Matt MacGregor is pissed at the world. All he ever wanted was to be a cop. But when he’s shot on the job, his confidence is rattled to the core. Sulky and drunk most of the time, the last thing he wants is to be bothered by anyone.
Berlin Rhodes just moved into the same apartment complex as Matt. He’s the complete opposite of Matt; he loves people and has a positive outlook on life.
When Berlin needs to use Matt’s phone because his power didn’t get turned on, an unlikely friendship begins between these two polar opposites. Berlin wants to do whatever he can to coax Matt back into the land of the living, but is Matt too prideful to make the leap?
I needed to forget the moment that asshole shot me.
Me. One of L.A. PD’s finest.
But because I couldn’t erase it from my brain without a little assistance, I was sprawled on my couch, covered in sweat and drunk off my ass.
My shoulder ached and throbbed as the scenario of the perp pulling his gun from under the seat swam in front of my eyes. Three weeks had passed but I could still feel the scorching, ripping agony of the bullet tearing through my flesh and muscle. A couple of inches up and I’d be dead. Shot through the head. A few inches down wouldn’t have been any better and I’d still have been in a body bag.
I was lucky.
That’s what everybody kept telling me. But I didn’t feel lucky. I felt like I had a bullseye on my back now. If this could happen once it could happen again. I was rattled. Fuck. I was so rattled. That wasn’t like me. Nothing scared me. I was the first one through the door in a dangerous situation. I’d wanted to be a cop since I was old enough to talk. My dad was a cop. My brother was a cop. I was fucking born to be a cop.
When the doorbell rang I ignored it. Go the hell away. Whoever you are, I don’t want any. But the asshole kept ringing the buzzer. I wiped my face and sat up slowly, the room spinning a little. I had my blinds drawn so maybe I could just wait them out. But the jarring sound was beginning to piss me off. Who rang a bell ten times? I set my whiskey glass on the coffee table and wobbled to my feet.
Staggering to the door I looked through the peep hole. Red hair and a plaid shirt were about all I could make out. What was the fucking point of peep holes when you could never really see a damn thing? The person could be holding a bazooka and I wouldn’t be able to tell.
The doorbell buzzed for the fifteenth time and I yanked open the door feeling like I wanted to rip someone’s head off. The guy standing there was medium build and about my age. He must have seen how angry I was because he took a step back and grimaced.
“Sorry.” His voice quivered. “I wasn’t sure if you were home or not.” His eyes were an odd brown: almost the color of honey. It was an unusual combination with his auburn hair.
Who cares what the he looks like? Why’s he here?
“What do you want?” My voice was like gravel. I guess no sleep and booze wasn’t great for the vocal cords.
“I just moved in to the apartment next to yours.” He pointed to the immediate right of my home. “They were supposed to turn on the power but it isn’t working.”
I stared at him wondering why this was my problem. I had my own difficulties. Protect and serve was not foremost in my heart at the moment.
He laughed nervously when I stayed quiet. “I was wondering…” He swallowed. “You know… like… maybe I could use your phone and call somebody?” A blue jay squawked in the wisteria vines above his head and he jumped.
He looked embarrassed, his cheeks flushed. “Sorry. Didn’t mean to spaz out but I don’t like birds,” He squinted upward. “They creep me out.”
For whatever reason his quirkiness made me curious. “Why?”
“They’re so fluttery. You never know what they’re going to do.” He scanned the shrubs suspiciously.
“I think you’re safe.” I’m sure I found him more amusing than usual because I was drunk. But I still didn’t want to invite him in. “Don’t you have a cell phone?” Everyone had a cell these days, right?
He sighed. “The battery’s dead. I was going to charge it when I finished moving my crap in, but they didn’t turn the God damned power on.”
His frustration was palpable and it hit the one soft spot I had left in my heart. I stepped back, unhooked the screen and opened it. “Fine. Come in.”
He slowly slipped through the door and brushed against me ever so slightly. “Sorry.”
“It’s fine.” I stepped back further, but not before noticing he smelled like lemons and cinnamon.
He turned to face me and his gaze fell to my bandaged shoulder and arm in the sling. “You hurt your arm?”
