How (Not) To Date Your Neighbor - Book cover

How (Not) To Date Your Neighbor

Megan Blake

How (Not) to Park a Car

JAKE

“I don’t see what the big deal is,” Taylor said. She was lounging in his doorway. Completely unwelcome, but when had Taylor ever cared about what he wanted?

“You don’t see what the big deal is?” Jake repeated disbelievingly.

“Yeah, you said you didn’t care.”

“I don’t care.”

“Then why can’t you work with me on this case?”

“You know damn well why.”

The throb in his head was growing stronger by the second, and might not have been there at all before. He tore his eyes away from his unwanted guest.

A flash of red in his field of view. He blinked once. Twice.

Noelle was coming down the hall.

Unfortunately, he wasn’t the first to greet her. Taylor had noticed the direction of his gaze and looked over her shoulder.

“What do you want?”

Noelle blinked, looking like a deer in headlights.

Fuck.

Taylor,” he warned.

“What? Who is she to butt her nose in our business?”

If Taylor didn’t want anyone to butt in on “their” business, then she shouldn’t have been airing said business in front of his damn door. Irritation flared. He resisted the urge to pinch the bridge of his nose.

It was the fourth time she’d shown up unannounced this week. It was getting old.

“We don’t have any business,” he gritted.

He did not need an audience for this. He did not want Noelle to be here for this. As a matter of fact, he did not even want Taylor to be here.

The arrangement between them had concluded over a year ago, and he had no patience for it anymore.

If it were not for the fact that they were colleagues, he would have kicked her to the curb for far less than this.

“Time to go,” he ordered.

Taylor huffed. Her red hair swayed as she turned away. “Whatever. I’ll see you later.”

Jake made sure she had rounded the corner before refocusing on Noelle. “Sorry about that.”

He wanted to apologize for Taylor’s behavior, but there weren’t enough words in the English language. He wanted to make a joke of it, but he didn’t have it in him.

It didn’t help that Noelle was a very beautiful woman. Or that Taylor had a way of riling him up.

She had ruined what they had a long time ago, and yet, she was always trying to get it back. It was insulting that she thought he would ever want her back in his life.

Everyone had warned him not to sleep with a coworker.

He hadn’t listened, and now his life at work was hell.

It was thanks to Taylor that he had his rule at all: no serious relationships. ~No pissing where you live or work~.

“No, I’m sorry—I’m the one who interrupted.” She chewed on her lip. “I wanted to say sorry about the stairs. And—um—I just—mail.”

She fumbled out a pile of envelopes and tried to stack them more neatly.

“I got some of your mail in my box. I—I didn’t know your name before…so I thought they were the old tenants… but now I know.”

She held them out. Jake studied her.

There had been a certain awkwardness the other day after he had turned down her invitation of food. She had looked a bit defeated when she had walked away.

He hadn’t meant it that way. As a total rejection. She was cute.

He’d noticed Noelle when she moved in a month ago. Long dark hair, pretty hazel eyes—she was hard to miss. Considering the fact he had at the very least one whole foot on her, she should be easy to overlook.

Jake tried to be subtle as he took in the way her tight jeans hugged her curves. Her breasts stretched her blue T-shirt a little further than the fabric intended.

Just because he wasn’t looking for anything serious didn’t mean he was blind.

He took the envelopes and offered her a grin. “Thanks. Any chance you paid those bills while you were at it?”

She snorted. “Fat chance. I’m still trying to make rent.”

“Well, if apartment living ever doesn’t pan out for you, I think the garbage men have yet to pick up your cardboard boxes. You could probably put something together from them.”

He saw a glimmer of surprise, but she quickly recovered. “You mean the boxes outside? Outside? Where you left that monster?”

“I would hardly call it a monster. If you had taken the time to look at it, you would have noticed how cute it was.”

“Sorry, I was too busy trying to not die.”

He chuckled. “I thought you were busy holding up your towel.”

He did not usually tease this much, but she made it overly easy. She reacted to everything, her pale skin taking on shades that made her look even lovelier.

It was all innocent, he reminded himself. Just casual flirting.

Relationships just weren’t for him.

Taylor had shown him that. There was always a complaint. He worked too much, he wasn’t attentive enough, he put his job first.

