By Caroline Lee
The last three weeks had been giddying. There’d been her usual classes at the gym, and finishing up this second-to-the-last semester of veterinary school, sure. That was nothing new. But in between, in those glorious few free hours each week, she got to see…him.
Jess’s relationship with Java had progressed so well that the chocolate lab was living with him full-time, now. Which meant that she did her training visits right next door, in his house. Every time she went over, she was nervous and excited, and made a complete fool of herself. There was the time that she tripped on his doorstep and would’ve busted her head open if he hadn’t caught her. Then the time that she tried to hand him a leash when he was already holding the food bowl, completely forgetting that he only had the one arm. And of course, all of the time she spent admiring the really cool stuff his prosthesis could do, no matter how many times his dark brows drew in disappointedly when he caught her staring.
She should be too embarrassed to show her face over there again. She should find it too awkward to peek through her living room curtains at him, when he walked Java in the evenings. She should definitely not be fantasizing about him, wondering what it’d feel like to have his chest pressed against hers and taste those hard lips and—
Lindsey bit her lip, stirring the spaghetti sauce. There is absolutely no need to be thinking those thoughts, young lady. Her mother’s voice, and her father’s teasing, sounded loud in her brain. She’d heard them both often enough, the good Lord knew, in between her sisters’ joking about her distraction at their weekly family dinner.
But she couldn’t help it; she was distracted, and totally obsessed with her hot neighbor. The problem was, that Jess and Java worked so well together, there wasn’t much left for her to do. So she’d decided to swallow down her embarrassment and take a step. Instead of working at his house this evening, she’d invited them both over here, to her house. She’d claimed that Java needed a chance to socialize with Shelby, but she was hoping that he’d stay for the spaghetti dinner she’d cooked up too. And the wine. And the brownies. And maybe some more wine and Netflix, after?
Whoops, the sauce was dripping on the counter. Laughing at herself, Lindsey set the spoon back down and wiped up the mess, hurrying through the last few steps of prep before the 6:30 pm start time.
By 6:33, he still wasn’t there, and Lindsey was halfway through her first consolation glass of wine, sure that he wasn’t arriving. By 6:35, she considered throwing out all of the spaghetti and eating the pan of brownies in front of Gilmore Girls episodes.
So when the doorbell rang at 6:37, she darn near tripped over her freshly painted red toenails to get to it. Setting down the wine, she called to Shelby, clipped the leash onto her collar, and took a few steadying breaths. This was it. He was here. Did she look okay? Suitably casual and oh-I-just-threw-this-on but also really sexy? Lindsey squeezed her eyes shut, said a silent prayer that she wasn’t going to do or say anything stupider than usual, and threw the door open.
In the fading light, he looked just as scrumptious as he had for the last weeks. Except this time, there was a little smile under his stubble, and his lovely eyes weren’t as hooded as they’d been during that first official meeting. “Hi.”
Java’s leash was clenched in his fake hand—is that what she was supposed to call it? A fake hand? She had no idea, but it was one of a million questions she wanted to ask—so he was able to give her a little wave with his right fingers. “Hi.”
A good start. Unfortunately at that moment, Java smelled Shelby, gave a little wuff of excitement, and barreled through the door, pulling Jess past Lindsey. Shelby, however, was just as clumsy as her momma, because the mutt darted for the door, and Java followed, and in less than a heartbeat both humans were wrapped around and pulled together by the dog leashes.
It was a stunning feeling, to have his chest pressed against hers like this, and Lindsey resisted the urge to take a really deep breath. His prosthetic arm was trapped between their stomachs, and hers was around her back where she was still holding Shelby’s leash, but at that moment, it didn’t matter.
He smelled like a man should. He looked like a man should, all cut angles and harsh lines and firm muscles. He felt like a man should, and despite the supreme awkwardness of being wrapped up by two dogs, Lindsey wouldn’t have missed this for the world.
But a full minute of silence demanded her attention. “Sorry.” She tried for a flippant smile, but was afraid she looked love-sick instead. “I can be kinda a dork sometimes.”
A dork? She managed not to groan. Well, if you weren’t before, you are now, dork. He wasn’t the kind to make jokes. He wasn’t the kind to grin at her silliness. He wasn’t the kind—
She sucked in a breath—she could actually taste him, they were so close—when his fingers brushed against her cheek. And then he smiled. Really smiled, like he had when he’d met Java. “Well, I think you’re pretty adorkable.”
He’d made a joke? Or was he teasing her? Or did he—wait. He thought she was adorable? And then she stopped thinking altogether, because Jess was leaning closer.