Arouse (Naughty Neighbors 3)

Detective Jeff Arndt keeps an eye on his neighborhood—it’s a professional courtesy and a neighborly gesture. But after shots are fired one humid summer night, the line between professional and personal is obliterated. He won’t rest until his pretty neighbor is safe in his arms…even if that leaves his heart unprotected.

Warning: a hot cop’s instincts aren’t the only thing aroused. This erotic romance includes two naughty neighbors who, after months of verbal foreplay and a little help from a muddy, shaggy dog, get down and dirty in the master bath.

Release Date: June 23, 2015

 

Excerpt

Chapter One

The numbers flipped over again. She should stop looking. Really. Stop. Looking.

But it was a little bit like telling Ruffles to stop scratching.

Dumb, beautiful mutt. He was going to have to go back in the cone of shame if he didn’t stop messing with his ears.

Kami looked at the digital readout: 1:11. Oh goodie, make a wish.

I wish I could get some freaking sleep.

Punching the pillow didn’t help. Neither did flipping it over. One o’clock would melt into two. Then three into four. Yesterday, she’d finally fallen into a coma about five thirty.

When the alarm went off at 6:45, she’d wished she was dead. The only thing worse than a sleepless night was a sleepless night with a brief crash as a chaser and an early-morning conference call. At least she could work in her jammies.

Her ritual wasn’t working anymore. The long walk with Ruffles at sunset. Brewing a cup of chamomile tea and taking it into a warm bubble bath. “Moonlight Sonata.” “Clair de Lune.” God, the Debussy at the very least should inspire somnolence.

Nothing. Worked.

Sighing, she broke all her rules and patted the right side of the bed, following up with a short, sharp whistle, inviting Ruffles up with her. She’d have to launder the sheets tomorrow—it had been particularly muddy on tonight’s walk—but it was worth it to have a solid presence in bed next to her again.

Sorrow was absolute bullshit.

She’d well passed the get over him guideposts. Had managed to pack up, move to a different state, start a new life all alone. Kami had even managed to find several engaging, attractive men to date along the way. But no matter how wonderful they were, the right side of her bed was still empty. Nobody filled it right.

She loved Ruffles, but he smelled. And snored.

But he is the only part of Philip you kept, she reminded herself.

And that had been her choice. Start over completely. Start fresh.

The heck of it was, she was happy. Theoretically. Job success, check. A new social circle all filled up with intelligent and fun people who shared her passions and challenged her, check. A little house she’d put her stamp on, check.

Check, check, check. Like the ticking of the clock.

No wonder she couldn’t sleep. What reasonably well-adjusted adult, with all the cultural hallmarks of efficient adulting, failed at the number one most basic human function?

Well, maybe it was number two. A person needed food. And air.

Kami was a champ at those, at least: eating and breathing. If only she could master sleeping.

Ruffles emitted a particularly foul bit of air and reminded Kami that muddy paws wasn’t the only reason she kept him off the bed.

You should take him outside. But taking him outside meant putting on a bra. Pants.

And it means you might run into Officer Hot Stuff again, and this time you might actually be able to entice him to leap across the chain link fence and into your empty bed.

“That’s it. No more ‘Claire de Lune,’ you sad sack.” Punching her pillow, she scolded herself for fantasizing about her handsome neighbor. Just thinking his nickname conjured up images that absolutely wouldn’t help her sleep. The hard line of his jaw, always in shadow, tempting her to wonder if he had a dimple. Freckles. Wonder if his mouth was wide and generous or pinched and grim. His voice was low and expressive when it carried over to her yard. It wrapped around her like silver tendrils of smoke. Made her fingers itch for a lighter—but that was just one more thing she’d given up.

Her neighbor was a mystery.

She’d never seen him in the full light of the sun. Hadn’t caught him on a Saturday morning, shirtless and sweaty, pushing a lawn mower over the tiny stamp of a front yard. But she’d seen his hand wrapped around a bottle in the moonlight. Had imagined his throat working to drink it down, and, even more appalling, had imagined that hand on hers. A brush at first, almost accidental. A callused palm snaking over the back of hers then lingering, warm and reassuring. Long fingers tracing the shadows on the backs of her hands and coaxing the secrets from her palm. The ticklish, terrifying mysteries of her life line. And then his warm hand engulfing hers, palm to palm, and fingers entwined. Their fates aligned.

