Romance novelist Cora Dumont needs a place to land after college. So when her parents ask her to housesit for a year, she jumps at the chance. Being home stirs up feelings for Drew, a former neighbor. Too bad he’d never given her the time of day.
When Drew Dunkirk moves back home, he doesn’t expect to run into Cora. Seeing her brings back the crush he had on her in high school, has him hoping to finally act on those feelings. But Drew’s fence becomes a point of contention between them and the fur flies. Will the fence separate them in more ways than one?
I LUGGED MY heavy suitcase up the front steps of my parents’ house. The luggage landed with a thud. I yelped, barely jumping out of the way before my bare toes were smashed. It had been so hot in my non-air-conditioned car that I’d ditched my shoes two hours earlier on the long drive from Michigan to Indiana. How strange to be there at the house alone. But when Dad asked if I wanted to housesit for a year while he oversaw a building project in Florida, who was I to turn it down?
I’m not stupid, after all.
Something soft brushed my bare ankle. “Hey, Chubbs.” I reached down to pick up my gargantuan one-year-old cat, his long orange fur sticking to the sweat on my arms. “So what you do think of the house?”
Chubbs pawed at my arm and leaped down, racing across the white painted boards of the porch and around the side of the house. Guess he was tired of being cooped up in the hot car too.
I said I was alone, but I wasn’t, really. Chubbs was good company. I’d found him outside my college apartment six months earlier. He’d decided my home was his home and that was that. Still, someone of the male, human variety wouldn’t be bad to have for company, either.
Chubbs screamed from the back of the house. I ran, following the route he’d taken. When I reached the backyard, there was no sign of him. What in the world? Another yowl came from the direction of the neighbor’s. Drew Dunkirk’s yard.
I ran to a fence I’d never seen before. When had the Dunkirks built it? I peered over the top. A huge shaggy brown dog had my cat cornered under a patio table.
Finding a foothold on a lower cross-board, I pushed up and climbed over the fence. Pain shot through me as my foot got wedged between two pointed boards. The rest of me toppled toward the ground.
Hanging upside down from a neighbor’s fence wasn’t the best place to be. Ever. Isn’t this perfect? Maybe I could disengage myself before anyone saw—
“Need some help, there?” came from somewhere around my toes.
With all my blood rushing to my head anyway, my blush might not be noticeable. My thoughts clouded, and I shook my head to clear it but that didn’t help. I lifted my chin from my view of the Dunkirk’s grass and saw tennis shoes. Hopefully it was Mr. Dunkirk and not his wife. I’d pity any woman who had such a deep voice and that much hair on her ankles.
I waved my arm in the general direction of my feet. “I um… yeah. I’m sorta stuck.”
“I can see that.” He chuckled. Why was he laughing at me? A warm hand grasped my foot and gave a tug. Before I could tumble the rest of the way into the grass, I was lifted by my waist and set on my feet.
I turned to thank Mr. Dunkirk. But it wasn’t him.
Oh no. “Hey, Drew.”
“Hey yourself, Cora. Saw you park in your parents’ drive a few minutes ago.”
I smoothed down my shirt, which had risen dangerously close to my breasts when I’d been inverted. How much had he seen? “Thanks for—”
I nodded. How was he even better looking now than he’d been in high school? It had been four years since I’d seen him at our graduation. His dark eyes appeared browner and his sandy hair had deepened in color to a light brown. And his build. Oh my word. I didn’t remember him having quite so many muscles before.
Not that I’d been looking or anything.
Drew crossed his arms. “Nice to see you again. Uh, what were you doing hanging from my fence?”
His fence? Where were his parents?
I was slightly dazed from the whole hanging upside down thing. It took me a few seconds to remember exactly what I had been doing there. Taking a nap? Bird watching? No…
I gasped. “Chubbs!”
He raised his eyebrows. “Did you call me chubs? I know I’ve put on weight since high school, but honestly—”
“No. My cat.” I pointed behind Drew to the huge dog that sat staring at Chubbs.
He turned. “Oh. You have a cat?”
What did that mean? “Yeah. I always had one growing up. Did you forget that?”
“Guess I was hoping you’d outgrown it.”
“Outgrown…” Why would anyone want to? I frowned at him and headed across the yard toward the animals. Halfway there, my bare foot sunk down in a hot stinking pile of dog— “Ewwww!” I lifted my foot behind me like a flamingo, gave a hard shake, and wiped my foot on the grass, but some of the revolting substance refused to dislodge. “Get it off!” I pointed but refused to get my hand anywhere near the contamination.
Drew let out a sigh. “Hold on.” He walked, not in any particular hurry, mind you, to get the hose. When he returned, he opened the nozzle.
