Updated: Feb 5
It was the giggling that first alerted Mac to the possibility that he was in over his head. The giggling and the fact that the whole apartment smelled like citrus fruits and baked goods. According to his brother Cal, neither of the women who lived here had a single cooking skill between them, so he couldn’t help but wonder where the smell came from and how much of it was about to infiltrate his own home.
It wasn’t that Mac didn’t like Audrey—she was nice enough, and good to his brother—but the idea of a woman moving into his space was a little bit daunting. Especially when that woman was loud, and fun-loving as Audrey. Not that any of that really mattered. Mac would probably have felt the same way about anyone moving in, and the truth was that Cal moving Audrey in was inevitable. Mac wasn’t a betting man, he didn’t like to lose, but he would put money on his brother proposing within the year. That was half the reason that Mac was giving up a Saturday to help. Audrey would someday be his sister and it was important to show up for family.
That giggle didn’t belong to Audrey.
Cal rounded the corner into the tiny kitchen and pressed a box into Mac’s hands. It weighed a metric ton and Mac gritted his teeth against the sudden weight. What was in these boxes? Free weights?
“These are Maggie’s so they can go into the uHaul,” Cal said and hefted up another box from the floor. “They’re mostly books so she said they can go in the back.”
Maggie, Audrey’s elusive roommate. She was taking a majority of the furniture and living supplies to her new place since Audrey only needed her own personal things. That was a perk of moving into a fully-furnished house. Audrey’s things were going into the back of her and Cal’s cars. The furniture and larger pieces were headed to the uHaul parked along the curb out front.
Mac pounded his way down the stairs, keeping the box braced on his forearms. They’d left the back of the truck open, Audrey insisting the neighborhood was safe enough, and Mac slid the cardboard box onto the smooth metal floor. They’d probably have to take the box out again, to organize the furniture, smaller boxes should definitely go in around the bigger items, but it would have to come down the stairs at some point, and the truck was as good a place to store it as the sidewalk.
“What kind of books?” Mac couldn’t help asking as Cal slid his box into the truck, too.
“Maggie’s a writer.” Cal grinned, “She writes those porn books that women love so much.”
Mac frowned. Porn books? “Romance novels? Or full-on erotica?”
Cal shrugged, “Audrey calls them ‘spicy love stories,’ but Maggie is pretty careful about who she lets read them.”
“Romance novels aren’t just for women.” Mac said. “And there’s nothing wrong with on-page sex scenes.”
Cal nudged Mac’s shoulder. Hard. His brother may top him by several inches, but Mac had put in the time to make sure his body was solid. He knew it rankled Cal when those nudges and playful shoves didn’t budge him an inch.
“Dude, we love Maggie. It’s just… look, once you actually meet her you’ll get it, okay?”
What was that supposed to mean? Mac narrowed his eyes.
Cal fished his vibrating phone out of his pocket. He glanced at the caller ID and then waved it at his brother.
“It’s the Salvation Army, I bet they’re calling about the extra furniture that they’re coming to pick up. Why don’t you go back up and help the girls take apart everything that needs to come apart, and I’ll stay with the truck.”
That made sense.
Mac pulled open the front door and had just stepped inside when he saw her.
A silky sheet of Ash brown hair that fell past her shoulders, a pair of large doe eyes that stared intently at the box in her hands instead of down at the stairs, and an oversized gray shirt that couldn’t hide the angles of her body. The pale creaminess of her skin took on an orange glow under the warm light from the staircase, and there was no earthly reason why Mac suddenly couldn’t suck in a breath, but his lungs were definitely not cooperating and there was a chance his legs were going to quit on him too.
Mac watched her foot slide forward, tapping along the edge of the step so that she could find where the stair tread ended even when she couldn’t see it. Mac’s gaze shaped the slim line of her calves under a pair of soft-looking black leggings. They were faded from a few too many times in the dryer, and somehow Mac just knew they’d be see-through if she bent over. Not that he was imagining that. Of course not. Not when she looked like that, like a sweet and innocent star of a 90s romcom.
Except Mac didn’t need her to rip off her glasses, pour her body into a tight dress, and toss her hair over her shoulder to know that she was arresting.
He adjusted the front of his jeans. There wasn’t a chance in hell he could offer to take that box for her after approaching her with a hard on. She’d made it down the first step, and hadn’t even noticed him standing at the front door, but there was no way she was going to make it down the whole flight without a catastrophe.
She slid her foot forward again, searching for the next step and Mac watched as she overbalanced and tipped forward.
He expected her to drop the box. It was the only logical way to stop herself from tumbling head over ass down the whole flight. He also expected her to scream or screech or make one of those noises women made when confronted with spiders or cheating spouses. Maggie didn’t do any of that. She tucked her face against the cardboard top, clutched the sides until her fingers turned white, and threw herself backwards. The box stayed cradled against her chest as she slid down the remaining dozen steps.
Mac felt frozen in place, watching her slip down the wooden treads. The only sound was the muted thump as her ass hit each step and a series of clinks from whatever was in the box. She finally slid onto the landing at the bottom of the staircase, and Mac leaned toward her, pulled like a gravitational field. He opened his mouth and then closed it again, unsure of what to say.
The woman shifted her weight forward, until she was sitting up, the box perched on her lap. She yanked open the folded top and peered inside at the contents. One hand dove into the box, digging around whatever was packed. Given the tinkling sounds she’d made as she fell, Mac assumed there were breakable items inside. Her mouth moved, talking to herself too quietly for Mac to make out. Suddenly she threw her head back, silky hair spilling out across the bottom step, and she started to laugh.