He was never…enough.

Jake was tired of disappointing someone. He was tired of feeling like he was failing at everything.

So, no relationships. And one look at Noelle was enough to know she was the relationship kind of gal.

Too bad.

“Noelle!”

A blond-haired man was striding toward them, scowling.

“Adam,” said Noelle, suddenly unsmiling. “Hey. This is Jake. My—my neighbor.”

Adam stared at him without a handshake, nod, or greeting. His lips were tightly pinched. “Ready?” he asked, looking at Noelle.

“Almost. One second.” She checked her purse. Keys jingled.

Adam checked his phone. “We’re late. You’re always late. It’s insane.”

“Yeah, yeah—well, Jake, thanks for saving my life this morning.”

He put on his blandest smile. “Anytime.”

He could feel a tension in the air, but he could not quite figure out the source of it. The relationship between Noelle and Adam was unclear.

Not that it was any of his business.

“See you around,” she said, heading off. She was still digging in her purse.

Jake leaned against his doorway, arms crossed. Adam looked over his shoulder once to glare. Possessive, and for no reason. He was not a threat. He wasn’t interested.

He just found her…interesting. There was a difference.

Still. If Adam’s uneasiness was any indication, he was going to have to take a step back. He was already dealing with an ex-girlfriend who wouldn’t leave him alone. He didn’t want a jealous potential boyfriend added to his problems.

Jake went back inside and shut the door, wondering why he felt let down. Noelle had lived next door for a whole month before they officially met.

He didn’t need to see her or talk to her.

***

“Three beers,” Jake said.

It had been a heck of a day. His ten-hour shift had turned into a fourteen-hour one, and he was beat. His bed was calling to him.

But when the boys had mentioned getting a drink—without Taylor, for once—he’d jumped at the opportunity.

Alcohol never solved his problems, but it certainly didn’t hurt.

“You again!” a familiar voice said behind him.

He turned around, and fought to hide his surprise. Noelle had found him. Passing her in the hall at their building, he’d gotten used to the messy bun and T-shirt. He was not prepared for the pencil skirt and neat blouse she wore now.

Her long hair was down, framing her face perfectly. Her clothes were well-tailored and allowed him a glimpse of the body he had seen in her bathroom that day.

He chuckled. “I think they call this stalking,” he said, leaning against the counter.

Her hazel eyes narrowed playfully. Her red mouth curved. “I think you’re the one doing the stalking, officer. Have you considered a change in career?”

Officer. He liked the sound of that. Though he’d like to hear it in a completely different setting. Maybe a more private one.

Damn it. Boyfriend, or something, he reminded himself. ~Neighbor~.

Don’t break your own fucking rule.

“I hope you’re not drinking on the job?” she asked.

“Never. I’m off duty.”

It was sort of true. He was never really off duty. His phone was always on, and he always answered the call. He’d drink a lot of water and pass out for a few hours. Then he’d be as good as new.

“What’ll it be, miss?” interrupted the bartender.

“Oh!” She turned toward her. “Five beers, please and thank you.”

“Now, I know I’ve come to your rescue before, but five is overkill,” he joked.

She rolled her eyes. “They’re not for you, first of all. Second of all, you already got a thank-you for the spider since I was naked?”

He laughed. “You had a towel.”

“Naked,” she repeated, emphasizing each syllable. “And…and you’re welcome for not reporting you, for abusing your position as a policeman. So you’ve been thanked plenty of ways.”

“I don’t think so. Do you know how underpaid I am?”

“And I’m not?”

The bartender brought back Noelle’s order. She hesitated, then slid one across the counter to him. “Here.”

He wrapped his fingers around the bottle’s neck and watched her rejoin her table. He couldn’t help but notice that Adam wasn’t there.

Jake sipped. He had been right. Noelle was trouble.

NOELLE

Noelle hated driving. She ~hated~ it.

Whenever she could avoid getting behind the wheel, she did. Her car was mostly for emergencies.

Unfortunately, today was an emergency.

A package of hers was about to be bounced back to the sender. The carrier had left the delivery slip at her old address, which happened to be a place she had rented out with five other girls.

None of them bothered to let her know until today. The last day for pickup.

So. Time to get to the complete opposite side of town to grab whatever it was, and then drive forever in rush hour to get to work.

