Publisher’s Note: This title is also contained in the “Naughty List” box-set collection.
New in town, Merry has been so busy with opening her new store, that she hasn’t really had time to unpack! She always seems to be in a rush and accidents seem to follow her around like sleigh bells at Christmas. Her new neighbor, the hunky tall guy in a cop’s uniform, is definitely drool-worthy, but he always seems to be cross with her about something, and he even issued her three tickets! All in the same day! So no one is more surprised than Merry when he rushes to rescue her from what could have been a nasty situation.
Reese has had his heart broken before, and he’s not eager to go through that again, so he intentionally dates a string of women that are definitely NOT his type. Unfortunately, the cute little red-head across the street is exactly what he would look for in a woman – if he were looking. He tries to keep her at arm’s length by being intentionally rude, but if ever a woman needed a protector more, he’d yet to meet her. Seriously, he wondered how she’d made it this far already!
Sparks fly when this couple learns that they were definitely meant for each other in this charming romance set during the merriest season of all.
The moving van pulled away at half past seven, leaving Merry in a sea of cardboard boxes.? As she looked around her crowded living room at the daunting task before her, she questioned her sanity.? Why on earth hadn’t she paid the extra fee for unpacking?? Exhaustion overtaking her, she plopped down on her couch, falling face first into the disordered pillows and cushions.? As she lay lethargic and weary in the silent apartment, the rumbling, growling protests of her empty stomach cried out for attention.? Her last meal had consisted of a granola bar and juice at a gas station somewhere in Georgia.? That had been over twelve hours ago.? Knowing there were no groceries in the house, she gripped an innocent couch cushion in her hand and pounded it with frustration.? Maybe she’d just order in.? Lifting her head and pushing up to a seated position, she pulled out her iPhone.? It flippin’ figures, she cursed, as she pointlessly pressed the power button?it was dead.? Her eyes slowly rose to the two dozen sealed and stacked boxes.? Somewhere in that chaos was her charger, but she had no idea where.? Yep, she was screwed. ??
As she sat in a fog, completely depleted of energy, she debated whether to get up and go, or just pass out.? She’d just opted in favor of passing out, when a movement in the window caught her attention.? Across the street was a man dressed only in running shorts and shoes.? He was stretching his legs against a tree.? She figured he’d just finished a run because his sweat-drenched body was glistening in the late evening sun.? Her eyes traveled over his tight, toned muscular body with pleasure.? When he bent down to pick up a water bottle, his shorts pulled snugly against his tight rear and her breath caught in her throat. The man had the body of a Greek God.
He began stretching his back muscles, twisting at the waist until he was looking directly at her condo.? Their eyes met from across the street and she suddenly realized that she was pressed against her front window gawking at him.?? He smiled and gave her a quick nod before walking up the drive and entering the house directly across the street.? Holy Moly!? The Adonis was her neighbor.?
A hand rose to her chin, checking for drool.? Thankfully finding none, she swallowed her mortification before rushing to the kitchen to grab her purse.? How could she have gotten off the couch and walked across her carton littered floor without knowing it?? What had kept her from tripping over something in the moving day mess?? It must be low blood sugar she decided, that had her completely embarrassing herself in front of the man.? She needed food, stat!
Arriving home about 8 o’clock, she put away her groceries and stuck her deli pizza in the oven.? While she waited, she headed out to the front porch with her new watering can.? She’d bought it and the two petunia-filled hanging baskets during an end of season sale at the store.? The flowers made her smile as she hung them on the hooks that were already screwed into the overhead frame.? She could just imagine relaxing on her porch in the cool fall evenings that were rapidly approaching.? New to East Tennessee, she had googled the weather and learned that the hot days would wane soon and be replaced by mild temperatures and cooler nights by early October.? She’d only have about two months to enjoy them, but the clearance price had been too good to pass up.? Flowers cheered her up and she couldn’t wait to fill the barren mulch beds with spring bulbs and perennials.?
