a good part of his right forearm. It looked Celtic in design and appeared to be a sword with a semicircle arching over it and connecting on either side of the hilt.
“Talk to Dad,” the man murmured, drawing my gaze from his tattoo to his face. “Whatever you decide, I’m on board.”
His dark hair was close-shaven, and he was sporting heavy scruff that only made his rugged features that much more so. His large build and the scruff were too much in my opinion. I preferred my men leaner, clean-cut, and far less intimidating.
Suddenly I found myself trapped in his gaze as he looked up and spotted me.
I froze, flustered by the heat that suffused my cheeks under his perusal. He had the most extraordinary eyes I’d ever seen. They were clear and light. Beautiful, unusual violet eyes rimmed with black lashes. Those eyes softened his looks somewhat.
I found myself released from his gaze as he dragged it down my body and back up again. From there I received a polite nod that made me bristle. Perhaps my reaction had something to do with how dismissive he was. Altogether irritated and not at all good at handling it, I glanced back at the thong and bit my lip. I couldn’t have underwear drying on my landing.
I just couldn’t.
I looked back at him as he continued his conversation. “Excuse me,” I said quietly, annoyed, wanting to interrupt but still somehow too well mannered to do it forcefully.
Still, my quiet words brought his gaze back to me, and he frowned. “Shannon, I’ll call you back . . . Aye . . . ’Bye, sweetheart.” He lowered his phone from his ear and slipped it into his pocket. “Can I help you?”
I stuck out my hand and formally introduced myself. “I’m Miss Grace Farquhar.” I pointed to my door with my other hand. “Your neighbor.”
Lips pressed together in a hard line, he slipped his large hand into mine and engulfed it. A shiver rippled across my shoulders, and I immediately regretted offering my hand to him. “Nice to meet you, Miss Grace Farquhar.”
“Hmm, quite,” I murmured, tugging my hand back and trying not to appear as flustered as I felt. “And you are?”
“Mr. Logan James MacLeod.”
He was making fun of me. I ignored it. “Well, Mr. MacLeod.” I tried for a pleasant tone, but I could feel the thong glaring at me from the hand railing and fueling my annoyance. “I would greatly appreciate it if your girlfriend would desist from air-drying her unmentionables in the public stairwell.” I pointed a finger at the thong, not attempting to hide my distaste.
Logan stared at the thong. “Shit,” he murmured.
“Logan!” a female voice shouted from inside his flat. “Do you fancy going out for breakfast?” The voice was suddenly accompanied by a body.
A young woman stepped out onto the landing wearing nothing but a man’s shirt. It was buttoned just below the ribbon on her bra, revealing a rather impressive cleavage. Everything about the woman was curvy and feminine, and her short but trim legs were tan, her long hair was dyed a shiny platinum blond, and she had what appeared to be mile-long fake eyelashes expertly affixed to her eyes.
She was my opposite in every possible way, and I suddenly realized why Logan MacLeod had dismissed me upon sight.
“What’s going on?” She blinked her wide baby-blue eyes up at Logan.
Logan sighed. “Did you put your thong out here to dry?”
She nodded. “The air’s drier out here than in the bathroom. I thought it would dry quicker.”
I watched the two of them, fascinated by my neighbor’s growing annoyance and his girlfriend’s obliviousness in the face of it.
“Are you nuts?”
She wrinkled her nose. “No. What’s wrong with you?”
“We just met last night, and you’re air-drying your knickers on my landing.”
Logan looked at me as if asking for help. I could only stare at him in bemusement. He turned back to what I now gathered was a persistent one-night stand. “It’s rude and it pissed off my neighbor.” He jerked a thumb over his shoulder toward me. “Not to mention it’s a little too soon for doing your laundry here. As is breakfast. Now, if you don’t mind, I’ve got stuff to do.”
Affronted by his less-than-diplomatic brush-off, his one-night stand grabbed her thong and dashed back into the flat, yelling out a stream of expletives. By the time she’d changed into a formfitting pink dress and high heels and was tottering angrily out of his flat on unstable feet, Logan was visibly angry.
