An insistent pounding woke Mick Armitage.
"Open the door! I know you're in there!"
Bad movie dialogue. He squinted at his pitiful nineteen-inch TV where a fuchsia-and-green blob in the corner tinted the Saturday morning cartoons. More pounding — and probably some kicking, too — shook his door. He moved, then groaned at the pain in his neck — the actual pain from falling asleep on the rented couch, not the metaphorical pain in the neck pounding on his door.
"Open — this — door!"
It had to be the stuck-up old-maid music teacher from next door, Erin. What had her panties in a twist now?
He swung his legs down, and the insurance loss ratio stats he'd been reviewing when he'd fallen asleep slithered to the floor. Mick bent to pick up the papers at the same time he became aware of music from his bedroom.
Bolero. He'd left it playing all night.
Swearing under his breath — he wasn't about to give Ms. Prune Face the satisfaction of hearing him — he jogged into his bedroom and turned off the CD player, grabbed a pair of gray sweatpants off the clothes hamper and hopped toward the door as he drew them on over his boxers.
What was he going to say to her? He couldn't think of their last meeting without wincing. He'd had no idea she'd overheard him with Trina as they'd made a pathetic attempt to salvage their long-distance relationship before calling it quits.
He'd run into Erin the next morning and had made a neighborly overture because, frankly, his feelings were a little raw and he'd wanted the distraction.
It's not as if he'd meant for her to hear him. And was she discreet about letting him know she'd heard him? Did she make a joke out of it? No, she'd scolded him. Scolded. Him.
So they'd made a deal. Whenever he planned a little bedroom action, he was supposed to play Bolero to warn her and mask any noise. Embarrassingly, there hadn't been any reason to play Bolero, and so he just stuck in the CD sometimes out of pride.
And last night he'd fallen asleep on the couch. While working. On a Friday night. Pathetic.
Major pounding on the door. Kicking, he thought.
He yanked open the door before she managed to do serious damage.
Erin gasped and stumbled forward. He reached out to keep her from barreling into his bare chest, but she jerked away with a disgusted expression, as though he'd actually wanted to touch her…to hold her….
Mick stared down at her. She stared back, her eyes wide with…with something, and he didn't think it was disgust. Maybe he'd been a little hasty to help her avoid body contact.
Erin breathed hard, her cheeks flushed, and she actually looked as though she had some life in her without wearing that snooty expression she adopted whenever they made eye contact. In fact, she was looking pretty damn good at this precise moment. She could look pretty damn good all the time if she tried, which she didn't. Not that he wanted her to.
She wouldn't even have to try very hard. Just quit clipping her hair back. She had curly hair, and lots of it, waiting to spring loose and bounce all around her shoulders.
She had that pale surface-calm-hiding-a-passionate-nature-beneath thing going, which he found extremely seductive. Erin expended her passion on her music. Man, did she expend it on her music. Every evening just about the time he'd like to sit down to a quiet dinner and watch the news, she started in with the violin. Passionately. Repetitively.
And, okay, he found it a little seductive.
So, yeah, he may have once had a passing interest in her, but she'd frozen him out and there was no sign of a thaw.
"Do you want to come in?" he asked.
Erin inhaled sharply. "No, you — you — oversexed cretin."
Yeah, she was here about the music. "Is this where I say, 'Ooo. I love it when you talk dirty'?"
She looked as though she wanted to take a swing at him but instead wrapped her arms across her chest and gave him a tight-jawed glare. "You've been playing Bolero for hours. You couldn't possibly have needed it that long."
"Oh, yes, I —"
"It kept me awake half the night and then I overslept and missed my chance for Antonio Zamora tickets!"VWho the hell was Antonio Zamora? It didn't matter. She was really upset. "I'm sorry."
"Sorry isn't good enough!"
"Sorry's all I've got."
"Well…well, get something else!"
A beat went by. "I'll let you yell at me some more. You can even come inside."
"No. I'm sure you're —" her gaze flicked down his chest "— busy."
All she needed was a church hat and some white gloves. He raised an arm and leaned against the doorjamb. "I can make time for you, sugar."
She took a step back as her nostrils flared. The nostril flaring was great, except that he really was in the wrong here. But he'd apologized already. What more did she want?
"This year, I only wanted two things," she answered. "Dining furniture and to hear Antonio Zamora in concert. It doesn't look like the dining furniture is going to happen, but I could live with that because I knew that I was going to get to hear Antonio Zamora. But thanks to you and your…your — why isn't there a male word for slutty? — activities, I'm not."
"Are you more upset about the noise or the sex?"
"I'm upset that you know I can hear you and you still…make noise."
"I can hear you, too, you know," he retorted.
"There's nothing to hear in my bedroom."
"I know. My condolences." He smirked.
She inhaled sharply and stepped back over the geranium pot.
Mick stepped outside. "Did it ever occur to you that I might like to work in peace during the early evening? That I might find it more convenient to avoid phone calls and interruptions in the quiet of my own home? That I might not like violin music?"
She tilted her chin. "It has occurred to me that you might lack the sophistication to appreciate violin music."
"Oh, I appreciate it. When it's played well. But you can't call that caterwauling I hear music."
Erin blinked and Mick had the impression that she hadn't realized he could hear her. What? Did she think sound waves only traveled in one direction?
"I will do my best to see that the sounds of students discovering the joy of music do not disturb you."
"I wasn't talking about the students." He instantly regretted his jibe. How did she manage to bring out this side of him?
She narrowed her eyes. "Clearly, the only way to resolve this situation is for one of us to move. I was here first, so I suggest you check with the manager for available vacancies on the other side of the complex, and we'll never have to hear each other again."
To be continued...