LJ stuffed his size-fourteen feet into the running shoes he’d worn long past their prime. Yeah, those suckers needed replacing before he ground his knees or ankles to dust, but they were like a longtime lover. Comfortable, familiar, a perfect fit.
Or so he’d heard. He sure as hell didn’t have any experience with long-term relationships, but word on the street made them sound like old, beat-up shoes. He chuckled to himself. Maybe that analogy was why he hadn’t held on to a woman longer than a few months. Most of them probably wouldn’t appreciate the comparison to stinky old footwear.
Okay, that was bullshit. He knew the real reason he shied from commitment but preferred to blame it on something more straightforward.
After hydrating the fuck outta himself all day to make up for hours spent pouring a different kind of liquid down his gullet the night before, LJ resigned himself to the one hangover cure that worked every time. Running. It sucked balls while he was at it, but pounding the pavement for a good ten miles sweat out whatever toxins were making him feel like shit. So, at five in the evening, he finally dragged his sluggish ass off the couch and got ready to run.
Only perk that came from hitting the bottle as hard as he had the previous night was a deep, dreamless sleep. A rare feat. However, choosing that route was a slippery slope with only one of two endings. Alcoholics Anonymous or swallowing his gun. Since neither outcome sounded desirable, LJ kept a tight handle on the amount of alcohol he typically consumed.
But last night had been a special occasion. A celebration quite a long time coming.
As he stepped outside, LJ slid his Oakley’s over his nose, but not before the sun singed his throbbing brain straight through his eye sockets. “Last time I fuckin’ drink ever again,” he muttered, as he jogged past the empty second-floor apartment next to his. His limbs moved like they were made of wood instead of flesh and bone. Picking up the pace, he turned the corner only to narrowly avoid taking out a woman carrying a box twice her size. “Whoa, shit,” he shouted as he dodged right.
Whoever she was, she yelped and staggered back, unbalanced by the heft of the box.
LJ lunged forward, snatching the heavy load from her with one arm as he used the other to steady her by her shoulder.
“Holy crap, you’re huge. And you just saved my life,” she said, panting with a hand pressed to her heaving chest.
LJ chuckled as he set the box on the concrete walkway. “Since I was the one who almost took you out, I’m pretty sure the save doesn’t count.”
“Oh, it counts,” she argued, voice full of sass. “And I’m pretty sure I’m the one to blame since I got all cocky and decided to haul the biggest box in the trunk.”
With another chuckle he straightened, faced her, and—fuck me—his dick punched against his running shorts in an instant.
“I’m Holly,” she said, a sweet smile playing on those pouty, unglossed lips as she stuck out her hand.
Holly. A sweet name to go with that sugary smile. God, she was…lush was the only word that came to mind. On the shorter side—well at least compared to him—curvy as fuck, with tits he’d kill to bury his face between, the woman was just his type. He hadn’t been lucky enough to catch a glimpse of her ass yet, but he bet it was round and jiggled as she walked. Jesus Christ, he could get lost for days in all that softness.
“Um, okay,” she said, as she started to draw her arm back.
“Shit, sorry!” he grabbed her hand and didn’t let go. “Zoned out for a second. My brain’s a little slow today due to some poor choices last night. I’m LJ. You moving in?” The smoothness of her skin didn’t escape him for one second. Especially the way her silky fingers curled around his larger and much rougher palm. Despite the soft feel, her grip was solid.
She smiled, and it lit her up, all glowy and shit. God, she was so fucking adorable, with her honey-blonde hair pulled back in a loose, low ponytail. Perfect complement to those round, ocean blue eyes he could drown in. And, apparently, she’d turned him into a poetic pussy.
“I am! Apartment 2A.”
Well, well, well. This could get interesting. Hopefully, he could keep his dick under control and not scare her away by being rock hard every time they came in contact. “You’re right next to me. Welcome to the complex. That place has been sitting empty for about six months. Ever since the murder-suicide that took place in there. Crazy couple. Used to fight all the time. He finally offed her, and himself a few minutes later.”
Her smile flipped upside down in an instant as the color drained from her face. “Murder?” she croaked, eyes bugging. “Suicide?”