My whole front got soaked. “Hey!”
“Sorry.” He smirked. He wasn’t sorry. After adjusting the water volume, Drew sprayed off my foot until I couldn’t see any more of the vile, putrid substance.
I lowered my foot, carefully avoiding that pile or any other and dried off on the grass. “Thanks for the shower.” I glanced down and then back up. Drew’s gaze was stuck on a particular part of me. Ugh. If I’d intended on being in a wet tee-shirt contest, I’d at least hope for a prize if I won. No freebies, mister. I crossed my arms over my soggy shirt.
“Sorry. Really.” Drew reached out his hand. “Here, let’s go rescue my dog from your cat.”
“My… hey wait a minute.”
Right. How could I have forgotten the way he used to tease people? Not so much me, because he didn’t really talk to me all that much, but everyone else. I thought he’d let go of my hand once I was vertical, but he didn’t. How many times over the years had I dreamed of him doing just that, but he never had? I’d imagine him lacing his fingers through mine, then letting go to wrap his arms around me. He’d lean close and his lips would—
“You zoned out there for a minute.”
He tugged me to our pets and only then released my hand. Suddenly, even in the intense summer heat, my skin was cold. And lonely. Drew bent down to grab Chubbs, but my cat wasn’t being very cooperative.
Chubbs hissed and swatted at Drew’s hand.
“Hey!” Drew checked his fingers over, front and back. “What’s up with your cat?”
“Maybe he’s freaked ’cause he was chased by your dog.”
Drew ran his hand over the back of his neck. What I wouldn’t give to touch him there. And other places…
“Maybe you should…”
What? Startled, I could only stare at him. I gulped in a mouthful of air. Had I spoken the thought out loud? Did he really mean for me to—
Drew tilted his head toward Chubbs.
Oops. “Yeah.” I crept forward and crouched down, glad to be on the patio so I’d hopefully avoid any more unpleasant introductions to the dog’s byproduct. I made kissy noises.
“What are you doing?” Drew leaned close to me. His woodsy aftershave mixed with a scent that was definitely male — in a good way — nearly did me in.
I shrugged. “Chubbs is kind of… high strung. Making that noise is the only thing he’ll respond to when he’s scared.” When I held out my hand, Chubbs darted toward me and leaped into my arms. After blowing some of his cat hair from my mouth, I stood up, holding him close. “My poor little Chubbsy.”
If I hadn’t looked right at that moment, I might have missed Drew rolling his eyes.
“What?” I said. “Don’t you think of your dog, uh, whatever his name is, as your baby?”
He bit his lip. Trying not to tease me again? “His name is Blueprint. Hadn’t really thought about it, I guess. Cora, how come I don’t remember you being this softhearted in school?”
Maybe ’cause you hardly spoke to me? “I dunno.”
Drew reached out to pet Chubbs but seemed to change his mind and pulled his hand back. “So, now that all the livestock is accounted for and unharmed, it’s good to see you.”
“You too.” My gaze strayed toward the house, but I forced my attention back on Drew. “How are your parents?”
“They’re good. They moved to California.”
“So you…” I glanced toward the house again and back.
“Yeah. The house was my grandfather’s. When he passed away, he left it to me in the event that my folks ever decided to move. When my dad accepted another job in California a few months ago, I took ownership.”
“Oh.” So we’re neighbors. Again.
Drew smiled. “And you?”
“I haven’t seen your parents around since I moved in. They all right?”
“Yep. My dad has a temporary job in Florida for a year. So Chubbs and I are house-sitting. Since college graduation last month, I was kind of floating around anyway. Needed a place to land.”
“Ah.” Was he running out of things to say?
“I assume you just graduated too?”
“And…” I wound one hand in a circle while still holding Chubbs with the other.
“And… I didn’t flunk out.” One corner of his mouth rose.
I laughed. “That’s good to know. Wouldn’t want to live next door to a dunce. But you knew I meant… what do you do?”
“I’m an engineer. Just got on at Community Builders, but I won’t start there for a couple more weeks.”
Boring… “How interesting.”
“I’m hoping I’m not living next to a dunce, either, Cora.”
“Rest assured I passed.”
“And you are…”
Infatuated with you.
He raised his eyebrows and waited.
Oh, I’m supposed to say something. “I’m a romance novelist.”
He blinked. Twice. “Ah.”
What did ah mean? He sounded decidedly unimpressed. “Maybe I should go—”
“I was hoping we could catch up. Wanna stay for a glass of wine?”
At that moment, I didn’t give a rat’s patootie if Drew was impressed with my vocation or not. Drew Dunkirk had just asked me on a date!
Take what you can get, Cora.