Flushing, I closed the door and didn’t acknowledge his question. “The phone’s in the kitchen.”
He nodded and headed toward the other room. “You’re apartment is the exact replica of mine, only reversed.”
I escaped back to my couch and lowered myself with a groan. It was time to take my pain meds, but I was stalling because I was inebriated. If I accidentally OD’d everyone would think I’d done it on purpose. I’d been a little depressed lately and not able to hide it.
He sounded agitated as he talked on the phone. I tried not to listen in, but I noticed he liberally sprinkled his conversation with curse words. After about fifteen minutes he came into the room looking flustered. “The power won’t be turned on until tomorrow.” His eyes were wide. “They fucked up and it’s my problem?”
I frowned. “Don’t they just flip a switch or something down at the office?”
“I’m not sure how they do it. All I know is the food in my fridge is going to spoil.” He surprised me when he sat in the chair across from me instead of leaving.
“I should sue them.” He chewed his lip. “Corporate America is out of control. How the hell do you just not turn on a person’s electricity? I really should take them to court.”
“Good luck with that.”
He pointed a slender finger at me. “And that is why they run rampant over us: that lackadaisical attitude.”
“I’m not lackadaisical.” I leaned toward him. “I’m realistic.”
“If you say so.”
I ignored his sarcastic tone. “Tomorrow they’ll have turned on your power, and you’ll have forgotten all about this inconvenience.”
He grinned and it lit his face. “You’re probably right. Besides I have plenty to do organizing my apartment. I don’t have time to fight Goliath.”
I studied his angular features. He was actually very attractive in an unusual sort of way; full lips, long lashes. Why the hell was I noticing this? “Well, don’t let me keep you.”
I expected him to leave. I wanted him to leave. But he sat there staring at me. His gaze took in the bottle of booze and empty glass on my table. “What happened to your arm?” His tone was hesitant.
I narrowed my gaze. “None of your business.”
“That’s not very neighborly.” He continued to study me intently. “What do you do for a living?”
“Also none of your business.” People always acted weird the minute they found out I was a cop. They seemed to think I could sense if they’d ever broken any laws.
Instead of looking insulted he crossed his legs and bobbed his foot up and down staring at me some more. “Can I guess?”
“What?” I frowned.
“Since you won’t tell me, how about I try and guess what your job is?”
He shrugged gazing around my apartment and taking in the Spartan décor. “Because it might be fun.”
“Me.” He grinned and I was surprised to feel an odd fluttery response to his dimples.
I was confused by my reaction to him. He really wasn’t my type at all. I preferred alpha males like myself. It had to be the booze. “Seems like a waste of time.” My tone was purposely flat.
“I’ve got all day.” He smiled pleasantly.
“Don’t you have moving stuff to take care of?”
He narrowed his gaze. “Stop trying to change the subject. Can I try and guess your job?”
“Go for it.” I figured he’d get it wrong and be on his merry way soon enough.
“Yeah?” He arched one brow. “Cool.” He rubbed his hands together scanning the area. “Let’s see… you’re definitely not an interior decorator.”
He stood and began to wander the small room, fingering the few photos I had on the fireplace mantel. He pulled a pair of reading glasses from his pocket and he slipped them on. “Is this your family?” He held out a photo of me, my dad and brother. They were both in uniform, but I wasn’t.
“I can see a family resemblance. You’re all very macho.” He emphasized the last word.
Flushing I shook my head. “No.”
“The two dudes in uniform are.” He glanced at me. “Cops are macho. It’s not up for debate.” He set the photo down and continued examining my living room. There wasn’t much to see really. I had a medium sized TV on a side table, no art on the walls and the shabby blinds were the ones that came with the place. “Can I see your bedroom?”
The fuck? “No.”
He held up his hands as if surrendering. “Don’t bite my head off.”
“It won’t help your detective work any to see my bedroom. I have even less stuff in there.”
“Less?” He raised his brows. “What’s in there a coffin? Are you a vampire?”
Against my will my lips twitched. “Would I have opened the door on a sunny day like this if I were?”
