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Authors: Lori Foster

The Guy Next Door (6 page)

BOOK: The Guy Next Door
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“You wouldn’t.” Jett instinctively knew that Natalie would do anything and everything necessary to protect those dependent on her, whether it be a pet…or a child.

Thinking of her with a kid did something funny
to him, something disconcerting because it was so pleasing.


His right eye flinched. Hell, he’d barely gotten her to agree to see him out of bed and already his mind had gotten way off track.

“Caring is the biggest part of the job.” He put his hand over hers on the dog’s nape. “Because you care, you’d make sure he was fed and clean and healthy, and that he got exercise. That he felt secure. That’s all there is to it.”

Beneath his hand, hers trembled. She skirted his gaze. “You have more faith in me than I do.”

He released her hand to catch her chin, bringing her face around to his. “I’m a damn good judge of character.” And Natalie Alexander was golden, through and through.

“That’s why you got clocked with a keyboard by a female spy?”

Jett grabbed his chest, as if she’d dealt a lethal blow. Then he laughed and lifted both eyebrows. “That time doesn’t count because it wasn’t her character I paid attention to.”

Natalie shoved him with her shoulder, but her mouth twisted with a repressed laugh. “Jerk.”

“You brought it back up.” He smiled with her. “You’d be a great pet owner, Natalie. Take my word for it.”

“Thanks. But given my lack of experience, I don’t think I’ll test the validity of that on some poor dog.”

Jett could see her yearning, how badly she wanted to believe him. In the normal scheme of things, Natalie was such a confident woman. Seeing her like this twisted him up inside.

He conspired a swift solution that worked twofold; he could give Natalie a chance to accustom herself to the responsibilities of a dog, and at the same time he’d be building one more bond between them. “We’ll share him, okay?”

She went still then jerked toward him, her face flushing with warmth. “Share him?”

“Sure.” Most would consider that a chore, but Natalie acted as though he’d just given her an amazing gift. Her enthusiasm made him want her. Again.

Of course, he always wanted her. The woman could sneeze and it felt like a come-on to him.

Showing great restraint, he held himself in check.

Puzzling over his offer, she asked, “How would that work?”

“We both have full-time jobs, but between us he’ll get plenty of attention. That is, if you’re sure that you don’t mind helping.”

She looked thrilled. “I love the idea.” She put her arms around Jett and squeezed him tight. “Thank you!”

The dog caught on to her excitement and jumped up. With his tail going like crazy, he yapped, turned a circle—and lifted his leg to pee.

With a yelp, Natalie lurched back out of range, but Jett wasn’t quite so lucky. The bottom of his jeans got sprinkled.

He looked at Natalie’s face and knew she was afraid of how he might react. Did she expect anger? Outrage? Abuse against the poor animal for getting excited?

He’d have his work cut out for him, winning her trust.

Jett rubbed the dog’s ear. Deadpan, he said to Natalie,
“This might be a good time to mention that there could be some messes until he gets trained.”

Relief left her giggling. One hand over her mouth, she scrambled to her feet and headed into the kitchen for paper towels. “He can stay at my place sometimes?”

Damn, but she kept his emotions in turmoil. How the hell could she be so killer-sexy and still be so damned sweet?

“If you don’t mind the occasional accident.” Maybe with the dog as an incentive, she’d break down and spend the night with him instead of scuttling back to her own apartment even before their breathing had quieted.

Usually he avoided the commitment implicit in spending the night together, but the idea of holding Natalie all night, waking with her in the morning, appealed to him.

Jett tried to take the towels from her so he could clean up the dog’s accident himself, but Natalie bent to the task without hesitation. Her hair fell forward, hiding her face, but he knew she was smiling.

Staring down at her, Jett noted the delicate line of her spine, the flare of her hips and her utter lack of squeamishness. He marveled that she’d come from an entitled background.

Not once had he ever seen her put her nose up at anyone. She didn’t shy away from hard work. She drove a modest car and dressed conservatively, both in style and cost. She laughed easily, spoke her mind and lived independently of her wealthy father.

In no way did she act like one of the moneyed elite. His family would adore her.

Her family, he assumed, would disdain him. Not that he gave a damn what they thought.