Ruffles’ low growl ripped her from that almost-asleep moment. Damn. It was one thirty, she really shouldn’t go outside—especially if her dog had heard something. She looked him in the eye—dumb dog had managed to sneak his way from the foot of the bed to the pillow next to her, but he didn’t seem to be upset. Maybe she’d imagined the growl in some strange semi-conscious state.

A stray thought pinned her in place—what if that growl had come from her?

No. No matter how pleasant it might be to daydream every now and then, it was foolish to indulge in erotic fantasies of Officer Arndt. Even if—especially since!—just imagining him holding her hand had brought her such comfort she’d been on the edge of sleep.

Not to mention the edge of a very sexy dream.

No, there would be no more of that. No matter how hot he may or may not be—after all, what did a hand tell a person?—she was not getting involved with a cop. After Philip, she was done with men who put their lives on the line for others. She’d find some nice, sexy accountant whose sole job danger was a paper cut. Maybe a rogue office copier.

“Do you need to go out, dude?” The dog barely stirred, the lump, but she was spinning her wheels just lying there, wide awake now and thinking about impossibilities. “C’mon, Ruff, let’s go outside.”

He wriggled a bit, a Pavlovian response to the word o-u-t, but it only served to dig him in even deeper in the bed nest he’d made. Kami heaved herself to the side of the bed, hesitating a moment. Ugh. Pants.

Or nothing?

Once upon a time, she might have gone out in the panties and sleep camisole she was sporting. That Kami would have shrugged, what, it covers more than my bikini? These days, Kami was a little more prudent. That whole A+ adulting thing. And the fact her bikini days were so o-v-e-r.

Checking the temperature on her phone’s app, she decided she’d be wild and settle for a robe. It was too hot for pants, even in the middle of the night. Hopefully, the mosquitos were asleep, because she didn’t want to chance ruining her favorite little robe with chemical overspray.

As she approached the French doors, the dumb mutt decided she’d meant business and roused himself out of bed. Before she could open the door fully, he’d nosed past her and shot out into the blackness.

“Ruff!” She tried to convey her sincere displeasure in a whisper, but he didn’t return to her.

The security light blinked on in a blinding flash, and for a moment she felt exposed, standing half in the doorway, her kimono fluttering in the breeze. It wasn’t actually a kimono, stupid for the manufacturers to call it that, but she loved the blowsy, overblown roses on the creamy silk chiffon. Nonetheless, she clutched it close, whatever-it-should-be-called.

She’d picked her neighborhood because it was safe—Kami had even managed to move in next door to a cop, not that she’d known that then—but that knife edge of fear caught her unaware. Living alone sometimes sucked.

Beyond the scope of the light, the night was ink. The alleys weren’t illuminated, which was probably good since her bedroom was at the back of the house, but she wished Ruffles hadn’t shot out past her without Kami doing a quick sweep of the yard with her heavy-duty flashlight. Anything could be out near the back fence. She shivered.

If he got into it with a skunk again—

Kami couldn’t even think of such an atrocity.

She took the chair closest to her bedroom door and tried to sit real still so the motion detector wouldn’t stay activated. Kami didn’t want to call attention to herself after that first initial burst of light, and it would fade if she sat still.

But her hands were restless. She had to force them closed so she wouldn’t pick at the hem of the robe. The lace edging was delicate and wholly impractical. The whole garment was impractical—that was what had drawn her to it in the first place. She’d seen it on the rack in that store she usually only browsed in for kitchen fripperies and assorted funky household stuff. But when she’d seen the coral and pink roses on silk, shattering the elegance of the garment with their lurid chartreuse leaves and excessively riotous blooms, Kami had never wanted an article of clothing more.

It whispered sensuality and romance. Mystery. Allure.

She’d tried to ignore it. Tried to ignore the slim, waif-like bodies who shopped on the left-hand side of the store, while women with bodies like hers browsed home goods on the right. But it called to her, that delicate fabric that seemed to be the quintessence of femininity. She’d tried to find a pillow sham in the same pattern, hoping to ease that all-consuming desire to own that particular textile—even knowing that there was nowhere in her home it would work—but there was nothing remotely similar.

A quick internet search showed her the kimono was available in-store only. If she wanted it, she’d have to bite the bullet and buy it right that minute. Go with the age-old trick of asking for a gift receipt and a gift box so the terminally stylish twenty-something at the register wouldn’t give her one of those sad, sad looks. Poor, miserable big girl, couldn’t possibly squeeze her ass into something from our store.

