To Cecily Baker, being unattached means making her own decisions, living by her own rules, and never answering to anyone. So when her sister drags her to a singles night at a local club—and then ditches her—it only strengthens Cecily’s conviction that dating just isn’t for her.
Pulling double duty as a bouncer and a bartender, Rafe Serento has seen a parade of beautiful women walk through the doors of Electric Mist, but he’s never met anyone like Cecily. Lovely in every sense of the word, and just as stubborn, she challenges everything he thought he wanted in a relationship.
The more Cecily pushes him away, though, the harder Rafe pushes back, and unless they find some common ground, they’ll both end up Alone.
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“About four years now.” The tightness in her voice testified to her level of pain, but Cecily didn’t complain as she limped beside him. “Thank you, by the way. I’m sure this isn’t how you planned to spend your night.”
“Oh, I don’t know. I like to think I’m something of a superhero. Leaping tall buildings, racing bullets, and helping beautiful damsels in distress. It’s all in the job description.”
Cecily laughed at his lame joke, a deep, throaty chuckle that tripped his pulse into a gallop. “Mild mannered bouncer by night, milder mannered superhero by later night? Sounds intriguing.”
“Yeah, but it’s not all fun and games.” The breeze shifted, bringing with it the faint scent of floral perfume mixed with just a hint of vodka. “I mean, where do you even find a phone booth in this town?”
Nearing the crosswalk, Cecily pulled him to a stop and leaned heavily against his side. “Just one second, okay? Sorry about this.”
He could tell her not to apologize for something she had no control over, but Rafe had a feeling anything he said would fall on deaf ears. “I’m not in any hurry,” he answered instead. “I don’t have anywhere to be, and it’s not like I’ve got someone waiting up for me.”
“So you live alone?” Cecily sounded nothing more than mildly curious as she reached over to drop her shoes into the nearby trashcan. “I really liked those shoes,” she mumbled offhandedly. “They hurt like hell, but they were pretty.”
“I’m sorry for your loss. We’ll look into grief counseling in the morning.”
Cecily’s husky laughter ended abruptly when she sucked in a sharp breath through gritted teeth. “Light’s green. I’m ready.” She held a little tighter to his arm as they crossed the street, allowing him to support just a bit more of her weight. “You never did answer. About living alone?”
“Miss Baker, are you flirting with me? Trying to get me all to yourself?”
“I already have you to myself, Mr. Serento, but don’t worry. I promise not to take advantage.”
The Garden Apartments loomed just ahead, windows illuminated with soft amber lights or flickering with the glow of television sets. “Almost there. How you doing?”
“It hurts.” Cecily pulled his wool coat more securely around herself as she limped along beside him. “I’ll live, though. I think you were on to something with that bed rest and aspirin plan.”
Neither of them spoke again as they made their way along the canal to the complex. The silence was peaceful, not awkward or uncomfortable, and Rafe felt a small pang of disappointment when they finally reached their destination.
“Here we are, safe and sound as promised.” He gazed up at the wall of windows. “Tell me you’re not on the fifth floor.”
Ducking her head, Cecily tucked a strand of hair behind her ear and bit down on her bottom lip. “I’m on the fifth floor.”
“Well, okay.” In one fluid motion, he swept Cecily into his arms and strode toward the steps.
Cecily squealed, a sound he didn’t think her capable of making, and swatted him in the back of the head. “What the hell are you doing?”
“How else do you plan to make it up five flights of stairs?”
“Shut up.” With a disgruntled, though adorable, growl, she settled into his arms and stopped squirming. “Are you always like this?”
“Oh, absolutely not.” Rafe shook his head as he ascended the third flight of steps. “Probably ninety percent of the shit I say makes no sense whatsoever.”
“You’re not like most guys.”
It sounded like a compliment. She looked thoughtful instead of disgusted when she said it. I’m going to take it as a compliment.
“Do you need help getting settled?” he asked when they reached the landing on the top floor.
“If you don’t mind, I’d appreciate it.” Cecily paused and tilted her head to the side. “You’re not a serial killer, right?”
“Or a prude?”
“Uh…” The air suddenly felt thick and suffocating, and heat crawled up Rafe’s neck to his cheeks. “Why do you ask?”
Pushing the lapels of his jacket aside, she licked her full lips while her green eyes danced with what he could only assume was mischief. “My apartment key…” Cecily skimmed her fingers along the swell of her left breast and reached into the plunging neckline of her dress to produce a sing, gold key. “Ta-da.”
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