As Natalie threw away the paper towels and washed her hands, Jett picked up the pup so it wouldn’t get excited and make more of a mess. He got a big licking-kiss for his trouble.

“That’s what we should name you,” he told the dog as he wiped his face on a shoulder.

“What?” Natalie asked when she returned.


She laughed and cuddled close to him to pet the dog. “No way can you saddle such a sweet little dog with that name.”

“Sweet, huh? I need to change my jeans, woman. Nothing sweet in that.”

Twin dimples showed in her cheeks as she bit back a big grin. “He just lost control, that’s all.” And then to the dog, “Didn’t you, baby?”

The dog wriggled with happiness, and Jett tucked him under his arm for a better grip.

“I am so glad you’re keeping him.”

Jett heard the unremarked “but” in her statement. Natalie had the wheels turning, drawing conclusions that were probably all wrong.

Did she think his decision to keep the dog excluded him from going with her on vacation?

She didn’t know his family. In fact, he had a feeling she didn’t understand the idea behind “family” at all.

When the dog started squirming around again, Jett decided it might be a good time to take him out real quick. He snagged a jacket from the coat tree by his door and stepped into his athletic shoes. “Soon as I take this beast out so he can commune with nature, I’m going
to call my sister, Connie. She’s a vet. She can keep the dog until we get back from the lake. And by then, she’ll have him good as new.”

Startled by that outpouring, Natalie hustled after him. “You have a sister?”

“Three actually, all of them younger, all of them nosy as hell.” He put a kiss to her forehead. The dog tried to do the same, which lifted Natalie’s frown. “That pizza is going to be cold before we get to eat it. You want to set things out while I’m gone? I’ll just be a few minutes.” He walked out the door before she could question him more.

Once outside, a cold breeze washed over Jett. For as nice as the weather had been lately, the temperature seemed to be dipping fast. At least it helped to clear his head. So much had happened in such a short time, much of it because of the dog.

“We need to come up with a name for you.”

Ears down and tail tucked, the dog didn’t react to his voice.

After setting him in the grass, Jett watched him closely, ready to grab for him if he tried to run off. He didn’t. Instead, he hunkered down and stared at Jett as if he’d just been discarded.


Between Natalie and the dog, his damn heart felt shredded.

“Not happening, buddy.” Crouching down in front of him, Jett spoke in a calm, even tone. “I won’t budge, I promise. Do what you need to do and we’ll go back in together.” He stroked the dog’s back then held himself very still.

After a few more minutes of worry, the need
apparently became too great and the little dog went to a line of bushes. Jett realized he had nothing for cleanup but he didn’t feel too guilty about that. After all, the dog had been a stray only minutes ago. But first thing after they returned from vacation, he’d make a trip to a pet store for supplies.

When the dog finished, he again army-crawled over to Jett, approaching with anxiety.

Damn. “Come here, buddy.” Jett held open his arms and the dog crowded in. “Maybe Buddy works as good as any other name.” He lifted the dog. “What do you think?”

This time he got the desired response; the little dog’s whole body quivered with the furious shaking of his tail.

“Great.” Jett had to grin, and he even bent to put his face against the dog’s scruff for a moment, giving him the affection he craved. “We’ll run it by Natalie for approval.”

Jett strode into the apartment, put the dog on the floor and kicked off his shoes. Natalie stood at the small dinette table, setting out napkins and colas in a too-precise way.

It looked right, seeing her there at his table.

In his life.

Shit. Jett rubbed his face then dropped his hands and drew her attention by saying, “I think he likes the name Buddy. That okay with you?”

She looked up in time to see Buddy try to steal one of Jett’s shoes, probably for chewing. Jett retrieved it from him and, carrying both shoes, went straight into his bedroom to change his jeans. Twice he almost tripped over the dog as it stayed close underfoot.

Natalie wasn’t that far behind, either. He heard a sound and, wearing only boxers, looked up to see her standing in the doorway watching him.

Her gaze stayed south of his waist, and of course his dick made note of her heated interest.

“Something on your mind, honey?”

Her gaze shot up to his. It took her a second to regroup. “I like the name Buddy.” The dog’s ears flicked forward then back again. “Did you see that? He already knows his name.”

“Smart dog.”

