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Excerpt from The Girl Next Door by C. Jordan
“Thanks for going to water aerobics with me, Katie. It’s tough to get around town while Esteban’s recovering from his bunion surgery.”
Katie Jones smiled down at the old women who leaned on her arm. She ignored the fact that her wet hair was creating an uncomfortably moist patch on the back of her shirt, and that she’d forgotten to bring a change of clothes with her to the YWCA, so she’d had to put her shorts and top on over her damp bathing suit. Every time the breeze kicked up it sent a cold chill over her skin.
She patted the woman’s hand. “Of course, Mrs. Gomez. I’m sure your husband will be driving again soon.”
“I just hate taking the bus.” Mrs. Gomez wrinkled her nose. “The drivers are maniacs.”
Since the elderly lady said that about anyone who didn’t come to a complete stop at every intersection and drive at least five miles under the speed limit, Katie decided to steer the conversation away from driving. “Yeah, I’m not a fan of the bus either. The one thing I don’t love about these condos is they’re too far away from the light rail.”
Other than that, this complex was perfect. Built in the 1920s, it was classic Spanish Colonial Revival in design. She liked that the building was only one story tall and only had about ten units, so she didn’t feel crammed in amongst other people. Each condo faced a beautiful inner courtyard filled with lush greenery and a central fountain. She loved the red tiled roof, thick, white stucco walls, the carved wooden panels on all the front doors, and the huge windows that let her look at the courtyard when she was working at her desk. On many evenings, all her neighbors came out to sit on their small terracotta tiled patios to enjoy the courtyard and the warm California weather.
“Good morning, ladies.”
The deep voice snapped Katie back to the present. She turned to find three large men approaching, but her attention focused on the one speaking.
Derek Forrester. Ex-Navy SEAL, current next door neighbor, and the star of her midnight fantasies. Not that anything would ever come of those fantasies. He was drop dead gorgeous. She’d seen a handful of the dates he’d brought home since he moved in a year ago and they were every bit as gorgeous as he was. A guy like Derek didn’t go for too-tall, too-plump, too-shy girls like Katie. It was just a fact of the universe, like the sky was blue and two plus two equaled four. Simple, obvious, no need for further explanation.
Right now she had six-foot-three inches of long, lean muscle coming her way and she let herself enjoy the view. Even with a basketball propped on his hip, the man managed to look graceful and predatory at the same time, like a stalking panther. Just watching him walk across the courtyard was enough to make Katie’s brain short circuit and her tongue stick to the roof of her mouth. It didn’t help that all he wore was a pair of clingy mesh basketball shorts that left little to the imagination and sweat slipped in slow beads down the hard angles of his bare chest.
Sweet baby Jesus, she was going to have premature hot flashes any minute now.
She flushed and jerked her gaze up from his chest to his face. His eyes were a startling pale blue that contrasted with his deep brown skin, and she always felt pierced to the core whenever he looked at her.
Clearing her throat, she ducked her head. “Hi.”
“Who do you have there?” Mrs. Gomez lifted her cane to point at Derek’s companions. “They’re almost as pretty as you. That one even looks like you.”
His eyebrows arched while the men beside him made scoffing noises. “Yes, he does. Mrs. Gomez, this is my less-pretty cousin, Trevor, and my friend, Rob.”
“Nice to meet you.” The old woman gave them a flirtatious grin.
Rob had dark red hair, pale skin, and a multitude of freckles that made him appear sweet and innocent, but one look in his eyes, and Katie saw the same dangerous glint that Derek had—like he’d seen too much in his life to be anything but jaded, and he was more than ready to handle any situation, no matter how hazardous. Trevor looked a bit younger than the other two, but he also had a world-weary air about him. He had similar features as his cousin—same sharp cheekbones and square jaw, same dark skin, but his eyes were a hazel green-gold instead of blue. Less pretty or not, Katie doubted anyone had ever kicked this man out of bed for his looks. Or at all.
His gaze focused on her and he smiled. “I don’t think we caught your name.”
“Katie Jones. I live next door to Derek.” And she didn’t normally wear her hair in a wet, tangled mat around her head, but she didn’t make excuses for her bedraggled appearance. These men didn’t care. She reached out and shook Trevor’s hand, then did the same with Rob.
Not a single smidgeon of interest went through her at touching them, when all Derek had to do was look at her to make her tingle. Then again, he’d barely glanced at her today. As usual.
She really needed to get out there and start dating again, or she was going to die alone with her cat, Beru.
The men said their farewells and strode off to Derek’s condo while Katie and Mrs. Gomez continued their slow shuffle toward the Gomez’s unit.
“He’s sexy. If I were fifty years younger…” The elderly lady sighed.
“I’m telling Esteban you said that,” Katie teased.
Mrs. Gomez snorted. “He’s got a nurse coming twice a week to give me some time off, and you know he ogles her butt every time she bends over. He gets the nurse, I get the sailor. Fair is fair.”
“Sure. Fair is fair.” Katie wasn’t ever going to get the sailor in anything other than her wildest dreams, and she had serious doubts he even remembered her name.
But, hey, there was a nice trade-off for being the girl next door. She might slide under the radar, especially when it came to men, but that meant it didn’t matter if her hair was a mess or she was wearing a granny bathing suit under a T-shirt worn so thin it had a few holes in it. No one noticed anyway, and she didn’t mind not being noticed when she looked like hell.