Just One Touch: A Black Alcove Novel (The Black Alcove Series Book 3) (3 page)

I steal a glance at the
clock on my phone. I told Beth I’d meet her outside about
forty-five minutes after we left the gym. It’s about that time, and
although I should stay home to unpack some things, I rush out the
door to find her standing on the sidewalk, chatting away on her
phone. She, too, is wearing a pair of jeans, only hers are sans the
holes and she’s got on a green hoodie that makes her red hair even
brighter than before.

“Perfect timing
because I am starving,” she says dramatically, but in a fun way.
I’m learning that Beth is one of those beautiful outspoken women.
The kind that are unaware of how attractive they are. Not that I’m
attracted to her, but her personality is attractive, and that I do
enjoy. I sort of hope a bit of her bluntness can rub off on me one
day.

We walk to the bar,
passing the time with small chitchat—age, birthdays, music, all the
random things. She’s twenty-four while I’m twenty-one. Her
birthday is in January, mine is in October, both on the twenty-third
of the month, which we find pretty coincidental. And we both feel the
same about music: as long as it’s good, the genre doesn’t matter.
It isn’t until we’ve reached the bar that she tells me she also
works here, so I shouldn’t be thrown off when every employee stops
by the table to say “hey.”

Only two tables are
open when we arrive, and there isn’t a spot open at the bar. Beth
rushes to a booth, motioning for me to follow her.

“It’s still early,
but the burgers here are to die for. Once people eat their dinner, it
will die down till the evening rush,” she tells me, sliding a menu
my way.

I’m about to open it
when the door opens and Skylar walks in. Like earlier, she hesitates
before she steps inside. When she catches the sight of Beth’s hand
waving in the air to gain her attention, she heads right for our
table without even a glance at anyone as she passes them.

“Thanks for inviting
me,” she says, taking a seat next to Beth. “I actually ate right
before yoga, so I hope it’s okay that I just came to hang out. I
don’t really know anyone here.” She starts to bite her nails,
looking nervously back and forth between Beth and myself.

“I just moved here,
too. Today actually,” I say, hoping to calm her nerves. Her hand
drops and she sits up a little straighter.

“Oh, you two are
cute.” Beth laughs. “If you want to know people, I can help you
with that. But first, pick out some food so we can order.”

We sit in silence as we
each look over the menu. I haven’t read even two items before three
different people stop by to say hi. Beth doesn’t introduce us to
any of them. I guess these aren’t the people she wants us to know.

“Hey, Beth,” a
small female with a blonde and brown fade says as she stops at our
booth.

“Abby.” Beth
doesn’t even glance up to look at her.

Abby stands there, not
acting offended as she offers both me and Skylar a fake smile. It’s
a little awkward.

“Can I get you
something to drink?”

“I’ll just have
water,” Skylar says quickly.

“Can I have a Roy
Rogers?” I ask. Abby stares at me while Beth laughs.

“I thought we were
coming out for a drink. Water and a Roy Rogers are not what I meant.”

“Hey, I need to eat
first,” I say and this seems to an acceptable answer. Beth orders a
Redds’ Apple Ale, and the moment Abby shifts away from the table, I
have a direct view of the bar. More specifically, of the guy standing
behind the bar. It’s my neighbor. He’s on
my shit list for
breaking the only thing I had left to remind me of my brother, but
right now I’m realizing something else: there is a stupid crazy hot
guy living next door to me and I can’t pull my eyes away. He
flashes a smile at the two women in front of him and then he winks.
His gaze lifts, finding mine. With a tilt of his head and another
cute-as-hell grin, he waves at me.

“Oh, I see you’ve
found Conner,” Beth says.

“The guy behind the
bar?” I ask, trying to sound uninterested.

“That’s the one. If
he weren’t my best friend’s little brother, I’d probably look
at him with lust-filled eyes the way you are now.”

“I am not.” I laugh
off her comment.

“It’s true, and I
think the fact he has a son he spends almost every free moment with
makes women even more interested.”

“Jake?” I ask,
thinking of the little brown-haired boy I met earlier today.

“How did you know?”
Beth asks.