Aw, fuck. He was an ass. Sometimes, he forgot not everyone had the crass sense of humor he’d gotten used to tossing out around his MC brothers. “Uh, no, sorry. I was just teasing you. Sounded much funnier in my head.” He shrugged.
Holly’s mouth opened and closed a few times.
Well, there went any opportunity of sucking on her nipples or seeing exactly what that body looked like without the tattered T-shirt and yoga pants.
For a woman to be rocking a sloppy ponytail, no makeup, and scruffy clothes and still make his dick hard as a pipe…that said something.
Him and his stupid fucking mouth.
Holly’s head dropped back, and she let out a melodic laugh that did absolutely nothing to squelch his hard-on. “So that’s how you’re gonna be, huh?”
Or maybe not so stupid…
His grin had to be huge as fuck with the way it was stretching his cheeks. Damn, she was gonna be a fun neighbor. Especially if she ever let him between those thick thighs. “You doing this by yourself?” he asked, pointing to the box between them.
Holly rolled her baby blues. “No. Not exactly. My dad and brother are coming out in the morning to help me unload the U-Haul. I wasn’t supposed to get in until tomorrow, but I wanted a few hours to get acclimated to the place before my overbearing family descends.” She shrugged and looked away. “You know how it is.”
Uh, no, he did not. His family wouldn’t spit on him if he were on fire. “I’ll take your word for it.”
That had her head snapping back in his direction as she gave him an openly curious look.
He bent down and hoisted the box up to his shoulder. “Lead the way, pretty girl.”
Her eyes widened. “Damn, you make that look easy. Where’d you get all those muscles? I could use a few.”
The laugh he belted out had her giggling alongside him. “I’ll give you the website.”
“Seriously,” she said with a shake of her head. “You do not have to do this. Carrying big boxes sucks. Save yourself and finish your run. Although running sucks just as bad.” Her face scrunched as though running truly offended her.
Jesus, if she didn’t stop saying the word suck, she just might find herself on her knees preparing to do just that. “Eh, no biggie,” he said, exaggerating the flex of his admittedly sizable biceps. “Gotta let these puppies out to play every now and again, or they’ll get bored and run away.” He gestured for her to head down the hallway first.
She snorted as she led him to her apartment door. Ahh, there was the ass view. Just as he’d imagined. Plump, round, and so fucking squeezable his palms itched.
Oblivious to his stare and his boner, or at least polite enough to pretend she was oblivious, she held the door open for him. As soon as he stepped through, something warm nudged straight into his crotch. “What the fuck?”
He set the box down and found the biggest dog he’d ever encountered getting up close and personal with his junk. “Shit,” he said with a laugh as he reached down to scratch the jet-black beast behind his ears. “Had you warned me you had such a huge boyfriend, I’d have toned down the flirting.”
Holly, who’d made it to the kitchen by this point spun on her heel and darted back toward them. “I’m so sorry! Biscuit, get over here. Leave LJ alone. I’m so sorry,” she said again. “I thought he was asleep in my room, or I would have warned you about him. He’s a total whore.” She tried in vain to wrestle the humungous hound away from LJ’s family jewels.
“No worries.” LJ squatted down which at least got the dog away from the danger zone. It was like the hairy guy could smell his arousal or something. Some kind of primitive man to beast bond. “He’s a handsome guy. What is he?”
“A mountain mastiff,” she answered. “Worst guard dog in existence, as you can see, but thankfully he’s big enough he tends to intimidate on sight.”
LJ watched her as she scratched the dog behind his ears. The big baby rolled to his back, presenting his long stomach for a good rub. LJ obliged at once.
“How’d you know he was a boy?” She asked as her hand joined his on Biscuit’s belly.
“For real?” he asked with a laugh. “Come one, look at that thing. It’s kinda hard to miss.” He pointed toward the large schlong sticking up proudly between the dog’s hind legs. “We’ve got a few things in common.”
Holly’s mouth dropped open, then she snickered. “I see you’re gonna keep me on my toes.”
“I’ll take you any way I can get you. On your toes, your back, right up against that wall.” LJ winked. “Come on, let’s grab some more of your shit before it gets dark.”
