Emergency Engagement (Love Emergency)

By: Samanthe Beck

He took one swaying step backward.

Shit. She lunged forward, hands skidding through puddles of paint as she tried to catch him. One palm bounced off a hard-muscled thigh, and the other brushed the front of his jeans. No good. The man fell like an uprooted redwood.

“Oh my God!” Adrenaline helped her hurdle the capsized ladder, and she crouched beside him.

One minute she’d been painting an accent wall of her bedroom Mitchell Prescott III’s least favorite color and fantasizing about slashing holes in all four tires of his pampered Audi coup. The next, she’d been strangling a scream as a looming figure swung through her door and knocked her off the ladder. An instant after she’d hurled the paint can at his head she’d recognized the intruder as her strong, silent neighbor across the hall.

Drops of yellow now spattered the planes and angles of a face she usually sneaked a second glance at when they passed. It was worth a second glance—the masculine slant of his forehead, the straight slope of his nose, and the angle of his jaw. He owned the kind of bone structure that made her wish she sculpted.

Once upon a time she might have felt a twinge of guilt at how easily his guarded eyes drew hers, or the renegade flutter the whole formidable package inspired—especially when he wore his paramedic uniform. But enjoying a harmless spark of attraction from afar ranked way down on her list of relationship transgressions. Acting on the attraction? Different story, though as she discovered last night, apparently Mitch abided by a separate set of rules.

I’m going to marry the partner’s daughter. But don’t worry. Nothing between us has to change.

A splattering of paint didn’t camouflage number 204’s good looks, or…uh-oh…the stream of red trickling along his temple from the gash at his hairline. Some heretofore undiscovered Florence Nightingale instinct had her pressing the hem of her black henley to the wound. Maybe she pressed too hard, because he groaned, and his hands jumped from their resting places by his hips.

“Uhhh…” His voice rumbled up from beneath her shirt, and the wash of warm breath against her torso alerted her to the fact their position gave him an under-the-tent view of her black lace bra. The bra she’d worn last night because she’d fully expected Mitch to pop the question, and she’d wanted to make the rest of the night equally memorable. Oh, he’d had a proposal for her, sure enough—one she hoped he choked on.

Another low groan pulled her attention to the present, and the man on her bedroom floor. She yanked her shirt away from her neighbor’s forehead, tugged up the slipping waistband of her black thermals, and stared into platter-sized pupils floating in amber irises.

He raised his hand to wipe paint off her cheek. “You okay?”

Thanks to the volume of the music, she read his lips more than heard his voice. “I’m fine,” she shouted. “Are you okay?”

He nodded, but she didn’t like how he paled from the slight movement. Nor did she like the amount of blood flowing from the cut. “I’ll be right back,” she mouthed, and scooted into the attached bathroom to grab a towel.

She returned to find him shirtless, propped in a sitting position, with one hand braced behind him, and the other holding his bundled-up navy blue button-down to his forehead.

The sight left her a little dizzy. Even sitting on the floor he radiated strength, from his mountain range of shoulders, to his wide chest and rippling abs bracketed by a “V” cut that made her thighs clench.

Her heart might be broken, but the rest of her, including both eyes and every single one of her hormones, remained in full working order. They appreciated how his obliques sloped and narrowed, funneling her gaze down to his—

Hey, how about you ogle him later, when he’s not bleeding?

“Here.” She knelt beside him, tossed his shirt aside, and pressed the white towel to his cut. When he leaned into her touch, her worry doubled. During the six months she’d lived at Camden Gardens, she’d formed the impression the man rarely leaned on anyone. Not that he wasn’t friendly, but “polite” defined him better. He held doors. He yielded the right-of-way on the stairs. He greeted neighbors with a brief nod.

Visitors were rare. Occasionally another paramedic came by—a gorgeous blond guy with an indecently charming grin—but no women. Based on those facts, her downstairs neighbor, Steven, insisted number 204 played for Team Rainbow. She didn’t want to dash Steve’s dreams, but the flash of pure male appreciation she’d noticed more than once in her reserved neighbor’s broody gaze told her exactly which team he played for—or would play for, if he bothered playing. As far as she could tell, he’d benched himself.

All of which made his out-of-the-blue appearance in her apartment more curious, but she could wait to satisfy her curiosity until he’d stopped hemorrhaging. Something he showed no signs of doing.

Poinsettia red bloomed through the white terry cloth, and the sight sent her heart on a long, fast roller-coaster plunge into her stomach. She needed to get him off the floor, find her phone, and call 911.

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