Make Me Fall, page 1
Make Me Fall
Copyright © 2018 by Sara Rider
All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without written permission from the author, except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.
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Cover Design by Paper & Sage (www.paperandsage.com)
Created with Vellum
Excerpt from REAL KIND OF LOVE (Books & Brews Series, book 1)
About the Author
Also by Sara Rider
Dear Mr. Humperdinck Von Spackledick III,
Please refrain from further violating Shadow Creek Noise bylaw 2011.684.
Signed, your neighbor
CC: the city bylaw officer
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Nora Pitts leaned back in her desk chair to read back her hastily typed letter. She’d considered going with Noisy McPuppyHater, but Humperdinck had a nicer ring. She needed to step up her game after her obnoxious neighbor responded to her last letter asking him to keep the noise down with a hand-scrawled note in her mailbox that said No problem, Princess.
Nope, that was not a shudder that just rolled down her spine. Sure, her nameless neighbor had the kind of look that could only be described as panty-dropping, but he also had the obnoxiously lazy charm of a man who’d never had to face any real consequences in his life. Not her type. At all.
The roar of an electric saw ripped through the air, as though her walls were made of clouds instead of hardy insulation and vinyl siding, nearly knocking her off her seat. Just lovely. Now she got to listen to that monstrous sound and the pounding bass from his stereo.
She moved her cursor to the bottom of the page and added one more line.
P.S. Your taste in music sucks. P.P.S. Put on a shirt.
Maybe it was mean, but considering he’d woken her up a couple nights ago with some weird disco song from the seventies, he deserved it.
God, why was it so much easier to make enemies than friends? She’d been living in Shadow Creek for six months, and her most significant relationship in all that time was with a man who hated her guts and didn’t even know her name.
Hopefully that would change tonight. It was her fifth meeting with her new book club. This time, she was determined to finally work up the courage to ask the women in the club to do something social outside of their monthly meeting, which meant tonight had to go perfectly. No awkwardly putting her foot in her mouth. No fretting about whether anyone actually read the book or spilled wine on her Berber rug. No acting like a skittish raccoon whenever anyone doubled-dipped their crudités in the hummus. All she had to do was relax and act like a normal, easy-going human being.
Why did that have to be so hard?
With a stifled groan, she sent her letter to the printer and checked on the lemon-poached baby artichokes cooling on the stovetop. She’d found the recipe on one of those gourmet foodie websites where every dish had a thousand different ingredients, and made three practice batches before she got it right. So far, it looked perfect and smelled even better. Please stay that way.
She popped a tray of meticulously crafted caramelized onion tartlets into the oven next, sending a prayer to the book club gods that her guests would appreciate the effort she’d put into matching the French-themed food to the novel’s Parisian setting. When the printer finished its job, she stuffed the letter into an envelope and headed next door. Her nerves lit up like fireworks on the Fourth of July as she opened the mail flap and slid the note inside. Sure, it was a coward’s way of getting her point across, but confrontations weren’t exactly her strong suit.
The music ended abruptly as soon as the mail flap slammed shut.
She turned to scurry off, but the door flew open. “Got something to say, neighbor?”
Nora turned around slowly, ice freezing her spine straight. He was shirtless, like always, probably because his ego couldn’t bear to cover up that perfect six-pack, but this was the first time she’d seen said six-pack up close. His black sweatpants hung so low on his hips that his insanely sexy v-shaped cut lines peeked out.
“It’s in the letter,” she answered with an uncharacteristically rough voice.
He picked the envelope up from the floor and peered quickly at the note. “Ever consider it might be easier to talk about our problems face-to-face?”
Looking at his face was a bad idea right now because his light brown eyes framed by dark lashes, thick lips currently pulled into a wry grin, and messy brown hair left her completely tongue-tied. Instead, she let her gaze fall to the bead of sweat sliding down his chest, winding down his abs like a glacial river slowly chiseling its way through a rock face.
He laughed. Heat flamed her cheeks as she realized he was watching her watching him. “Are you sure you came here to talk about a noise problem?”
Of course he was the arrogant type who assumed every woman wanted in his pants. “There’s nothing to talk about. There are rules in this town and you need to respect them. That means no loud noise after seven p.m.”
His smile faded. “I’ll keep the noise down, but I need to finish the cuts on the new hardwood floors I’m putting in. I have to install them tonight or it’ll be another week before I can get into my kitchen.”
She might have had a little sympathy for him if he hadn’t spent every other Friday evening when she hosted her book club communing with his weed whacker. “No construction after seven.”
“No commercial construction after seven. That doesn’t apply to personal home repairs. I’ve read the bylaws, too. But maybe if you ask real nice, I’ll try to keep the noise to a minimum.”