He looked almost menacing.
I shivered at the air of danger around him.
“Fuck you, you bastard!” She stomped down the stairs and then threw another look over her shoulder, this time at me. “And you, you snobby cow!”
My lips parted in shock as she stumbled out of sight. “Well, wasn’t she delightful,” I said, stunned.
“She was a Class-A cling-on.”
“Perhaps you should be more selective when choosing a sexual partner for the evening,” I suggested helpfully.
Apparently it wasn’t helpful. Logan MacLeod turned his intimidating glare on me. “Are you judging me, plum?”
Cheeks blazing, I whispered, “Plum?”
“Plummy.” He raked his eyes over me, and his lips twisted into a grimace before he explained. “Posh.”
“I’m not posh.” I stopped myself from stamping my foot in indignation that he would even mention it. I was raised in Kensington in London, and it was true I was very well spoken, but that had nothing to do with the fact that for whatever reason, he was being very antagonistic.
“You’re the poshest person I’ve ever met, plum.”
“I am not.”
“I think I’d know,” he said.
“Do you have a distaste for the English, Mr. MacLeod?”
He narrowed his eyes. “I don’t have a distaste for anybody because I don’t judge people.” There he went again insinuating I judged people. We’d only just met!
“Neither do I.”
“Oh? So you weren’t judging me based on the knickers drip-drying on the banister, then? Or that those knickers belonged to a one-night stand of mine? Are you judging me for having casual sex, Miss Farquhar? Or merely on my choice of casual-sex partner?” He took in my blouse with the floppy bow tied at the neck and my high-waist, wide-leg trousers. “Was she not classy enough for your liking?”
“I’m com-completely confused,” I stuttered. And mortified! I hated confrontation.
“Let me make it clearer. A friendly neighbor would have introduced herself when I moved in. A friendly neighbor would have welcomed me to the building before rattling on about a pair of knickers. So what is it? Are you not friendly, or did you hear something about me that got your own judgy little knickers in a twist?”
“I have no idea what you’re talking about.” I shook my head. “I just didn’t want a thong on my landing.” Feeling my blood heat, my cheeks blooming ever brighter, I had no recourse but to turn around and shove my key in my door to get away from the brewing argument. I had no idea why he was so defensive or why he irritated me to melodramatic levels, but he did, and I didn’t know how to deal with it.
“’Bye . . . Miss Grace Farquhar.”
I slammed the door shut. Leaning against it, I discovered I felt out of breath, like I’d just run all the way up the stairs. I huffed at the ludicrous pounding of my heart.
My stairwell was no longer a safe place.
I was exhausted.
It was sheer fortuitousness, then, that when I lifted my foot to step out of my door, I was actually aware enough of my surroundings to spot the pile of vomit on my doorstep.
I jerked my foot back and wrinkled my nose in disgust.
My gaze shot across the hall to Logan’s door.
That bloody swine.
Not only was he the reason I was exhausted, but he was now the reason I had to step over bodily waste to get out of my flat.
Last night I’d heard the ruffian outside on the landing, trying to shut up his cackling female companion. It had been two weeks since our encounter, and in that time I’d spotted him with three different women. Player. Absolute Player with a capital P.
After hearing him shush his lady friend, I’d waited for the inevitable noisy bedroom gymnastics to begin. To my delight there was silence, and I managed to work through three chapters of the romance novel I was editing.
I thought all was well and fell into bed around three thirty, setting my alarm for eleven thirty. I was shamefully awoken at six o’ clock in the morning to ‘OH GOD, OH GOD, LOGAN, OH GOD.’ Like the man needed to be compared to God. His ego was already biblical.
Logan MacLeod was an arrogant pain in my arse.
Two rounds of OH GOD later, I was wide-awake and could not get back to sleep.
Now I was a walking zombie, and I’d almost zombie walked my way into the vomit he or his companion had deposited on my doorstep.