Kami had left it in the trunk of her car for a week. Then two. She willfully missed the return-by deadline while brainstorming ways to use the fabric if it didn’t fit. When it didn’t fit. But by some miracle of boho-chic styling, the XL kimono was oversized. When she lifted the silk chiffon confection from the gift box and held it up in front of her, it was voluminous. Voluptuous.

It fit her perfectly and made her feel like she lived in a painting.

Ruffles trotted up and miraculously lay down at her feet, not jumping up to muddy the hem of the silk with his paws. She nudge-petted him with her foot. He was such a good boy, knowing that he wasn’t allowed free reign of the back yard after he’d finished taking care of his business.

Lazy, was more like it. He loved this little scrap of wood deck almost as much as she did.

Kami tried to take a deep breath, but it kept catching in her throat. The night was quiet. Silent.

Empty.

She tried to be content with the peacefulness—and the fact she hadn’t yet felt any mosquitos alight on her exposed flesh—but it wasn’t working. She was restless, as empty as the vast night sky.

The air was so slow tonight. The cloud cover obscuring, then revealing, only a hint of starlight. No moon. Just still, warm air settling over her.

And then, there it was—that sharp edge of awareness.

Kami wasn’t alone. He was over there.

In the darkness of his yard. That simple square of green, void of elaborate landscaping, but no less neat. He was there.

There might have been a moment when her heart picked up, blood pumping, telling her to go back inside. But there was another moment—much scarier, truth be told—that told her to let the robe fall off one shoulder, to twist up her hair into a knot on the top of her head so her breasts, bare beneath the robe and her thin camisole, would be on display for him.

And it was that moment that had her frozen in place. What a ridiculous thought. Like he’d want to see… that.

He’d be sitting on his back porch steps. By the light of day, they were narrow, barely worth calling a porch—more of a landing to climb up to the back door—and set just a few feet off the ground for their old pier and beam houses. But at night, they were, like everything else about him, shadowy and unknown.

Kami held her breath. Maybe he hadn’t seen her. She hadn’t heard the squeak of his back door like she sometimes did when he came out, but the air was damp and thick. Maybe that had muffled the sound. Maybe she could just sit here without him—

“Evening, ma’am.”

Mmph, that voice. It was all thick, honey-slow vowels and lazy bass vibrato. It was so quintessentially Southern and charming.

Absolutely not. She wouldn’t think of him as charming. He was just her neighbor.

Her hot neighbor whose voice alone aroused her beyond bearing.

“Hello, Officer Arndt.” There. She sounded normal. Kind of.

Tonight, he laughed a little, and followed up with a sultry “Hello, Miz Langen.”

They usually pitched their voices low on their nights together, and they barely skated over the air. Sometimes, she felt more than heard his words, for his voice was deep—a rumble of sonic energy. It felt easy and familiar.

But the way he said her name might be illegal in thirty counties.

“You can call me Kami, you know.” It was a dangerous invitation, and the moment she said it, she wondered what had gotten into her. They’d probably chatted two or three times a week since she’d moved in, but neither of them had ever used first names.

The overblown roses on her silk dressing gown, no doubt, had contributed to her imprudent invitation.

“Same goes.”

“Oh? Your name is Kami, too?” She almost slapped her hand over her mouth the second the words left her mouth. She was such a—

“Smartass.” His laugh seemed to vibrate somewhere in the vicinity of her pelvis. She shouldn’t be turned on by someone calling her out.

“Takes one to know one.” The words tumbled out before she could stop them. She was an inveterate smartass.

Oh God, the flirt was turned on heavy and hard tonight. She’d barely been out ten minutes and already she was wet and aching, wondering if he was affected half as much as she was.

Of course he wouldn’t be.

There was a tinkling of ice against glass—no beer tonight—then silence.

“Well, you got me there, Kami.”

She wished he wouldn’t have said her name. Because it made her want to taste her name on his lips. Made her want to shape his own with hers.

“So… Officer… I mean, Jeff…” Saying his name out loud was not a good idea. As if thinking of him as a man, and not her neighbor—not a public servant—would somehow… make him less safe. As if the serve and protect bubble around him would dissolve and he would become feral. Mercenary.

Mercenary? She’d been watching too much cable television.

Though the thought of him taking her didn’t scare her as much as it should have.

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