She laughed with her whole body, slim shoulders knocking against the stair, and arms falling away from the box and swinging as she cackled like little octopus tentacles. Her voice was huskier than he’d anticipated, like her vocal chords were a little bit rusty. Mac’s were a bit rusty too, if he were being honest. And yet, as she lay splayed out on the floor, lost to hysterical laughter, Mac felt the corners of his mouth turn up into an automatic smile.
Mac had been proud that his erection had lost steam when she’d tripped—and wasn’t that a weird thing for him to admit—but as her laugh bubbled over his skin, tickling him from the inside out, his dick swelled up again with impressive speed. An ache settled low in his groin and Mac dipped a hand down to adjust himself once again. The last thing he needed was an injured woman to be confronted with his inappropriate wood.
“Are you okay?” He asked, stepping towards her. He was going to offer to carry the box, or help her up, or both.
Mac had seen that she was small, but up close she was downright tiny. He wasn’t a big guy, well not a tall guy, and he was a little worried that even looking at her would bruise her skin or crack her bones. She was small and sweet, and he was big and rough, and he had no business looking at her, let alone imagining her body arching underneath his as he pinned her to the stairs. He needed a fucking lobotomy because that line of thinking was unacceptable.
“I’m great.” She grinned up at him. “Nothing broke!”
“You fell down a flight of stairs.” Mac frowned. He didn’t think she’d hit her head, but he could be wrong.
“That’s not even the first time today.”
Good thing she was moving out of a two-story walk-up.
“You shouldn’t be carrying breakables then,” Mac said.
That came out wrong. He didn’t want to sound like he was lecturing her, but if falling down the stairs was something that she did with any regularity then she should be carrying pillows and bedding, not something that could shatter and cause more damage. More damage to her body and soft skin. He didn’t give a single fuck about the things in the box.
“Probably not,” she agreed, “But I tend to do best when people assign me tasks, so my brain finds less to panic over, and Audrey handed me this box and told me to take it down.”
Mac reached down and lifted the box. It wasn’t heavy, but the tinkling inside made him slow his movements. He wasn’t fall-down-stairs-clumsy, but he also wasn’t one of the most graceful guys. He shifted the box to one arm and reached his hand out to help her up. She rolled to her hip and pushed up on her elbows, either ignoring his assistance, or not noticing his hand hanging in the air between them.
She tugged the bottom of her shirt as she stood, the top of her hair barely meeting his chin. Was she even over five feet?
“Thanks for grabbing that.” She motioned to the box. “I’ll get the door for you.”
She held the glass entrance open as he walked through it. The sun made her squint but she still tipped her face up, letting the light break over the smooth skin of her cheeks. Mac felt his mouth bend into another smile. His cheeks were tight and tingly under his beard.
“I’m not sure why we’re bringing down boxes first,” she said, turning to bathe him in her own smile. “The big stuff will need to be loaded first and anything we put in the truck will just need to come back out.”
Mac pushed the box into the back of Audrey’s car and shut the trunk. Standing as close as she was, he could smell the vanilla and orange scent of her skin. A zing shot through his blood stream as he breathed her in. He should say something. Anything. Tell her that she was the most striking woman he’d ever seen, tell her he wanted to hear her thoughts, tell her that her smile was brighter than the sun. No, that was too much. He should start simple. Had he told her his name yet?
“I’m Tyler.” He held his hand out again, this time there was no way she could miss the gesture.
Her delicate hand with long cool fingers slid into his. His fingers closed around hers, and it felt like a full fireworks show had unleashed beneath his sternum. Her light eyes flicked to his, blue and green and a pale almost yellow swirling together in her irises. His cock twitched against the heavy denim of his pants.
“You go by Mac, right?” Her fingers flexed in his grip, but she didn’t pull away. “I’m Maggie. I’ve heard a lot about you. I didn’t realize we’d never been introduced. I feel like I know you already.”
Mac looked down into her sunny face. He hadn’t heard nearly enough about her, but he felt the familiarity too. Even as his blood heated and the ache built, he wanted more. More information, more skin, more everything. More anything that she was willing to give. Maggie pulled her hand back, and he closed his hand around the lingering imprint against his palm.
This one. His brain whispered as she smiled out across the street, watching the steady movement of cars along the asphalt.
“Should we try the bed next?” Maggie asked as Cal ambled back towards them, shoving his phone down into pocket.
Mac’s brain skipped a track.
“If you and Audrey can tackle the frame,” Cal said, “then Mac and I can bring down the mattress. Sound good?”
Mac watched her hair slide over her shoulders as she nodded. His brother watched him.
“I see you’ve met my brother,” Cal said, a wide grin splitting his face. “Do I need to make introductions for him? Sometimes he’s a little wordy.”
Ha ha ha. Very funny, Cal.
“He did it all on his own,” Maggie said the words to Cal, but her gaze was trained on Mac, she bit down on her lips like she was holding in a laugh. “I have no doubt that Mac and I are going to be good friends.”
She leaned over and patted his arm. Mac couldn’t help but sway his body towards her, like he was caught on a hook and she was reeling him in. He stopped himself as Maggie walked around him and back into the building, Cal chattering at her side.
As the door started to close behind her, she turned and her eyes met his. His heart jump-started as if she’d zapped him with a defibrillator. He’d never been one for optimism, but Mac was pretty sure this was going to go down in history as one of the best days of his entire life. All because a beautiful woman fell down a flight of stairs and landed at his feet.