All morning I’d argued with the arse in my head about him keeping me awake with his sexual antics, but like always, I’d eventually calmed down. I hated disagreements with people. The therapist I’d seen in my early twenties had told me my aversion to confrontation was born from the fact that I was constantly seeking the approval of others. For years I’d sought to win both of my parents over with little success, and that need for them to like me filtered into my relationships with everyone. I hated to be hated and so I avoided making people unhappy in any way.
I’d worked hard to overcome it because it could be damaging, and my job as a freelance book editor certainly helped, because as a good editor I had to be absolutely honest in my constructive criticism. I’d grown a thicker skin when dealing with my clients, but I still had a hard time pissing anyone off in my personal life.
And I really didn’t want the hassle of dealing with a pissed-off neighbor.
But now I was pissed off.
Well and truly.
Imagine vomiting on my doorstep and not bloody well cleaning it up!
I glared at Logan’s door.
It wasn’t as though I actually wanted anything to do with the man. Airing my complaints to him wasn’t going to have an adverse effect on our relationship because we didn’t have a relationship and we never would.
Logan MacLeod was going to clean up the mess he made, and I could give a damn if he thought me the most irritating woman in the world.
Anger simmering in my blood, I hopped over the vomit, locked up, and marched to his door. I pounded on it.
I pounded harder before I could regret my decision to confront him.
Two seconds later I heard movement inside, followed by a muffled curse. The door suddenly swung open, and there he stood in all his glory. I blinked, fighting the heat that bloomed on my cheeks but failed. Logan MacLeod had opened the door in nothing but boxer briefs, and I had never seen a man like him in real life. There was not an inch of fat on him. Just pure, hard muscle.
Cut. My friend Chloe would say he was cut.
Logan rubbed a hand over his short hair, drawing my attention from his six-pack to his sleep-roughened face. “It’s Sunday fucking morning,” he said, squinting at me. “If you’re going to speak, speak.”
The heat in my cheeks flared hotter. Despite my blushing, I mustered on. “I am well aware it is Sunday morning,” I said in my quiet voice, wishing for once that I’d inherited my mother’s authoritative one. “After working into the wee hours, I was rudely awoken at dawn by your inconsiderately loud antics. I then stepped out of my door and missed the pile of vomit on it by inches. I can only assume it was deposited there by either yourself or the cackling female you brought home last night.” I was shaking badly, and I didn’t know if it was from anxiety or anger.
No one had upset me like this in a very long time.
“Fuck.” He dragged his hand down his face and then peered past me. “It was . . .” He frowned. “My friend.”
I rolled my eyes, realizing he couldn’t remember his one-night stand’s name.
“I meant to come out and clean it up first thing. Sorry. I’ll do it now.”
His apology deflated me somewhat. I stared dumbly at him.
He blinked sleepily, looking much too attractive for someone who was just awake. “Is there anything else?”
“No. I appreciate you cleaning it.” I turned away and had put only one foot on the stairs when he stopped me.
“You don’t have to be so antagonistic, you know. You should consider removing that stick from your tiny arse.”
And just like that I was enraged all over again. I stopped and looked at him over my shoulder. “Excuse me?” I wasn’t quite sure I’d even heard right.
“You talk down to me. And there’s that pinchy-mouthed look you give me instead of a smile every time you pass me in the hall.”
Pinchy-mouthed? I sniffed at the insult and turned to leave again, not deigning to give him a response.
“And that,” he called out to me as I descended the stairs. “That haughty little sniff is extremely fucking annoying.”
I halted, shocked.
Because it suddenly occurred to me that I wasn’t my usual pile of anxiety over the fact that this person found me wanting. No. Instead triumph coursed through me that he was just as aggravated by me as I was by him.
I looked up to find him standing out on the landing scowling down at me.
Despite my red cheeks, I managed an irritatingly haughty swish of my hair over my shoulder and snapped out, “Good.”
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