L.B. Dunbar is heating up the Holidays with a sexy silver fox romance featuring a single mum falling for her flirty fireman next-door neighbour, and I have a little sneak peek for you.
“Shoes,” I mumble again. Snapping my fingers, I recall what I was doing—looking for the elf. Eventually, he’ll be placed on top of the fridge or the china cabinet because he needs to be out of reach from Nash, who is only five. At eight years old, Eloise is the one with questions. And shoes are the answer tonight, as the wily elf is in a shoebox on a shelf in my closet—a place the children would never go.
Climbing the stairs of my new-to-us home, I find the little rascal in an old box for heels I no longer own. Once retrieved, I look about the house seeking a good spot to place him. Eloise already wrote him a long list of questions, and I’ll need to forage through her letters from last year (also placed in the box) to recall previous answers. She’s a smart one, my little girl, and she remembers this shit better than me.
As the litany of her questions spans a sheet of paper front and back, a glass of wine is in order to navigate this process. As a right-handed person, I’ll have to disguise my handwriting by using my left hand to write the answers. A full glass of red matches the holiday spirit, I decide, although I don’t have a stitch of decoration up in this house yet. I haven’t had time. Returning to full-time work after the divorce, plus carpools for extracurricular activities, and the daily grind of getting my children to and from school, then dinner and homework, baths and bedtime routines, I’m beat by the end of the day.
Besides, Thanksgiving was just over a week ago.
After a hardy drink, I focus on the first question.
Number one. Do you like peppermint dick?
I blink, certain I’ve misread and realize I have.
Do you like peppermint stick?
Sweet baby Jesus in a manger, my imagination got the best of me there, or perhaps it’s more my subconscious, as I haven’t been with a man in over a year. Feeling dirty and unwanted after what Mitch did, the dry spell hadn’t bothered me at first, but now, twelve months later, I miss the sensual touch of another human. My own fingers have worked willingly but not provided the wonder of connecting with someone else.
Number two. How many—
“What the hell?” I glance over my shoulder, peering behind me through the small window in the eating area. Something has just hit my house.
Another thud and then something clatters outside, out of sight of the window.
“When up on the rooftop, there arose such a clatter,” I mutter the famous line from Clement Clarke Moore’s poem ’Twas the Night Before Christmas.”
Standing, I hold my breath, awaiting another thump when a different thought wafts through my head. The poem is actually titled A Visit from St. Nick.
Bemused, I breathily laugh at myself. Clearly, I need more sleep.
Willing my shoulders to relax, I prepare to sit back down when I hear the telltale sign of an aluminum ladder clanking and a light thud of metal connecting with my house again.
On second thought, is the verse arose such a ladder?
Shaking my head, I realize I’m losing my mind, but something is definitely banging on the side of my home. With wineglass in hand as if that will protect me, I slip into my own set of Sherpa-lined boots and step out the back door leading to the driveway I share with my neighbor. My single car garage is detached from the house, and I don’t park in the slightly leaning building. The space covers bikes, summer furniture, and boxes I haven’t unpacked yet. We’ve only been in the house for seven months.
Standing on the back stoop, I pause. What am I doing? I’m a single mother living alone. I shouldn’t be out here investigating in the dark.
Then I hear the metal clang of a ladder against the siding once more coming from my front yard and curiosity gets the best of me. Despite the cold, I walk along the side of my home and down the drive toward the front. Cupping the wineglass against my chest, I slowly approach the corner of my house.
“Shit.” A deep male voice whispers in the night.
My heartbeat ratchets up a few thumps. Is someone trying to break in? They’re making quite a racket if that’s the case. Not to mention, the only thing of value in this house are my two children nestled all snug in their beds.
Rounding the corner, I shout, “What the hell are you doing?”
My sharp voice rips through the quiet night air, causing the man standing on the low roof overhanging my front stoop to slip. With a curse from his lips and the slide of his feet, he scrambles to stay on the narrow strip of roofing. Only his left foot goes over the edge, kicking the gutter. He does an awkward split motion before his body slowly glides to the end of the roof, and his weight takes him off it.
“Oh my God!” I cry out, rushing toward the large body dangling from the overhang. Not more than ten feet from the ground to the start of the incline, his stretched form shows he’s roughly six feet plus. He only has a few feet to drop if he lets go of my gutter, which is starting to strain under his weight. He’s too far away to reach the ladder, which is propped up on the opposite corner of the overhang. With a swing of long legs in jeans that accentuate the thickness of his thighs and the firmness of his backside, he tucks forward before lunging back and dropping like a cat to the ground, clearing the stairs that descend from the porch. His back remains to me for half a second, and red buffalo check flannel strains over the expanse of thick muscles and flexed biceps in a shirt that hugs his body. Slowly, he turns to face me.
“Nick?” I choke.
With a bright red knit cap on his head, my next-door neighbor stares down at me. He has these intense, dark blue eyes and cheeks like cliffs, matching the mountainous stature of his body. His jaw holds an artful combination of black and white scruff, which is more snow than earth-colored despite his hair still being a shade of charcoal.
And I know these details about Nick, my next-door neighbor, because he’s hot with a capital H.