The rising sun burnt on the Carolina horizon like a jewel, causing the tidal mist to light up like it’d been set on fire. It was the most gorgeous thing Alicia had ever seen, besides her naked neighbor. The sight of him stripping down lit up the morning like nothing else could – not even the extra-bold, extra-large cup of coffee she clutched as she stared through her kitchen window.
Everything about him was extra-large, too. She, however, was anything but bold.
She’d die if he knew she’d been watching him like this for the past three weeks, ever since she’d moved in. Guilt surged through her system just like her daily caffeine infusion, but that didn’t keep her from enjoying the display, all that taut muscle and bare skin.
Not even close.
“Good Lord,” she sighed, to no one but herself. DC seemed faraway already; the big city had disappeared in her rearview mirror weeks ago to be replaced by real Southern heat and charm, two things her new neighbor radiated in spades.
Not that she’d spoken to him much yet.
There’d been the occasional hello when they glimpsed each other outside, usually coming to or from work. That was it, mostly because the sight of him in uniform had a way of leaving her tongue-tied, silenced by the guilty pleasure that struck her every time she looked in his direction. She couldn’t so much as glance at him without thinking about that uniform coming off in slow motion, revealing his perfect body.
Maybe it was his fault for not closing the bathroom blinds, the ones that hung over the window directly across from the shower.
Or maybe it was her fault for enjoying the striptease with her morning coffee day after day, saying nothing.
Either way, she wasn’t complaining. Close-cropped dark hair, sun-tanned skin stretched over a six foot frame of solid muscle and an ass that appeared to be sculpted from granite, not to mention the amazing view when his back wasn’t to her: the vision had been seared into her memory, and it stayed with her even after he slung a towel around his hips and strolled out of the bathroom, disappearing from her view.
That was her cue to gulp down the rest of her coffee and pull herself together before she rushed to the Wisteria Plantation House. She’d been hired there as the special events coordinator, had moved and reshaped her life around the new job, though as she drained her coffee mug, swallowing the bitter grit that swirled at the bottom of the cup, she was so dazzled by what she’d just seen that it was sure to be a challenge just to coordinate her hair and makeup for the day, let alone an outfit.
Despite the sexually-charged fog her neighbor had left her in, she managed to brush on some cosmetic staples, twist her chestnut hair into a simple chignon and shed her robe, pulling on khaki pants and a purple blouse. As she dressed, she pretended that the brush of her own fingertips against her skin didn’t inspire imaginings of what it’d be like to feel her neighbor’s hands on her body. Lastly, she slipped on sandals, a pair with modest kitten heels that’d allow her to navigate Wisteria’s grounds without breaking an ankle.
Or so she thought. When she finally walked out the door with her purse slung over her shoulder and a travel mug in one hand, she tripped over the threshold and was launched forward through the muggy Carolina air.
She windmilled, dropping her handbag but – miracle of miracles – managing to maintain her grip on her coffee.
The mug was a fancy one that remained sealed until one pressed a button, freeing the flow of liquid within. As she bent to pick up her purse and then straightened, quickly smoothing her clothing, she realized that the anti-spill mug was the best twenty dollars she’d ever spent.
Heat flooded her cheeks as she said a silent prayer of gratitude for spill-proof technology. Her neighbor was standing on the front porch of his bungalow-style house, a cute place painted a shade of moss-green that blended right into the wooded backdrop. Judging by the way he stared, frowning in her direction, he’d seen everything.
“Are you all right?” His voice echoed across the few yards between them, sounding with a depth that sent a frisson racing down her spine.
“Yes,” she called back, forcing herself to move, to descend the little flight of stairs that led down from her house, also bungalow-styled, but painted a fresh shade of blue that would’ve been invisible against a clear afternoon sky, had the towering pines not blocked out that particular view.
“You sure? You’re limping.”
Limping or not, she couldn’t stop staring. No longer naked, he was now just the opposite: covered from neck to toe in meticulously-ironed dark blue and black, his uniform gleaming here and there with flashes of metal – the silver shine of handcuffs and the badge he wore at his hip.