“So…” Sounding cavalier, she asked, “Did you say that you have three sisters?”

“That’s right.” Her curiosity amused him. Just a few hours ago she wouldn’t have asked him anything at all of a personal nature. “If any of them knew about you, they’d be camped out here right now trying to learn all they could.”

“They’re that interested in your dates?” As soon as the words left her mouth, she faltered. “Well, not that we’re dating, but—”

“We’ll be traveling together, sleeping together all night.” He tossed his jeans into a laundry basket in the closet floor and pulled on clean ones. “I’d say that constitutes, at the very least, dating, wouldn’t you?”

She bypassed his question to say, “I don’t know if I want your family judging me.”

“They’re not like that.” But apparently her family was. Even her sister? Jett wondered. Natalie said they were close, so hopefully Molly wasn’t the critical type. “They all love me, and they’re all smart.”


“They’ll know right off that you’re different.”

She shook her head in denial and backed up out of the doorway as he approached. “I’m not.”

He wrapped a hand around her nape to keep her from retreating more. Her hair, all curly and cool, lay against the back of his hand. A flush heated her skin, amplifying her unique scent. He breathed her in and felt himself stir.

Looking at her mouth, he said, “You are very different.”

“How so?”

He coasted his thumb along the column of her throat, over a rapidly tripping pulse. “I’ve never before finagled an invite to join a woman on her vacation.” Knowing he had coerced her nettled him. If she’d had her way, she’d be in her own apartment right now, packed and ready to leave first thing in the morning—without him.

Natalie made a rude sound. “I bet it’s usually the women who are trying to finagle more time with you.”

Jett smiled. He got his fair share of play, but other women
rejected him. It had never bothered him that much, because none of them mattered the way Natalie did.

“There, you see? That proves my point of you being different, because you wanted to go off without me.” After a soft, deep kiss, he released her and started them both toward the kitchen.

“I didn’t,” she admitted. “Not really.”

His guts clenched, but he kept things light. “Could have fooled me.” Hell, she’d fought him tooth and nail at first.

“Truth is, I didn’t think you’d be interested.”

Jett shook his head. Yeah, his family would love her. “Lady, you don’t know your own appeal.”

Licking her lips, she measured her words carefully. “I do in bed.” Her cheeks reddened and she stammered, “I mean, we seem to really click there.”

“Click?” His mouth twisted. “That’s such a cold, unemotional word for how we burn up the sheets.”

Her chin lifted. “Well, I’m not as good at verbal sparring as you are. But you know what I mean.”

“Yeah, I do. You thought I wanted the convenience of regular sex with no other attachments.” Only on rare occasions had he ever had the urge to introduce a woman to his family. It usually involved unavoidable social functions like the marriage of a relative or a holiday party. He always kept things simple, and his family knew not to make too much of it. But a vacation?

Jett had a feeling that his siblings would take one look at Natalie and know she had thrown him for a loop.

“Does your family know…” She gestured lamely. “You know, that we…how we…”

“That you use me for booty calls?”

Her face flamed. “Have you felt used?”

“Wonderfully so, yeah.” Trying to hide his smile, Jett held out her chair, but she glared at him, making him laugh. “Come on, Natalie, do you really think I’d deliberately do or say anything to make you uncomfortable?”

Grudgingly, she conceded the point. “I guess not.”

“Your vote of confidence warms my heart.” After she’d taken her seat, he went to his own. The dog went under the table and rested across his foot.

It occurred to him that Natalie might not know how
family stuff worked. “My sisters and I are close, but my private life is off-limits. All joking aside, what you and I share is definitely private.”

Avoiding what he’d said, Natalie picked up her pizza and asked, “Will you tell me about them?”

“Sure.” Maybe because her own family was so broken, she couldn’t quite conceive of his. He was proud of them all and didn’t mind sharing. “Connie’s thirty, married, with a four-year-old daughter. Heidi’s twenty-eight, a legal secretary, married with two daughters, a one-year-old and a three-year-old. And Betts, only a year younger than you, is a nurse, still single and no kids yet. The brothers-in-law are nice, hard-working guys, and they love my sisters.” He shrugged. “Everyone has their differences on occasion, but never anything major.”

BOOK: The Guy Next Door
10.23Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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