Her face turned an adorable shade of pink. “Um, thanks, LJ. Hopefully, I can repay the favor someday soon.”
Uh, yeah, he could think of at least twenty ways she could repay the favor, and all involved her being naked and moaning his name. Since he assumed he’d come on strong enough for the first meet, he kept those thoughts to himself.
“Biscuit, go to your bed,” she ordered. The giant dog obeyed at once, loping over to a substantial oval dog bed in the center of the bare living room.
“Biscuit?” Poor guy.
She blushed even harder as she nodded.
For the next thirty minutes, they worked in relative silence as they unloaded her Jetta. LJ made sure to let her lead the way up the steps each trip, so he had a prime view of that stellar ass.
“That’s it, right?” She asked as he deposited a box marked “Baking Shiz” onto the small kitchen island. It’d been the heaviest box by far. And not the only one with a baking label. The woman must like to bake. Second to the possibility of headboard-banging sex, this could be the best thing about having her as a neighbor.
“Yes, ma’am,” he quipped.
She shot him a look over her shoulder as she opened her refrigerator. “Ma’am? I’m twenty-four, LJ, not sure I qualify as a ma’am.” She removed two bottles of Yingling and a small Tupperware case, then made her way back to the island.
Huh, look at that. “Hey, we’re almost the same age! I’m twenty-five, and I was in the military for four years, so all females are ma’am to me.”
She handed him a bottle, then fished through her purse for her keychain, which she also tossed to him.
With a laugh, she snatched the keys back. “Sorry, forgot we just met or something. Here.” She handed the keychain back, this time holding out the bottle opener attached to a key ring.
Instant bottle opener? Another check in this girl’s pro column.
“Ahh, I’m with you now, pretty girl.” He popped the cap on his beer, then did the same to hers. “Thanks,” he said after taking a sip. “This hits the spot.” So much for never drinking again. All it took was one sweet smile and two big tits to have him going back on his word.
“Yes, it does.” She peeled the Tupperware open. “Want one?”
Before he even had a chance to peek in the container, a sugary, strawberry smell hit his senses and he nearly groaned. “Holy shit, what the hell is that?” he asked peering down at what looked like a cupcake but with gooey strawberries on top instead of frosting.
“They’re mini vanilla cheesecakes with a strawberry glaze.”
If she said anything after glaze, LJ completely missed it. He was too busy staring at the delicious-looking confection. As if on autopilot, he snagged one of the treats and took a taste, devouring half the cheesecake in one bite.
This time, he did groan, loud, as the fantastic flavor of strawberry combined with a zing of something tart, maybe lemon, mixed with creamy vanilla goodness flooded his taste buds. “Holy fucking shit,” he said, mouth full. Didn’t even matter how much of a pig he came across as. He shoved the rest of the cheesecake in his mouth and reached for another.
“Please,” Holly said, pushing the container toward him with sparkling eyes. “Help yourself to as many as you’d like.”
She stood, watching his face, lower lip tucked between her teeth. The seductive pose drew him away from his snack. All he could think about was sinking his own teeth into that plump lip and seeing if her eyes darkened to a stormy sea or remained Caribbean calm.
“Do you like it?”
Was she nervous? Standing there abusing her lip and drumming her fingers on the counter.
“Like it? Shit woman, this is the best thing I’ve eaten in ages. Where’d you buy these?”
There she went getting all pink again. Damn, the blush was just too cute. LJ had never been one to go for the innocent type, hell, he was an outlaw biker for fuck’s sake. Not to mention other parts of his past and present that didn’t attract innocent girls. Those types of women did not come with the territory, but this one had a wholesome air of purity around her that was drawing him in.
“I made it,” she said in a near whisper.
She laughed. “No shit. I’m a pastry chef.”
Oh man. A sexy neighbor who carried a bottle opener, had some sass to her, looked like sex in clothes, and was a pastry chef. He was seriously fucked. “You opening a bakery in town or anything?”
Her phone buzzed from the counter, and she grabbed it, firing off a quick text with a frown.
