Kelsey glared at him. "Why didn't

you ​tell me you had a brain?"

Brett grinned. "Because brains are boring. I wanted you to love me for my body."

Moon Over Manhattan
A delightfully witty romantic comedy about a sexy, charismatic man who makes a cynical, plain-Jane cop believe in true love for the first time in her life...
For New York cop Kelsey Morrison, life is serious business, so she's had just about enough of her neighbor across the hall, Brett Hollister. He's too cheerful, too optimistic, too impulsive—and too sexy for his own good. She's watched him tending bar and flirting with every woman in sight, picking them up like most men pick up six-packs. No way is she going to become just one more notch on his already overcrowded bedpost!
Brett Hollister is looking for love, and he thinks Kelsey might be the woman for him in spite of her cop-like skepticism and her insistence that the glass is always half empty. But when his usual electric smile and charming banter fail to convince her that he's the man of her dreams, he gets a little help from his crazy family, his Godzilla-sized dog, a wicked pair of water guns, a Thermos full of wine, and enough hot sex to set the sheets on fire. If Brett has his way, he'll convince Kelsey that love is forever, and she's the one he wants to spend forever with.   



Kelsey Morrison slid down the wall to sit on the floor outside her apartment, wondering how long it would be before the super came to let her in. As usual, she'd jammed her key in the hundred-year-old lock of her apartment door and given it a few hard twists, praying it would open. This time she heard a clinkity-snap, and when she pulled the key back, half of it remained in the lock.
A perfectly awful finish to a perfectly awful trip.
Her tight Atlanta connection had turned out to be a nonissue. A wicked thunderstorm had shut down hundreds of flights. She'd been stuck in the airport overnight without her luggage, cussing herself the whole time for staying so long on the beach in Jamaica that when her shuttle showed up, she didn't have time to change out of the bridesmaid dress. She finally got a flight at noon, only to deplane when they discovered mechanical problems. On the flight she'd finally taken off on, she'd ended up in a middle seat. On one side was a man with shoulders the size of a linebacker's. He'd squashed her over to the other side, where a woman sat with a baby who screamed the entire trip. All Kelsey wanted to do now was get inside her apartment, hit the sack and go comatose.
Then she heard the whistling.
Oh, God. Not him. No, no, no!
She'd prayed he was out of town, or he'd already gotten home from work and was in his apartment for the evening. Anything but coming down the hall right now. Whistling. Zippidy Doo Dah? That song would make even a rainbow-hopping unicorn barf. Kelsey hated a lot of things about Brett Hollister, but his whistling topped the list.
He tended bar at Gianelli’s, where she and her cop partner Angi went at least once a week. He was a gin-slinging, joke-a-minute, shameless flirt of a bartender who irritated the crap out of her. When he was looking for a place to live, she'd made the mistake of telling him a few units were available in her building. The jerk had taken the apartment right across the hall, and he’d annoyed her ever since.
“Well, hey there, Morrison!” he said as he came up the hall. “Did the carbon monoxide alarm go off in your apartment again?”
Go away, Hollister. Just go the hell away!  “No,” she muttered. “I'm locked out.”
He stopped and stared down at her. “That dress is hot. Why don't you wear stuff like that more often?”
“Because I'm not in a wedding every day of the week.”
“You were a bridesmaid?”
“Bridesmaids' dresses are supposed to be ugly. This is not ugly.”
As he said that, his gaze slid down the V-shaped neckline of the dress to lodge right between her breasts.
“Oh, for God's sake, Hollister. Will you stop staring at me? What are you? Some kind of Pavlovian dog?”
He pulled his gaze back up again. “Sorry. I can't seem to help myself. Maybe if you'd wear dresses like this one more often, I'd get desensitized and wouldn't notice anymore.”
“No chance of that.”
“Of me getting desensitized?”
“Of me wearing a dress like this again.”
“So why are you still wearing it?”
“I stayed too long on the beach at the resort, and my shuttle showed up before I had time to change. So I wore the dress home, but I got stuck in Atlanta and didn't get a flight out until today. Now I'm locked out of my apartment.”
“Oops. That's what happens when you don't pay your rent.”
“If you must know, my key broke off in the lock. These doors and keys are a hundred years old. I'm waiting for the super. He said he'd be here soon.”
Brett laughed and reached for his own key.
“What’s so funny?” she asked.
“The Yankees are playing the Cardinals. Trust me--Edwin won't be leaving his apartment until the last out.”
Kelsey closed her eyes. Crap. Brett was right. Edwin was a bigger La-Z-Boy than the chair he sat in. A meteor could be hurtling toward earth, and as long as the Yankees were still on the field, Edwin would still be watching.
Brett unlocked his door. “Get in here, Morrison.”
“Wait in my apartment. Beats sitting in the hall. And I'll get you drunk. Then at least you'll forget about the awful things that happened.”
He held his hand out to her. She hesitated only a moment before accepting his help, but only because she was too tired to stand on her own. He pulled her to her feet. Brett was at least six two. Without shoes, the top of her head barely reached his chin. It was the first time she'd actually touched him. His hand felt warm. Big. Strong. And for some reason, it wasn't letting go of hers.
“Holy crap,” he said. “Where'd you get the black eye?”
She tried to pull her hand away.
“Nope,” he said. “Wait. Gotta see this up close.” He tilted his head, his brows drawing together. He smelled good. It was just the last few wafts of cologne or soap or something, but it mingled with a touch of sweat he must have gotten walking home from the bar into a mix that was the kind of guy smell she found totally intoxicating. And the fact that it came from Brett Hollister really irritated her.
“Okay,” he said. “Let's hear the story.”
She tried to yank her hand away again, but he held on.
