“I have no idea why you decided to live here,” my mother said as she looked around my apartment, her distaste clear in her expression.
“I like it, Mom,” I said, trying to hide my annoyance.
Anything I picked out or anything I liked was never good enough for her. Never. She’d huffed and puffed for months when I told her I changed my major from pre-med to education. Time and time again, I’d been forced to listen to her lectures about how teacher salaries were nothing more than pocket change.
I didn’t care. I didn’t want to follow in her footsteps and become a doctor. I didn’t want to work long hours that would eventually destroy my marriage. I didn’t want to look down on every person who didn’t make a six- or seven-figure salary each year.
I wanted to teach. I wanted to make a difference. I wanted to walk into my classroom every day and show my students that learning was important, that they were important. I’d tried to explain that to my mom over and over, but she couldn’t understand my reasons. For a doctor, someone who should be compassionate, she lacked every human emotion I found important.
“What’s to like about it? It’s so…tiny. And look at the appliances, Rebecca. They’re white.”
Apparently, white appliances were reserved for poor people.
“I’ll be sure to paint them before you come over next time,” I deadpanned.
She scowled at me. She wore that expression most of the time, especially when talking to me. If she smiled once in a while, the world would see how truly beautiful my mother was. But no, that damn scowl made her look cold and older.
With her light-blonde hair, blue eyes, and tiny curves, she was my complete opposite. The only thing I’d inherited from her was my tiny button nose that I hated. I looked like my dad with my black hair, green eyes, and tall frame. At five foot seven, I towered over my mother, who was barely five-three.
When I was a teenager, I’d wished that I had my mother’s build. She was so small and fragile-looking. I had hated my large chest and round hips. I’d felt fat next to her and the small girls I went to school with. My junior year of college, I’d finally accepted myself. No matter how hard I wished I could look like her, I’d known it was impossible, so I’d decided to focus my energy on loving who I was instead of ripping myself to shreds. Big hips be damned.
“You’re not funny, Rebecca.”
“Wasn’t trying to be,” I shot back as I picked up a box and carried it back to my new bedroom.
It was always like this between us. My mother ruled my life with an iron fist. She expected me to be the perfect daughter. I’d tried my hardest to please her. While earning perfect grades in high school, I’d been the star of every athletic team, played in the band, and served as the president of the student body and the Christian Club. I never drank or smoked or did drugs. I’d never gone further than kissing a boy. I was probably the oldest living virgin at twenty-three—with the exception of nuns.
But it was never enough for her. Whatever I did, she always found a flaw. She had treated my father the same, eventually driving him away. After the divorce, I’d hated him for a long time. He’d left me completely alone with her when he moved across the country from West Virginia to Washington.
Looking back now, I couldn’t really blame him for running. Hell, I should have run, too, but I hadn’t been able to bring myself to do it. The only thing I’d ever done to defy my mother was getting a teaching degree. I was one hell of a rebel.
When I returned to the living room, my mother was still standing in the same spot, looking at her cell phone. I ignored her as I walked toward the tiny pile of boxes on the floor. Since I was moving out from a dorm and right into a new apartment, I didn’t have a ton of stuff. Sure, I had enough clothes and makeup to keep me going for years, but I lacked everything else.
I glanced back at my mother. Maybe I was being too hard on her. Despite her protests about the apartment, she’d paid my rent for the first six months and put enough cash in my bank account to keep me going until my first paycheck rolled in. I knew she loved me, but she had a shitty way of showing it.
She tore her attention away from her cell phone. “I need to go. Do you need help with anything else?”
I gave her a blank stare. I wasn’t sure exactly how she’d helped me since showing up half an hour ago. She’d watched as I’d unloaded the boxes from her car and mine before I’d carried them up the stairs to my second-story apartment. I couldn’t even say she’d given me moral support since all she’d done was complain about my new home.
I finally said, “I’m good. I only have a few more boxes in my car. I can carry them up on my own.”
She nodded. “All right. Well, have fun. Call me tomorrow, and let me know how your first day of work went.”
“I will.” Not.
I walked her to the door. She surprised me when she hugged me briefly before walking away.
My stomach rolled as I thought about work. Tomorrow would be my first day as an official teacher. I still couldn’t believe that I’d landed a full-time gig right out of college. Sure, I’d graduated at the top of my class, but teaching jobs were few and far between.
When I’d applied at the local high school, I’d expected to be turned down, so I’d been shocked when I was called in for an interview and then when they called me back to offer me the position. That had been a month ago. Since then, I’d gone through a background check, including being fingerprinted, for my new job. After finally being cleared, I’d had a week to rush to set up my new classroom.
I was scared to death of the juniors I would be teaching history to tomorrow. Student teaching was one thing because I’d had a seasoned teacher to help me, but being in charge of a bunch of teenagers sent my heart racing away in terror. I would be on my own, and I couldn’t help but worry that they would eat me alive before the first week was over.
I was still thinking about my new job as I stepped out of my apartment and closed the door behind me. I hurried down the stairs and out to the parking lot where my car was. The black Range Rover was a high school graduation present from my mother. From the moment I’d seen it, I loved it. I’d even declined when my mother recently offered to buy me something newer now that it was four years old. My car was my baby.
I grabbed one of the boxes and carried it up to my apartment. Just as I reached my door, I looked up in surprise when the door directly across the hall from mine opened. A man stepped out and looked up, his gaze colliding with mine.