“I met him earlier
today.”

“Oh that’s right,
you two are neighbors. Well, dang, I bet things around here are about
to get pretty interesting.”

“Why?” I ask, my
eyes searching him out once again. But he’s gone now. It’s for
the best. I shouldn’t be checking him out. Where there is a cute
guy and a kid, there is mother and significant other. I’m many
things—a runner, a reader, a dreamer, even a hopeless romantic—but
a home-wrecker, I am not.

“I’m no guy, but if
I had a girl like you living across from me, practically there when I
came home at night, I’d try to do something about it.”

“Oh,” I laugh her
comment off once again. “I’m not in that place right now.” It’s
true. This isn’t the time for me to be starting a relationship with
anyone. I mean, I’ve grown up in multiple foster homes, and each
time I thought I found my place, they up and rejected me, placing me
in a new home. Trust in the everyday human isn’t something I have,
and if I can’t even put it in this brother who is looking for me,
as much as I want to, I sure as heck know I can’t put it in this
random guy who already has a family. Why am I even thinking about
this? Being hot is no excuse for having no manners. Which, after our
encounter earlier, he is clearly lacking.

“Seriously? When
isn’t a girl in the place for a hot guy?”

“I’ve just got some
other things going on my life right now that don’t have place for a
guy. Especially one who is—”

“Smoking hot,”
Skylar says, reminding me she’s at the table, too.

Beth is about to object
to me or agree with Skylar, I assume, when a tall figure appears at
our table. My attention is pulled to focus on him. He has these dark
forest-green eyes that I’ve never seen before but would be
perfectly fine looking at for the rest of my life. My heart beats
faster as I continue to check him. Dark hair just long enough to run
your hands through. Strong, defined cheekbones with dark, perfectly
shaved facial hair makes him look dreamy. All features I must have
missed earlier in the hallway.

His chest rises and
falls, grabbing my attention. The black t-shirt he’s wearing reads
The Black Alcove in white letters just about the chest pocket. I try
to keep my attention here instead of near his eyes, because the
heated look he’s flashing my way right now is exciting something
inside me.

“Ladies,” he says,
now sharing his grin with the rest of the table. “Beth, I didn’t
realize you had more friends.” There’s a joking tone to his voice
that I find adorable.
No. No, I
don’t find it adorable.

“Ha funny, Conner,
this is Skylar.” Skylar waves but doesn’t look up. “And you
already know Alex.”

“Well, I met her
briefly today, yes.” He switches his gaze from hers to mine. “I
actually came over here to apologize. I’m sorry about earlier, and
I hope you got everything else moved in okay.”

“I did, thank you,”
I answer, managing to turn my gaze to a plastic beer advertisement on
the table.

“Actually, she was
just telling me how she needs to move some furniture around, but some
pieces are too heavy. Since you’re her neighbor, you might be able
to help.”

I don’t need to be
looking at myself to know that my eyes have grown and my jaw is
hanging open slightly at the lie. Her brow rises as she tilts her
head toward Conner. I’ve changed my mind—Beth’s bluntness isn’t
an admirable trait.

“I’d be happy to
help,” Conner says before I can correct her.

“That’s really not
necessary. I’ll be fine.”

“Well, it’s not
like I have to go out of my way. I get off around ten tonight, and if
that’s too late I can come by tomorrow afternoon.”

“Tomorrow afternoon.
We already have plans after this,” Beth adds quickly, taking a
notepad out of Conner’s pocket and writing something down.
Hopefully, this said cheeseburger.

“I’ll see you
tomorrow, then.” His eyes have found mine once again, leaving me
speechless. I nod as he walks away.

“Yeah, okay, I’m
just going to say right now, with that dreamy look on your face, that
place you’re in … well, I think it just opened up a spot for
Conner. Oh, and after we eat, we’re all going to your place because
that furniture isn’t going to misplace itself.”

“Where were you when
I was in high school?” Skylar smiles as she plays with the napkin
her water is sitting on. “And whatever he did, with a smile like
his, I’d have forgiven him already.”