A flashy convertible pulling onto the cul-de-sac caught her attention.? She watched as it pulled into the Adonis’s driveway.? The blaring music and lights cut off before a long-legged skinny blonde got out.? Pulling down her miniscule skirt, she fluffed her hair and headed toward the front door.? It opened before she got there and he stepped out.? The blonde rushed up, flung her arms around his neck and they kissed as if they hadn’t seen each other in a decade.? Merry turned away when she saw his big hand grip the blonde’s butt.? So much for fulfilling a fantasy with her hot neighbor.
She busied herself watering her plants, trying to ignore the make out session going on barely fifty yards away.? When she was out of water, she was unable to resist another peak and looked in time to see the blonde entering his condo.? Her neighbor was nowhere in sight.?
“You can’t hang those there,” a deep voice rumbled from behind her.
Pressing a hand over her racing heart, Merry squealed and whirled around.? It was him, barely a foot away and as gorgeous up close as he’d been at a distance.? Tall and broad, his muscular forearms were the size of her thighs as he crossed his arms over his massive chest.
“I didn’t mean to scare you.”
“That’s all right.”? That voice; it was deep and silky smooth.? She felt an instant dampness form between her thighs moisten her panties.
“I came over to tell you that you can’t hang those baskets on the front porch, but the back is okay.”
Looking blankly at her flowers, she thought, baskets?? What baskets?? Her IQ had dropped at least forty points since he’d walked up.? Why was she acting like such a fool?? Shaking herself, she wondered what he was talking about.? What did he mean she couldn’t hang baskets on her own front porch??? “I don’t understand, what’s wrong with them?”
“You got a copy of the condo association rules, I assume.”
“Yes, but I haven’t had time to read them yet.”
“Better get to it.? I was just trying to save you a fine on your first day here.? The board can be pretty strict.”
“I can’t imagine what they have against flowers.”
“They used to be allowed, then they turned into wind chimes, wind socks, dream catchers and so on.? It got quite out of hand, so there was a crack down back in the spring.”
“Thanks, I guess.”
“No problem.”? He climbed up another step and stuck out his hand.? “Reese Morgan.? I think you know that I live across the street.”
Up close, she was amazed how big he actually was.? Even standing two steps below her, he was still taller and about twice as wide.?? His chest and shoulders were immense.? Realizing she had been caught gaping at him again, she lifted her hand.
“Welcome to the neighborhood, Merry.” He squeezed her hand gently for a brief moment before releasing her.? “Well, I’ve got to get back to my guest. Good night.”
“Of course, good night.”
She hurried into her house before she got caught staring at his butt.? Could she be any more obvious?? For heaven’s sake, he had a girlfriend.?? Like she had a chance with a man like him anyway.? She replayed the whole embarrassing scene in her mind until her nose finally detected the smell of something burning.? “My pizza!” ?Rushing into the smoke filled kitchen, she ?arrived just as the smoke alarm started to scream.
Merry looked at the dried up crocus bulb and frowned.? The planting instructions seemed simple enough, but she read them out loud this time.? “Prepare bulbs by loosening the soil until it is workable.”? Ok, did that.? “Plant bulbs pointy end up.”? She looked at the bulbs in her hand.? They were round. What pointy end? Looking at the instructions for a picture, she flipped the cardboard over and scowled.? “How stupid is that?? I guess they think everyone knows how to plant these dumb bulbs.”
A car zooming down the street behind her had her twisting around just in time to see it skid to a halt, parking crookedly in Reese’s driveway.? A tall brunette wearing tight jeans and a snug tee jumped out and stormed up the sidewalk.? Having lived there for several weeks, the sight of women visiting her handsome neighbor was hardly an uncommon occurrence.? But today seemed different.? Merry watched in fascination as the brunette banged on the door and waited, her high heeled foot tapping impatiently. When the door swung open, Merry turned around quickly.? Although she was dying to see what was happening, she wasn’t about to be caught gaping at him for a third time.
