Carmella Rossi held the truck door open for Ginger, who hopped down with a happy look. Carmella understood, she wanted to dance around for joy now that they weren’t at her mother’s house too.
Medication had been delivered for the next three days—it wouldn’t do to let her have any more than that, she’d just use it all and then not have enough and eventually end up in an ER somewhere trying to get pain scrips to get her through.
“Some people’s mothers make pies,” Carmella told the dog as they headed up the steps to the front porch.
Her key was in the lock when she and Ginger both paused at the throaty growl of a motorcycle approaching.
Duke Bradshaw. The hottest neighbor in the history of hot neighbors.
Considering the morning she’d just had with her mother, it was a nice treat to see all that long, hot, inked man get off a motorcycle and amble to his front door.
“Totally the best thing about this entire neighborhood,” Carmella murmured.
Ginger got in front of Carmella and sat. Ever protective and also sort of hot for Bradshaw just like her human was.
Carmella looked to the front door. “We should go in. Come on. It’s weird to wait out here like weirdos.” Not like it wasn’t weird to have a full conversation with a dog.
Ginger made a doggie snort but shook, her tags jingling merrily as she followed Carmella up to the front door.
And that’s when Duke Bradshaw pulled not into his driveway, but Carmella’s. That caught her attention as she unlocked to let Ginger inside. But the man brought Ginger bones from time to time so the Manchester terrier had no intention of leaving Carmella alone to greet the big, bad, tattooed biker who lived next door.
“Jeez, dog, he’s on his motorcycle. He’s not carrying bones in his pocket.” Not that she was unaware that he quite frequently to have something pretty hefty behind that zipper of his.
His bike was beyond gorgeous and the sight of it never failed to make her heart beat faster. Flat, matte black. No chrome at all. It was a custom rebuild of a 1963 BMW. It was understated and classic while still being really sexy and super masculine. It also sounded like sex—low and throaty, the bass of it settled into her belly in much the same way his voice did.
He keyed the bike off and pulled it back on the stand before sliding one long leg over. He wore a half helmet bearing the logo of his shop, the T and the S swirling together looking sharp and badass.
His attention seemed to settle on her like a physical thing, freezing her to the spot.
And then he smiled and every erogenous zone—including a few she hadn’t known existed until that moment—did the wave.
“Just the person I was looking for.” Duke hung his helmet on a handlebar and headed up the steps toward her, still wearing black wraparound sunglasses and his jacket.
She wondered—not for the first time—if he ever wore them while he had sex. Would you be able to see your own reflection as he fucked you?
Proud at the calm in her voice, Carmella smiled like she hadn’t just been imagining riding his cock while he wore sunglasses so she could watch herself.
“Me? Did Ginger get into something?” She gave a look toward the dog, whose normally erect ears were even perkier at the approach of the guy with the bones.
Duke bent to give Ginger a scratch behind the ears. “Nah. She’s a sweetheart. It’s her owner I’d like to talk about.”
There was honey and lazy afternoons in his voice. Charming. He tucked the sunglasses into his shirt pocket and his pale green eyes took her in. Laugh lines only made him more attractive.
He had a tiny smattering of gray at his temples but it worked with the gold and caramel tones of hair that was closely trimmed at the sides, long and thick at the top. He had some sort of nouveau rockabilly thing happening.
Her fingers itched to reach out and touch.
“Um.” She shook her head, disgusted with how flustered he always seemed to make her. He’d been her neighbor for going on two years so there was no reason to get fluttery, but every single time she spoke to him, he seemed to turn her into a twit.
Ginger barked and Carmella pushed the storm door open. “Sorry, where are my manners? Come in.”
She let the familiarity of her front entry calm her a little as she bent to free Ginger from the harness and leash.
Duke’s hand landed on her shoulder when she stood again. “Here, let me help you with your bags.”
She shrugged free of the totes slung over one shoulder, repressing a shiver as his fingers brushed the side of her neck. Carmella thanked him as he hung them on the peg.
Removing herself from the temptation to touch him or his leather jacket, Carmella stepped back with a smile. “You have excellent manners. Your parents did a good job.”
“The army gets most of the credit for that.” Again the grin.
“Want some iced tea? I was just going to make more.” Of course, she’d been pondering whether or not to add a big dollop of whiskey to hers, but those were easily changed plans.
He placed his hand at the small of her back as he followed her through the house and into her kitchen. Which really threw a wrench into her plan of trying not to think about this big, tall, broad-shouldered man right behind her.
He took up a lot of space. His scent seemed to push itself ahead of everything else, the electricity of his body seemed to hum from him on a frequency she wanted a lot more of.
Duke was a toucher. Not in a creepy way at all, but he frequently brushed his fingers over her forearm, or a shoulder when they spoke. In another man she’d have said something or made enough of a movement away that her would have been clear. But she it when he did it so she allowed herself that sensual treat.
She pointed to a stool at the kitchen island. “Have a seat and tell me what brings you here at eleven in the morning.”
