Home > What If You & Me (Say Everything #2)(3)

What If You & Me (Say Everything #2)(3)
Author: Roni Loren

   “A little too loud?” he asked, repeating her words. “It’s midnight. The screams were damn near vibrating my walls.”

   That made her spine straighten and a flash of indignation rush through her. “Yes, it is midnight. And someone thought blaring songs about tractors was appropriate at this hour. I had to turn up my TV to drown you out.” She nodded at his weapon. “Do you make it a habit to scare the shit out of new neighbors by brandishing a baseball bat on their doorstep?”

   He glanced down at his bat as if just remembering he had it, like it was a normal extension of his arm. He leaned over and set it against a planter out of her reach, then lifted a brow her way. “Says the lady with the pink pepper spray.”

   “Hey, you’re at my door, man. I didn’t bang on yours.” She wasn’t going to put down her weapon. No, thank you.

   He sighed, a long-suffering sound, and rubbed his forehead. “Okay, so you’re not getting murdered or the hell beat out of you.”

   “I am not.”

   “That’s good.” He nodded, almost to himself, and ran a hand over the back of his head.

   “Agreed. I consider it a good day if I haven’t been murdered.”

   He stared at her for a moment as if at a loss for what to say to that, and she was momentarily struck by how well his beard suited his tense jawline, by how long his eyelashes were, how his brown eyes had flecks of green in them.

   “I’m sorry if I scared you,” he said finally. “But maybe not so loud on the movies. I’m trained to respond to screams.”

   Somehow the words trained to respond to screams sounded dirty to her ear, and heat bloomed in her cheeks. God. What was with her tonight? She cleared her throat. “Right. And maybe not so loud with the tractor music?”

   His mouth hitched up at one corner, a lazy tilt of a smile. “I played no songs about tractors. There was no farm equipment referenced at all.”

   She crossed her arms again and gave him a knowing look. “What about mommas, trains, trucks, prison, or gettin’ drunk?”

   A low chuckle escaped him, and he coughed, as if trying to cover it. “Touché. No promises there.”

   “Fair enough. So, you’re the neighbor,” she said, trying to disregard the warm honey sound of his laugh. There was no way she needed to entertain any Hey, how you doin’ feelings about the dude who lived next door. She couldn’t even think of the box of nightmares that would open up.

   He straightened a little, and his serious face returned. “Yeah. Hill Dawson. Sorry I haven’t introduced myself before this. I’ve been…busy with things.”

   “I’m Andrea—Andi,” she said, keeping one arm crossed over her chest and putting out her other to shake his hand. “Writer. Podcaster. Watcher of loud horror movies.”

   He took her hand, his grip big and warm around hers, and gave her a businesslike shake. “Nice to meet you.”

   “Yes, at midnight. In our pajamas. Exactly how I planned it.” Well, her pajamas. He had tennis shoes on, so he probably hadn’t been in bed.

   She almost missed it, the quick flick of his gaze back to her outfit, but he seemed to catch himself and not let the look linger. He dropped the handshake. “It won’t happen again.”

   She let out a breath and dropped the prickly attitude. This wasn’t who she was. Being scared and caught off guard had brought out her sharp edges. “Look, I appreciate you coming over to make sure everything’s okay. I guess we both need to be aware of how thin the walls are.”

   “Yeah, I didn’t realize that until tonight either. Your side has been pretty quiet since you moved in. I’m glad you weren’t being murdered.”

   She smiled. “Me too.”

   He nodded. “Well, good night, Andi.”

   “’Night, neighbor.”

   He grabbed the bat, setting it against his shoulder with the practiced ease of someone who’d played the game, and then tipped his head toward the pepper spray clutched in her left hand. “Also, that’s decent if you’re trying to deter a dog from attacking you, but you should look into the pepper gel for real protection. That’s what my cop friends suggest. It won’t blow back on you and is stronger.”

   “Oh.” She looked down at the pink tube.

   “And sorry to use the fire department thing. I didn’t mean to scare you. I figured that’d be the quickest way to get you to open the door.”

   She sniffed. “It worked.”

   He shrugged. “It usually does.”

   “Next time, you can just say it’s Hill, so I don’t think I’m about to die of a gas leak.”

   His lips curved slightly, but there was a glimmer of sadness there—or wistfulness—before he turned back toward his side of the porch. “G’night.”

   “’Night.”

   Andi leaned against her doorway, maybe enjoying the view of his backside in a pair of sweats more than she should. He walked a little stiffly, like he had a knee bothering him or something, and headed back into his house without a backward glance.

   She slipped back inside, locked her door, and leaned against it, her heart still beating fast—from the earlier scare, but also maybe from something else. She didn’t want to examine that too closely. In her darkened living room, the paused movie was the only light. Drew Barrymore was frozen in place, lying on the ground with Ghostface above her. Andi scanned the room—the single indentation on the couch, the afghan for two, the cold cup of tea. All were waiting for her to return.

   But a weird urge to go back outside and knock on Hill’s door, invite him to watch the movie with her, came over her. Maybe he had trouble sleeping like she did. Maybe he liked scary movies, too.

   The line from Scream drifted through her head. “Do you like scary movies?”

   She could ask him. To be neighborly. To be friendly. To finally have a guy over.

   But as quickly as the thought hit her, she tamped it down. He was a stranger. Yes, he seemed nice and was supposedly a firefighter with good intentions. But she’d learned not to trust her gut on things like that. Her instincts in that area were notoriously untrustworthy. Lots of people were good at appearing to be nice. Some people knew how to wield “nice” as the ultimate weapon.

   Old memories leached into her brain. Whispered compliments from a boy she’d yearned for, one she thought she could trust. Gentle kisses. Locked doors. Fingers sliding a strap down a shoulder. Promise you won’t tell anyone. You’re the only one I trust.

   She shook her head and squeezed her eyes shut. No. Stop.

   She took a few deep breaths, pushing the images back into the vault she tried to keep them locked in. After a moment, she rubbed the goose bumps from her arms and swallowed past the sick feeling that welled up anytime she let thoughts of Evan Henry Longdale sneak into her mind.

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