When she heard the woman’s voice raised in anger, she got up to get the hose, even though she didn’t need it yet. ?Maybe she could get a peek while she was unraveling and connecting it to the outdoor faucet.? As she bent to brush off her knees and then her hands on the seat of her shorts, she couldn’t help but turn and stare when the woman screamed shrilly.?
“You are a lying, cheating asshole.? I hope the next woman you fuck with chops your three-timing dick off.? Thank God we used a condom, you lecherous man whore!”
Merry couldn’t help but stare as the brunette flipped him off and stomped back to her car. Her tires squealed as she peeled out and flew back down the street, running the stop sign at the end.? She told herself not to, but compelled swiveled her head to look at Reese. He stared at her blankly for a few moments before walking back into his house.
“That’s the fourth one this month,” she murmured as she shook her head.?
“I think it’s five.”
Megan turned to see her neighbor, Mrs. Pittinger, standing on her porch about fifteen feet away. She was evidently watching the Reese Morgan Floozy of the Week show, too.
“By my count, there were three blondes and a brunette.? There was also the one with long black hair. She was exotic looking.”
“Yeah, I must have missed her.”? Must not be a fan of gingers, Merry thought, as she pushed back a few strands of her own hair which she refused to acknowledge as red.? She preferred strawberry blonde or Titian.? Thank goodness she didn’t have the ubiquitous freckles. Although as an adult she had learned to tame the curls, as a child the red ringlets had earned her plenty of nicknames.? The nicer ones being Carrot Top, Li’l Orphan Annie and Strawberry Shortcake.? The names and jokes had gotten progressively worse and more obscene when she’d hit high school.?
Mrs. Pittinger brought her out of her musings when she said, “Poor boy.”
“What do you mean, poor boy?? Are you worried he’ll get a back injury from changing his sheets?”
“No dear, because he so unhappy.? He’s searching for something and not finding it.”
Merry rolled her eyes; the man was nothing but a horndog!? The only thing he seemed to be searching for was his next piece of ass.? Pretty soon he’d have run through all the women in the condo community, the city, the county and beyond?whatever.?
“So, Mrs. Pittinger, do you know anything about bulbs?”
Distracting the woman worked, because she went off on an hour-long trivia-filled tangent about gardening.? Merry was dirty, sweaty and her hair had frizzed up by the time she finished.? She was in dire need of a shower and her growling stomach was announcing loudly that it was about lunch time, too.? As she packed up her caddy of gardening tools, a shadow crossed over her.? Startled, she squinted up at the tall figure blocking the sun.?
“Did you put on sunscreen?”
“I could tell you were pink from across the street and was wondering if you put on sunscreen.? Redheads have a tendency to burn, don’t they?”
“Yes, actually they do and I applied SPF 30 before coming out this morning.”? Rising to her feet, Merry put her hand to her forehead, using it like a visor against the sun.? With the light shining behind him, his face was in shadow and she couldn’t make out his features.
“I’m sorry for the disturbance this morning.? Ashley wasn’t very happy with me.”
“That’s a bit of an understatement, don’t you think?? She was wishing you bodily injury.? That’s more than unhappy; that’s furious in my book.? What did you do, if you don’t mind my asking?”
“Nothing.? She was expecting more than I was willing to give.? I told her up front I didn’t want a relationship, but evidently she didn’t hear me.”
“Hmph.” Merry grunted and rolled her eyes.? The man was devastatingly sexy and obviously used it to his advantage.? He was quite a player.? Heading for her garage to put everything away, she called over her shoulder, “I’m going for lemonade.? Want a glass?”?
It took a few seconds for her eyes to adjust to the dim light in the garage, so she didn’t notice him following her.
“I’d love a glass, Merry.”?
Startled by that voice directly behind her, she spun, a hand to her racing heart.? “Sheesh, you startled me.? You move quietly for such a big man.”
“I’m sorry, but I was just walking normally.”
She shrugged it off and eyed him up and down. ?He was dressed for a run again, but this time his chest and abs were covered.? Tall, dark and handsome with tanned skin and tons of muscle, he was every girl’s fantasy.?? Maybe having Don Juan in her condo wasn’t a good idea. ?”You could stop after you run, if you’d rather.”