Ginger kept staring at Duke lovingly until Carmella sighed. “Ginger, leave the man alone.” So easy. Give her a bone and she’d love you forever.
“Aw she just wants some attention. It’s okay, I’ve got some.” Duke leaned down and gave Ginger enough scratches and rubs until she made a groaning sound of joy and fell over on her side.
Carmella wanted him to do something to to make her create that sound too. And she bet he could. With any combination of his hands, mouth, and that roll of quarters he carried around in his pocket that was probably a cock that got shit done.
And as if he’d heard her thoughts, he flicked his gaze up from the dog to her and smiled, bringing a blush to heat her cheeks and neck.
“I have a proposition for you.”
She blinked, clearing her throat as she kept her hands busy putting teabags in the mugs. “You do?” If it had anything to do with his penis, she was ready to accept.
He touched her hand briefly. “Our accounts payable person just quit. As in she’s-moving-across-the-country-in-a-week-and-leaving-us high-and-dry quit. I know you did the books before for a few years and I hope you don’t mind, but I called your old boss and he had nothing but great things to say about you. Asa and I would really love it if you could take over as soon as possible as our office manager. It could be a win-win for us both. You need a job. We need an employee. We pay well. We have good benefits. The hours are pretty flexible.”
Ginger growl-barked and Duke’s attention shifted for a moment. “Oh, and we’re dog friendly so you could bring her with you if you wanted to.”
“You called my old boss? He’s my uncle. You know that, right?”
Duke laughed. “I did, yes. He told me several times, along with a few dire warnings that you were a good girl not to be messed with. He still had nothing but nice things to say about you. You have the experience we need. Our shop is bigger, but you understand the basics.”
Her uncle’s auto repair business had been a mainstay in North Seattle for thirty-five years. When the economy took a hit, he did too. And though things had begun to recover, he hadn’t ever been the same. It’d been hard to compete with the quick-serve corporate repair places, and in the end, after a few health scares, he’d taken it as a sign to close up and retire.
“He’s family, so he to say nice things about me.” He was her mother’s brother, and more of a parent to her than her mother had ever been.
A job would be really good. She’d decided not to stay on when new management took over her uncle’s place after he sold it, fairly sure she and the new owner were a bad fit. Her unemployment was enough to keep the lights on, but not much more. She had savings, but preferred not to touch that if she could avoid it.
Duke’s smile was one of the sexiest things about him, she realized as she nearly poured boiling water on her hand instead of in the pitcher.
“You know the industry. We’re nice guys, I promise. We bring in food every Friday. Free soda in the fridge and ice cream bars in the freezer. I did mean it about the dog friendly thing. One of our guys has a Jack Russell terrier. Xena, as in the warrior princess? She hangs out a few days a week. She’ll love Ginger. What do you say?”
Carmella should say that being in routine, close quarters with Duke Bradshaw was bad for all her promises to stay away from bikers and grease monkeys and the like. It wasn’t that she couldn’t see his appeal. No, it was the opposite.
He was pretty much a total package. Tall, he stood well over six feet. He was handsome. Like really handsome in that rugged, works with his hands way, which in her opinion was the best kind of man. Duke wouldn’t be thrown off by hard work. If something broke, he got it fixed. Broad shoulders, work-strong muscled arms and legs. She’d seen him in enough T-shirts to know he had detailed ink on his arms and belly. A really flat belly too. He moved with confidence, like he always knew exactly where he was going and how to get there.
Duke was at ease with himself. That sort of confidence was a sensual punch to the gut. She knew she wasn’t alone in liking him. Friends were often at his house on the weekends and in the evenings. Never so rowdy she considered calling the cops. Always cleaned up afterward.
He owned his business. Owned his home and a number of vehicles. At times he had a slow as molasses delivery with a hint of New England. And then he’d say like some sort of Zen surfer.
No matter what he said, he said it and made her hot and wet and tingly.
On top of all those things? He had an amazing ass.
She was beyond any ability to deny his appeal. If she could have ticked a bunch of her favorite man-type things and that was rendered human, it would look a hell of a lot like the guy in her kitchen just then.
And none of that erased the fact that she couldn’t afford a man like him. Her mother would love him, which was Carmella’s general meter for acceptability in a gentleman companion. The more Virgie approved, the less suitable the guy would be. She’d loved Carmella’s ex-husband too and look where that had gotten her.
But he wasn’t there asking her to nail him. He was offering her a job. And damn if she didn’t need one of those. The number he’d rattled off as a starting salary was higher than her old job. She needed the benefits and the income, and he was right—she was familiar with the industry so it would probably be pretty easy to get started.
But she had a crush on the man. If he was her boss, that would complicate things. Not like he’d made a single move her way in the time she’d lived next door to him, though.
“Wow, you’re doing a lot of thinking in there.” He tapped her temple and she smiled.
“Not thinking gets a girl caught in too many dead ends.” She paused. “You said you needed me right away?”
He nodded. “The sooner you can start, the better. Even if it’s just a few hours here and there until you can start full time.”
“All right then. Sounds like you have a new office manager.”