I stared at him, unable to tear my gaze away from his dark hair, blue eyes, and full lips. He wore a pair of black jeans and a dark gray shirt that hugged his chest. I envied that shirt. I wanted to be that shirt. Tattoos ran down the length of both his arms, and under his lower lip were two piercings. Everything about him screamed bad boy and danger, from the way he held himself to the fierce expression on his face. My body shouted at me to run away while simultaneously ordering me to attack him and rip off his clothes. Lust clouded my vision, and I took a step back.
We watched each other, neither of us saying a word.
Suddenly, he cleared his throat. “You must be my new neighbor. I’m Alec.”
His voice, deep but smooth as silk, pulled me from my stupor.
Feeling like a fourteen-year-old girl with her first crush, I hastily set the box down by the door and held out my hand toward him. “I’m Rebecca.”
He stared down at my hand for a moment before taking it. My eyes widened as a jolt of electricity shot through my body. If he’d felt it, too, he gave no indication. Instead, his eyes swept down my body, stopping briefly on my chest. With his eyes burning a trail across my body, I’d never been more conscious of my curves than I was now. I felt my face warm as I pulled my hand away.
When I caught him staring at my chest again, another emotion coursed through my body—annoyance. “My eyes are up here, you know,” I said, surprising myself for speaking up.
His eyes found mine again, and he smiled. “Oh, I know where they are. I just wasn’t concerned with looking at them.”
My mouth dropped open in shock. I felt like a bucket of ice-cold water had been dumped over my head, effectively ending my lust-filled thoughts. “Seriously?” I asked incredulously. Asshole.
The grin never left his face, as he stood there without saying a word.
“You know, as far as first impressions go, yours sucks,” I told him flatly.
He laughed before glancing down at the box by my feet. “Can I make it up to you by helping you carry your stuff up?”
I shook my head as I narrowed my eyes at him. “No, thanks. I think I can handle it.” I picked up my box and opened my apartment door without looking back at him.
He chuckled under his breath. “Looks like this building finally got interesting.”
I couldn’t sleep. Between my fear of what tomorrow would bring and my encounter with my new neighbor, my mind refused to shut down. My visions alternated between my students lighting me on fire while dancing around me to Alec’s blue eyes and dangerous smile.
I had no doubt that his smile had brought many women to their knees. Even I, Miss Priss, had been affected by him—at least, at first—but his arrogance and womanizing demeanor had put an end to my lust-filled thoughts.
Still, I couldn’t help but feel shocked over my initial reaction to him. I’d spent the last eight years of my life surrounded by the popular crowd, which was full of beautiful girls and sexy guys. I’d even gone out on dates with a few of them—the guys, that was. I wasn’t into chicks.
None of them had affected me the way Alec had. It was as if his mere presence had shot lust signals down to my lady bits. I hated that he’d gotten to me so easily. I wasn’t into bad boys. I never had been. While my friends had taken several rides on the wild side throughout the years, I’d never felt inclined to do so. In fact, I’d been the one warning them that all they’d end up with were broken hearts. And I’d been right every time.
I closed my eyes again and forced thoughts of pyromaniac students and Alec from my mind. I had to sleep, or I’d never survive tomorrow. After a few minutes, I finally felt that wonderful feeling just before sleep takes hold, like my body was weightless. I relaxed further into my bed and smiled to myself.
I sat straight up in bed when I heard the most god-awful sound of my life. I strained my ears and realized it was music—no, not music. It was heavy metal–screaming crap. Music did not sound like that.
Where the hell is it coming from?
I stood and began walking toward the living room. With each step, the screaming music became clearer.
Is it coming from inside my apartment?
I stopped next to the front door. It sounded like it was coming from the hallway. Annoyed, I threw the door open, expecting to see a band playing right outside my door. The hallway was empty, but I knew exactly where the sound was coming from.
I glared holes into Alec’s door, noticing the tiny amount of light escaping from under his door. It had to be past three in the morning, and he was blaring that shit. I stomped across the hall and stopped in front of his door. I raised my fist to beat on the door, not caring that I was in a ridiculous pair of pink pajamas. My fist hit the door, and I sucked in a surprised breath when it opened. Apparently, he hadn’t shut it all the way.
The reason for the half-ass closed door became obvious as soon as I caught sight of what was happening in his apartment. My hand covered my mouth to keep me from crying out in shock. His apartment was set up exactly the same as mine with the living room right inside the door. I stared in horror as I watched my new neighbor pound into a chick lying underneath him on the couch. I couldn’t look away from his bare form. He was facing me, so I couldn’t see everything, but it was enough.
I could hear the woman crying out, even over the loud music pouring from the sound system a few feet away. I took a step back, desperate to escape. I just knew I would be scarred for life over this. My movement caught Alec’s attention, and he looked up. We stared at each other—me in horror, him in shock—but his hips never stopped thrusting into the woman.
“Enjoying the show?” he finally asked, his voice strained from his current activities.
If the girl below him had heard him speak, she didn’t acknowledge him.
My eyes widened in shock and embarrassment as I took another step back.
He grinned. “Either join in, or get the fuck out.”
Common sense finally caught up to me, and I turned and ran back to my apartment.
Dear God, I’ll never get that image out of my head.
As I slammed my apartment door shut, I knew one thing for sure. I would never be able to look at my neighbor again for as long as I lived.