And Noelle really couldn’t miss work. Not if she wanted to keep her all-to-herself grown-up apartment. Which she did.

She drummed her fingers on the steering wheel and tried not to have a fit after checking the clock. Cars were honking up and down the street.

Study what you love, they’d said. ~Follow your dreams~, they’d said.

Too bad her dreams paid like total crap.

Way too many minutes later, she hurried down the sidewalk with the package under her arm. It had taken less than five minutes to complete the actual pickup, but getting to the post office had been a whole other ordeal.

She’d been forced to park in a loading zone to even get close to the building.

Something was sitting under the wiper when she got to her car.

“Are you kidding me?”

She grabbed the red-and-white paper decorating her dashboard. A ticket. A freaking ticket! She had been gone for, like, two minutes!

Eighty bucks? No way. No freaking way.

She was not going to pay this.

Scratch that. She could not pay this.

“Stupid cops,” she muttered, “why can’t they find something to do besides harass innocent people and shoot them…”

Her eyes landed on a suspect heading for a black police car. Noelle ran after him as fast as her heels allowed.

She didn’t have a plan yet, but whatever. She would figure it out once she caught up to him.

Nope. Actually, nope. There was no way she was going to catch up. She had to get his attention somehow.

“Hey!”

Nothing. She felt a twinge of annoyance.

“You! Ticket man!” she shouted.

The officer stopped in his tracks and turned, looking irritated.

Blue eyes. A familiar face. The head of steam she’d built up dissipated.

It was always him.

Why was it always him?

“—Noelle?”

“Y-you gave me a ticket,” she said, less heatedly than she thought she would.

She had meant to be more self-assured, more intimidating, but now she simply felt like a moron.

God. How much can a girl embarrass herself?

He arched an eyebrow, looking at the ticket in her hand. Then he laughed.

How wonderful that he always seemed to think she was hilarious. She wished she could share the sentiment. “You think I write tickets. I’m not sure if I should be insulted.”

“You’re a cop, aren’t you?”

He was still chuckling. “I’m a cop,” he agreed. “But I don’t do tickets anymore. I’m a detective.”

“...Oh.”

For the first time, Noelle took in his appearance.

Polished, dark leather shoes, black dress pants, and a jacket to match. A bright-blue tie that accented those baby blues of his, and his brown hair was neatly slicked back.

He was obviously not making the rounds on double-parked cars and expired meters.

Noelle could feel herself blushing. So now she’d accosted him too, in addition to falling on him.

“Never mind, then.” She sighed. “I just—not a good time. See you later.”

“Let me see.” He plucked the ticket from her grip.

He scanned, then shoved it in his breast pocket.”I’ll get it.”

“W-what?”

“I’ll take care of it,” he clarified. “Don’t worry about paying this.”

He began to walk back toward his car.

Noelle was torn. Hadn’t she run after him precisely to get out of this ticket? Now, he was offering to do exactly that, but…

It didn’t feel right.

She’d broken the law, technically, even if the law was dumb. She didn’t want him to see her that way—as someone who used her connections to avoid consequences.

She didn’t know what to think of the fact that he seemed fine with helping her out.

Actually, she knew what to think. She just didn’t want to think it of him.

“I can’t let you do that,” she said.

He reached his vehicle. “Why not?”

“B-because it wouldn’t be right.”

He paused, hand on the door. “You’re right. It wouldn’t be.”

She was filled with a mixture of relief and disappointment.

She could not explain why. Did she want him to make exceptions for her, or not?

“Tell you what,” he said as he unlocked his door. The beep echoed down the street. “I work at the 10th precinct. I like dark roasts.”

He flashed her a smile and pulled the door shut behind him. Baffled, she watched him disappear from view.

Dark roasts.

He wanted a drink in exchange for clearing her ticket.

Wasn’t that a bribe?

She noticed the sour taste in her mouth all over again. She’d read so many news stories about police corruption. The idea that Jake might be…well…

And then another realization hit.

Wait. Did Jake want to have coffee with her? Was this some kind of date?

The sound of her phone ringing had her fumbling it out of her purse. Her supervisor’s name flashed across the screen.

Noelle groaned and hurried back to her car. She was late for work.

Again.

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