“No, hydrating before a run is a good thing.”
“Okay, come on in.”? Leading the way into her back hall and beyond to her kitchen, she caught sight of herself in her mirrored china cabinet.? Yikes!? Now she felt self-conscious about her messy appearance.? She shook herself mentally.? He was just being friendly.? What did he care if she was dirty and sweaty??
Heading for the sink, she scrubbed her hands and nails thoroughly then grabbed two tall glasses filling them with ice.? After she poured, she handed him his glass and pointed to her breakfast bar.? “Want to sit?”
“Thanks.? This lemonade is great.? It’s fresh, isn’t it?”
“Yeah, I can’t stand the powdery fake stuff.”
“Good for me.”? He smiled broadly as he downed half the glass.
Attempting not to stare at the muscles working in his throat, she tried to make small talk.? But what could they possibly have in common?? Nothing, she thought, because her steamy sex fantasy about them was without a doubt one sided.? After taking a long sip she asked inanely, “So, is my condo laid out like yours?”
“I don’t know.? I’ve never been in here.”? He looked around, assessed her kitchen before standing and moving to the entryway of her living room.? “You have three bedrooms, two baths, right?” At her nod, he sat back down.? “Me too, although I turned one into a home gym.? My living room is a bit bigger and I have two-and-a-half baths.? The kitchen is almost identical.? Of course, mine doesn’t have the moving carton d?cor like yours.”
She could tell that was a joke by the teasing grin on his face.? But Merry just sat there and looked at him like an idiot, not really knowing what to say.? She loved a man with a sense of humor, but she was afraid if she got to know him more, she’d end up throwing herself into his arms at the first opportunity, just like all the other women who’d been through his revolving bedroom door in the past month.? She had to remind herself what a womanizer he was.? He drained his lemonade and her eyes were drawn to his mouth as his tongue slipped out to catch an errant drop of the tart liquid from his full lower lip.? Holy smokes, he was hot.? She looked away as soon as he set down his glass.? Feeling heat flood her cheeks, she was relieved that she was already hot from her yard work.? How much redder could she get??
“Well,? I should get going.? I just wanted to apologize for the scene this morning.? I don’t usually make my personal business so public.”
“It’s okay and really none of my business.”
“When you have to hear filthy language like that, I think it is.? Thanks for the lemonade, neighbor.”
Following him to the door, she kept up the ridiculous chatter in an effort to distract herself.? She didn’t want to be caught ogling his perfect nylon-covered butt, again.? Looking anywhere but there, she babbled about the weather of all things.??
“Hey, is it usually this warm in September?” She suppressed a groan when she heard the question leave her mouth.? What a ridiculous clich? she was.
She saw his shoulders shake.? He was laughing at her, of course, who wouldn’t?? The weather? for Pete’s sake.
He politely answered as he stepped out on the porch and turned to face her.? “It’s a little warmer than usual.? Are you complaining?”
“No, I was just kind of hoping to have seasons.? Living in Florida you only really get three.”
“Three?? What, no winter?”
Shaking her head, she smiled at him from the doorway.? “I lived in Jacksonville.? We got ?winter, summer and hurricane. That was enough to make me move north.”
He laughed and Merry almost swallowed her tongue.? His smile transformed his usually serious but handsome face into one that was heart-stoppingly beautiful.? And for a large burly man, that was saying something.?
“See you around?”
“Sure thing.? Stop by any time.”? She mentally rolled her eyes, like he’d come back for more of her dirt and sweat covered company and scintillating conversation.? Why was she acting so lame around him?
“I just may do that.? Bye, neighbor.”? His smile was friendly as he nodded and walked away.
“Bye, Reese.”? After he left, she leaned against the closed door and admonished herself for being such a ditz?a sexy man smiles at you and your brain becomes goo.? Shaking it off, she headed for a shower.? It wasn’t like she had a chance with a guy like him anyway.??? ???????