The two quickly go into
high-school talk. I shrug off the topic of my neighbor, because, if
anything, I really do need help moving my TV stand and I guess I
should make nice if I’m going to continue living here. I don’t
have to even make friends with him, just be polite is all. Conner and
I are nothing but neighbors.

Chapter Two

Conner

It’s been way too
long since I’ve been alone with anyone of the opposite gender. It
shouldn’t make me all clammy hands nervous, but it does. I’ve
forgotten what it feels like to be attracted to someone. I need to
man up quick before I make it obvious to the entire world, or worse,
before I make it obvious to Alex and make a fool of myself more than
I already have with her.

“Are you really going
over to that girl’s apartment?” Abby asks as I wipe down the bar.
We make eye contact and I can see it right away that she isn’t too
happy with the idea. I’m pretty sure that ever since she lived with
Logan and I last summer—lesson learned on that move—she’s had
this idea that something would happen between the two of us. I’ve
made sure I’m always on my best behavior so as to not lead her on,
and I think I do fairly well with it, but still, she looks hurt right
now.

“I’m just moving
some furniture, and she lives across the hall from me. It’s not
like I’m going out of my way to see her. You should know just as
well as everyone else who knows me that I don’t jump into anything
that involves a woman.”

“Yeah, but I’m sure
you still have needs that you need taken care of.”

Suddenly, the idea of
Alex on her back with her long legs wrapped around my waist raises my
heart rate. A benefits kind of thing isn’t the worst idea, and her
living in the same building makes things less complicated. Shit, I
should be trying to think of Heather like this, not some woman I just
met.

Abby clears her throat,
and when I glance at her, her eyes are narrowed at me. That probably
isn’t where her mind was going with the suggestion, and it sure
isn’t where my mind needs to be when I just told another woman we
could give it a go. Although, that area of my life isn’t going too
well either. Alex’s movers took so long that I had to cancel on
Heather. She wasn’t happy with me. I knew that the moment I dropped
Jake off at her place and the only word she said to me was “thanks.”
I guess telling her “yeah, let’s try this” and then canceling
our first date isn’t the best way to start.

“You boys are all the
same.” Abby rolls her eyes and stomps away.

My friend and the other
bartender of the night, Lucas, gives me the nod that I’m good to
go. My heart rate immediately picks up pace. I can do this. I need to
stop acting like a pansy. Women are not something I should be afraid
of.

The weather is still
warm when I step outside, and for a moment I contemplate taking my
time to get home. I rode my bike to work, which sounds lame, but I
used to ride all the time. Trails were my favorite, but I haven’t
had the time lately. I should get Jake a bike and we could go
together.

So I peddle slowly, to
enjoy the night. When I pull up in front of our building, the light
to Alex’s apartment is shining brightly through the windows that at
this moment, don’t have curtains hung over them yet. Like my
apartment, we both have a three-sectioned window in the front, the
center being the largest. The windows are large enough that if you
pop the screen out, you could step out onto the grass without a
struggle. I know because I tried it once to set up a trap for anyone
who thinks they can break into my home where my son lives.

I’m about to push my
bike inside the building and leave it in the hallway like I
occasionally do when a voice that isn’t the radio singing comes
from her apartment. She can’t hit a note at all, and it makes me
laugh. I lean back and, like a creeper, look into her apartment. She
has her back to me as she hangs a painting on the wall. Her voice is
now louder than … Taylor Swift, is it? and her ass is bopping from
side to side. She seems to be enjoying herself—at least she’s in
a good mood even at ten o’clock at night.

Still listening to her
sing, I lean my bike against the wall and head into my apartment for
a quick shower. The warm water splashes against my skin, and I absorb
the clean feeling it gives me. Like everything that happened today
can be washed away and I can give it fresh start tomorrow. I could
really use a fresh start with Alex ... and Heather, for that matter.

By the time I crawl
into bed, I’ve planned my day out for tomorrow. First thing, I’ll
go next door and apologize once again because I don’t think she
really accepted the one I gave her this evening. After that, I’ll
see if Heather and Jake can do lunch, and then I’ll help move some
furniture and be back for another shift at the BA. Hopefully, I won’t
piss anyone off the way I did today.

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