“Good point.” He smiled and wandered back into the kitchen. I could hear him opening and closing cupboards. “You don’t have any food in here.”
“I hate to cook.”
“Really?” He poked his head around the corner. “I love to cook.”
“I have Dominos on speed dial.” I leaned back against the cushions with a sigh.
He came back into the room and stood over me with his hands on his hips. “That’s just sad.”
I frowned. “Pizza is food.”
He snorted. “Right.” He pulled off his glasses and slipped them into his pocket while repeating his earlier question. “What happened to your arm?”
I scowled. “I already told you, none of your business.” I avoided his piercing gaze.
He shifted as if impatient. But when he spoke he’d changed the subject. “It just occurred to me that I have a fridge full of spoiling food, and you have none. How about I cook you dinner?”
I’m sure my expression was horrified. I just wanted to be left alone. “Why?”
He shrugged. “As a thank you for letting me use your phone. Plus, I don’t want all that food to go to waste.”
“No. I don’t need a thank you, and I don’t want you to make me dinner.” I ignored the fact that my stomach growled at the idea of a home cooked meal. “I can take care of myself.”
He snapped his fingers. “I have a great idea; if I guess your occupation I get to make dinner for you.” He sounded excited at the prospect. I couldn’t understand why.
“Jesus, you’re pushy.”
“Is that as a yes?”
“Why do you want to cook for a complete stranger?” I frowned.
He sighed. “Well, as I told you I love to whip up delicious concoctions, plus I don’t relish the idea of spending all evening in a dark apartment with no power.”
Something about his vulnerable demeanor got through to me and I relented. “Fine. If you’re right about my job you can cook me a meal.” He’d probably get my occupation wrong anyway.
He looked pleased. “I just have a few more questions before I take my guess.” He tapped his stubbly chin. “Would you say you’ve always been this guarded, or is it because of your injury?”
“Maybe it’s because I like my privacy. Did you ever think of that?”
“I don’t believe that’s why at all.”
“Well, you’re the expert.”
He bit his lower lip and his gaze ran over my body. “You have a good build.” His strangely personal observation came out of nowhere.
“Okay, now this is just getting weird. You should go.” I struggled to my feet. I was at least a couple of inches taller than him, and far more buff. But he didn’t shrink from me, he instead grinned.
“I’m not hitting on you. I’m still investigating silly.” He shook his head and moved toward the door. “Do you have a side business in addition to your regular job?”
“Do I what?”
“You know, do you have like a pool cleaning service on the side or anything?”
“All right. I think I’ve got it.” With his hand on the door he hesitated. “How does seven sound?”
I frowned. “For what?”
“You didn’t guess my job.” I moved closer to him, wondering if maybe he had a screw loose. Was he actually my neighbor, or had I let a crazy homeless nut into my house by mistake?
He laughed. “Oh, yeah. I forgot to tell you my guess.” He pointed to his head. “It’s in here and I thought I said it out loud.”
I scratched my head. “Are you okay? Is there someone I can call for you?”
His gaze softened. “You have a strong sense of duty. Even though you feel like shit you’re concerned for me.” He sighed. “Based on your independent spirt, your macho vibe and your responsible nature you must make a wonderful cop.”
I took a step back in shock. “What?”
“You’re a cop right?” He laughed. “It was either that or a fireman. But they all have side businesses and you said you didn’t. So you have to be a cop.”
Speechless, I simply stared at him amazed.
“Do you mind if I prepare the dinner over here? It might be a little difficult at my place with no power.” He cocked one brow.
I shook my head. “You don’t have to make me dinner.”
“But I really want to.” He squeezed my good shoulder and warm tingles rippled through my arm. He started to leave but then stopped. “My name’s Berlin, by the way.”
I stared at him in confusion and then I said slowly, “I’m Matt.”
“You’re not a vegetarian, are you Matt?”
“Any food allergies I should know about? Everybody I know is gluten intolerant these days so I have to ask.”
“I eat wheat.” I ran a hand across the back of my neck.
“In that case, I’ll see you at seven sharp.” He winked and left.
Once he was gone I closed the door and leaned against it wondering what the hell had just happened.