“Sorry.” She rolled her eyes. “Overprotective parents checking to make sure I’m not in a ditch somewhere.” Holly sighed. “Anyway, opening a bakery is my goal, eventually. I don’t have the capital for it right now, but I’ve been building an online business. Custom cakes, desserts for events, things like that. But even that’s getting tricky.”
“Well,” she chuckled and gave him a sheepish smile. “I’m sure you’re not interested in talking about my work issues. I’ve probably kept you long enough. Thank you for your help.”
She went to place the lid on the Tupperware, but he caught her wrist before she completed the task. God, that soft skin…if it was that smooth on her arm, he couldn’t imagine the satin he’d discover under her clothing.
Her gaze shot to his and they stared at each other for a few seconds before he said. “I wouldn’t ask if I didn’t want to know. Once you get to know me, you’ll find out I’m not one to waste my time on bullshit I don’t care about. Okay?”
“Uh, okay.” She blinked and stared at his hand on her arm. The one where his thumb was stroking her skin.
“So tell me about it.”
“Well, the problem is two-fold. First, this kitchen is too small to keep up with my orders. And second, it can be hard to get a license for a home bakery if you own a dog. Unless you can prove the dog will never be in the cooking space.”
As if he knew he was the topic of conversation, Biscuit wandered over and nudged LJ’s hand. LJ obliged the handsome guy with a good scratch behind his ears.
Holly rolled her eyes. “And as you can see, keeping him away from this space is not gonna happen.”
The second he stopped rubbing, Biscuit whined and nudged his hand again. “So what are you gonna do?” He went for a third little cheesecake and Holly just fucking beamed.
“I used my parent’s kitchen for an online business before moving here, so I have a little saved up. I’ll probably rent time from a commercial kitchen. Sometimes churches rent out time in their kitchens, or restaurants that close earlier let bakers rent time and space after hours. That kind of thing.”
The wheels in LJ’s head started to turn. “Well, pretty girl, I better get going. Gotta double my run now to make up for all this sugar.”
“Yeah, I’m never gonna apologize for that. In fact, living next to me, you’re pretty much doomed to become my guinea pig.”
“Sugar, you can experiment on me anytime.”
Her eyes widened; the double meaning not lost on her.
Chuckling to himself, LJ leaned forward and pressed a kiss to her cheek as he swiped a cheesecake for the road. “See ya around, sugar. Thanks for the sweets.”
“Oh, uh, of course.” She blinked and raised a hand to her red cheek. Biscuit trotted after him to the door. As he opened it to leave, Holly seemed to snap out of her trance. “Thanks for the muscle!” she called out.
Once he was outside and away from all the sugary goodness—both the dessert and the woman—LJ fished his phone out of the zip pocket in his running shorts. “Hey, Z,” he said after his club’s enforcer picked up on the third ring.
“LJ! Hey, brother, glad to hear your voice. We were wondering if you survived the night.” Zach said. There was a loud clanking in the background. Zach must be at work. He owned the local gym in town and did some seriously great business.
“I’m still kicking…barely.”
Zach laughed. “How many women did you wake up with this morning?”
That would be none. Because he never woke up with a woman. In order for them to wake up in his bed or vice versa, he’d have to fall asleep with them, and there was no way in hell that was happening. One disaster on that front was enough to last him a lifetime.
“Hey, Z, Toni around? I had something to run by her.”
The laugh that came from Zach was slightly evil. “Damn, must have been quite a night if you won’t even talk about it. But yeah, Toni is here, helping out at the front desk. Everything all right?”
Protective didn’t come close to describing Zach. Of course, he wouldn’t let LJ talk to his woman before ensuring the topic of conversation wouldn’t upset her in any way. “You bet. Just had an idea for her.”
“You got it, brother. Hang on a sec.”
Brother. Damn, that word sounded so good. LJ had been a prospect for way longer than the usual timeframe. One emergency after another with the club had kept him from being patched in when he should have. But as of last night, that was all in the past. He was officially a fully-patched member of the Hell’s Handlers Motorcycle Club.
“Hey, LJ, what can I do for you?” Toni came on the line.
“Hey, hon. Listen, I have this new neighbor…”