She sucked in a breath and squeezed her eyes shut. “Please, can you keep the noise down just for tonight? I’ve had a bad day and I’d really like this evening to go well.”
She hated begging, but she was at a breaking point. She needed something to go right in her life, even if it was just a stupid book club. In the six months she’d been here, nothing had gone the way it was supposed to. The lab she was promised at Shadow Creek College turned out to be nothing but a bunch of broken-down equipment and a single master’s student named Doug who liked to scratch himself in places she’d rather not be looking. She hadn’t made any real friends or found where she fit in. The only thing she had was this stupid rental house that she thought would be her dream home until she discovered it came with the world’s worst neighbor. But quitting now would be admitting defeat. Admitting her ex was right when he told her she couldn’t make it on her own.
She wasn’t ready to do that yet.
She opened her eyes, expecting to find him gloating. Instead, he was looking at her with pity. “Yeah, sure. I’ll try, okay?”
She exhaled shakily. “Thank you.” She spun around and trotted down his front stairs, needing to escape this foolish feeling as soon as she could.
“Anytime, Princess,” he called after her, making her stumble on the last step.
Keeping her mind on everything she needed to do—and off her neighbor’s hard, sweaty body—wasn’t easy, but at le
Stupid, sexy neighbor. The only reason she was distracted by thoughts of him was because it had been a long, lonely time since she’d gotten more than her eyeballs on a man’s naked chest. But she wasn’t looking for a man, especially not an obnoxious one. She wanted to make friends. Girlfriends with whom she could go to the movies and share all the weird things Doug did at the lab, and cry to whenever life got just too freaking hard.
Friends she kept hoping the women from her book club could be, even though that seemed less likely with every meeting. Making friends was easy in grad school, where no one cared about whether she wore the right clothes or liked the right kind of music, or that she was uptight. It was so much harder in her thirties. Everyone seemed to have their lives established already. There was no one holding up signs saying Friends Wanted. No Tinder for people who wanted someone to call and kvetch with. She’d thought this town on the northwestern coast of Washington State would be a friendly, welcoming place, but she’d been wrong. Everyone here knew each other already.
Finding a Craigslist ad for a book club looking for new members had seemed like a godsend, but a few months in, she felt like there was still a big huge wall between her and the others. Like they only included her because of her baking skills.
Oh crap. The tartlets.
She ran to the kitchen and pulled the tray out of the oven. A little over-browned, but by some miracle not burned. She pressed her hands against her cheeks. How could she have forgotten to set the timer? She was a chemist, for God’s sake. Precision and dependability were supposed to be her best traits. Unfortunately, she didn’t inherit them from her father, who’d called her this afternoon asking her how to renew his car insurance that expired two months ago. How a man who was considered a world expert on theoretical macroeconomics couldn’t figure out the basic functions of life after his separation from her mom, Nora would never understand.
Dealing with her dad had thrown her schedule completely off, mostly because she’d had to talk him out of driving anymore until this mess was sorted. She hated being disorganized. It made her stomach roil with nausea. She picked up her list again and read each item out loud, forcing herself to concentrate.
“Chill the wine. Prepare the cheese plate and—” The roar of her neighbor’s saw made her shoulders tense so hard, she dropped the paper. She gritted her teeth and picked it back up. “Finish the last chapter.”
Oh no. She’d forgotten that, too.
She found her library copy of the paperback on her bedside table and flicked through the pages as she walked back into the kitchen to plate the tartlets on a serving tray. The book was a slog, to put it nicely. Just once, she wished her book club would choose a book that didn’t involve weird old white guys waxing poetic about their penises.
The doorbell rang just as she skimmed the last page. Annie, Gemma, and Rose stood on the other side. “Hi—”
The power-saw thundered, drowning her words in the strident noise.
“Yikes,” Annie said. “I hope that’s not going on all night.”
Nora forced a smile on her face. It’s not like she wanted to host every frigging time, but after the first time these ladies had caught sight of her neighbor’s naked torso, they’d insisted on camping out in her screened-in back porch every single month. And he insisted on putting on a show for them. “He promised to keep it down as much as possible tonight.”
“Wait,” Gemma said, stepping into the living room. “You talked to Neighbor McStudly? You? The woman who stutters whenever he comes outside?”
She hated that stupid nickname. Even if he couldn’t hear them inside the house, she was pretty sure his ego magically grew a few inches every time they called him that. “I—”
“I didn’t think you were capable of talking to a man without getting all flustered,” Rose added with a laugh before tossing her sweater onto the back of the couch. Nora picked it up and brought it to the closet to hang up, then followed her guests as they traipsed into the kitchen to pick away at the food.
“Hi, um, shoes off, please,” she said meekly.
Gemma rolled her eyes and opened the bottle of wine she’d brought.
It’s fine, you can sweep later. Just relax and stop being so uptight. Still, Nora couldn’t stop herself from immediately wiping up the drop of ruby red wine on her white countertop.
“Yum, these smell good,” Annie said, popping one of the tarts into her mouth.
“Thanks, I—” The ear-splitting sound of the saw cut her off again. “They’re caramelized onion tartlets. I made them as a tribute to the book, but I also have an assortment of French cheeses. Brie, Roquefort, and gruyère.”
Rose frowned. “No dessert?”
Nora groaned. She’d forgotten to put the petit gateaux into the oven. “It’ll be ready after the appetizers.”
“We should get started before we miss Neighbor McStudly,” Annie said with a glint in her eye. She picked up the tray of food and carried it to the patio.
“I wonder if he takes commissions,” Gemma mused, lounging on the wicker loveseat with her glass of wine like she was a matriarch from Dynasty.
“I guess you weren’t as persuasive as you thought, Nora, because he doesn’t seem to be slowing down,” Annie said, pulling her hardcover copy of the book out of her purse.
Nora cast her glance to his yard. “I’m sure he’ll be done soon.”
“I don’t mind, but it would be a lot nicer if he took his shirt off this time,” Rose said.
The fact he’d clothed himself felt like a small victory. Like maybe he was going to finish his cuts and then shut up for the rest of the evening. Probably just wishful thinking. She was so desperate for someone to be kind to her that she was willing to fall for his fake charm when he made that promise.
“Sorry, ladies. Just finishing up,” he called out with a wave that made his biceps flex. “And the shirt stays on this time. Unless you’re willing to share some of that delicious looking food.”
Everyone but Nora burst into a fit of giggles.
Nora flipped through her notebook until she landed on the page where she’d prepared some discussion questions. “So, how did everyone feel about Xavier’s relationship to painting? I thought the way he became obsessed with recreating Mary’s masterpiece once he became impotent was—”
“Ugh, I didn’t even get that far,” Gemma said. “The book was such a drag.”
“But you chose it,” Nora said, setting her notebook down on her lap and carefully placing the delicate string bookmark between the pages. Why was she even surprised at this point? Gemma never finished the book. It frustrated Nora that they insisted on reading the densest, most high-brow books straight from the New York Times bestseller list, rather than considering some of her suggestions for more entertaining reads. She spent her days reading dry-as-dust academic papers. When she was off the clock, she wanted to read for fun.
“Well, I thought the prose was lovely and stark. Poetic, almost. In fact, the entire thing was a bleak, lyrical broadside against the tyranny of political correctness.” Rose was the English major of the group and never let anyone forget it, even though Nora was pretty sure she was full of it half the time.
“Really? I kind of thought it was terrible.” Nora flicked to one of the particularly egregious pages she’d bookmarked earlier in the week “The author described his house as a ‘windowless box of melancholy and copper plumbing.’”
Rose shook her head and drained her glass. “You just don’t understand good literature.”
“I guess I don’t either,” Annie said, sending a small smile Nora’s way. “I agree with Nora. Any guy who calls a vagina ‘her pink pit of despair’ would not be getting in my bed.”
Nora sat back in her seat, cheeks flushed with embarrassment. It wasn’t the comment that stunned her—it was her own reaction that pissed her off the most. Why was she even trying with these women? These weren’t the kinds of people she wanted to be friends with. She’d be better off spending the rest of her lonely Friday nights babysitting feral cats or cleaning her toilet with her own toothbrush than trying to fit in with them. If she couldn’t find friends who accepted her for who she was—friends like the ones she had back in Toronto—what was the point?
God, she missed her old life. She stood up and set her book on the glass-topped coffee table. “I’m going to check on the dessert.”
Eli Hardin had honestly tried to finish putting in the new flooring before his neighbor’s book club started, but rushing inevitably meant he’d measured one of the cuts wrong. Usually he didn’t care whether he disturbed the monthly event, since the women spent most of the evening catcalling him anyway, but something about the way his neighbor pleaded with those big brown eyes made him wonder if their reciprocal teasing was more one-sided than he realized.
Pretty brown eyes, too.
Pretty enough to distract him from the backbreaking work of installing the new floors. He’d spent the last three days and more money than he’d like to admit replacing the old parquet and linoleum with new expensive hardwood that would make him feel like an actual accomplished human being, only now he was ninety-nine percent of the way done with one big glaring mistake. Kind of like his life.
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