“The story,” he said.
She rolled her eyes. “Bouquet toss. I got shoved out of the way by somebody who wanted it more than I did.”
“So why'd you want it so badly?”
“It wasn't about the bouquet. I'm just competitive. Have been all my life. When I was five, I got into a brawl with a boy over the last cupcake at a birthday party.”
“You got the cupcake, didn't you?”
He gave her a sexy smile. “Well, if there's anything I have that you want, just take it, okay?”
An image of Brett naked popped into her mind. Just like that, from one second to the next, so clearly she felt her face getting hot. She extracted her hand from his and snagged her shoes from the hall floor. Brett grabbed her suitcase, and she followed him into his apartment.
She'd been there twice before--once when his mail got messed up with hers, and once when his front door had been hanging open. She'd stood in his living room and yelled at him until he came out of his bedroom, sleepy and bedraggled, so she could make sure he hadn't been murdered in his sleep. But that was as far as their neighborly relationship went.
“Leave your door ajar,” she said. “I want to hear Edwin when he finally comes up here.”
Brett did as she asked, then headed for his kitchen. She looked around the apartment. Nope. It hadn't changed a bit. It looked like what might happen if a frat house and a flea market met, dated, got married, and had fifteen kids. Junk was everywhere. Piles of old books. A vintage stereo cabinet. Magazines. An oddball assortment of furniture that looked as if he'd cleaned out somebody's attic but couldn't bear to throw away the worst of it. A potato chip sack on the end table. The only thing that was out of place with his twentieth-century landfill decor was a TV the size of an IMAX screen.
And then there was Boomer.
Out of Brett's bedroom came an animal that was part dog and part wooly mammoth, with paws the size of dinner plates. He lumbered toward Kelsey, then came to a clumsy halt. He stared up at her. She stared back. Then he slurped his germy dog tongue right up her arm.
“Good Lord,” Kelsey muttered, holding her arm slimed with dog spit away from her side. “That's disgusting.”
“Hey, Boomer!” Brett said, as he tossed a dish towel to Kelsey. “Back off! If you don't learn to read women's moods, you'll never get a girl.”
“Like you're good at reading women's moods?” Kelsey said, wiping dog spit off her arm. “I'm pissed because I'm locked out of my apartment, and you’re all smiles.”
“I don't need sensitivity,” Brett said, nodding toward a liquor bottle. “I have alcohol.”
Brett threw Boomer a chew toy that looked like a brontosaurus bone. The dog dragged it to his enormous bed to gnaw on it.
“You have to do something about that dog,” Kelsey said as she sat down, brushing a wad of dog hair off her dress.
“That's funny. He thinks I need to do something about you.”
Kelsey frowned. “Like what?”
“Well, if you must know my dog's opinion, he thinks you need to lighten up.”
“I don't need to lighten up. The things that piss me off just need to go away.”
She looked at Boomer, who had turned upside down with the dinosaur bone sticking out of either side of his mouth, which was curled up in a happy doggy smile.
“Your dog is a moron,” she said.
“Nope. He’s just considerate enough not to flaunt his enormous brain power among those less gifted.”
Brett handed Kelsey a drink in a tall, narrow glass. It was blue with something pinky-red floating on top. More than twenty-four hours had passed since her last drink, so she wouldn’t be violating her two-drink maximum per day if she took a few sips. She looked at it warily. “It looks like it needs one of those little umbrellas.”
“Sorry. Fresh out of umbrellas. Just drink.”
She took a sip. It was heaven in a glass. “Okay, that's good. What's in it?”
“Trade secret.”
As she took a long drink from the straw, he sat next to her with a bottle of beer, kicked off his shoes, and put his feet on the coffee table. His big feet. His enormous feet. She wondered if it was true what they said, that the size of a guy's feet was an indication of the size of his--
“So how was the wedding?” Brett asked.
Kelsey blinked. “Huh?”
“The wedding. How was it?”
“Oh. There wasn't one.”
“Okay. There's a story there, too."
"Sarah left her fiance for his brother."
"At the wedding?" Brett's eyebrows rose. "Forgive me for saying so, but she sounds a little unhinged."
"No. She was unhinged when she got engaged to Randall. Nick showing up brought her back to her senses."
"All's well that ends well, right?"
"It hasn't ended yet. They won't be married in five years.”
Brett took a sip of his beer. “Do you know something they don't?”
“Statistics say half the people in this country are heading to divorce court.”
“What's with the bad attitude about marriage?” Brett asked.
“It's not a bad attitude. It's just factual.”
“Your glass is half empty.”
“Oh, will you knock it off? That's just what overly optimistic people say to make realistic people feel as if there's something wrong with them.”
“No, Kelsey. Your glass. It's half empty.”
She looked at her drink. Damn. She'd finished half of it already?
Maybe that wasn't a bad thing. Rum made her crabby and gave her a headache, but this drink made her feel as if she was floating a foot above the sofa.
She set the glass on the coffee table. “Marriage may be right for some women, but it's not right for me. I don't want to get married.”
“Really? I'd love to get married some day.”
“Right. Some day. That's bachelor-speak for when hell freezes over.”
“Well, then. I hope hell freezes over pretty soon, or I may never get married.”
“You're so full of crap,” Kelsey said. “Men like you can have their pick of women. If you really did want to get married, you'd have done it by now.”
“Men like me?”
Oh, hell. What was she supposed to say to that? You know. You're one of those hot guys women can't stop looking at? If his ego wasn't already off the charts, that would sure as hell send it there.
“Never mind.” She looked back at the drink. It was so good. And it looked so lonely all the way over there on the coffee table. But it wasn't as if she had no self-control. She would wait two more minutes. Just two, and then she could--
“Will you just drink it?” Brett said.
Kelsey blinked. “What?”
“You're dying for more of that drink.”
She turned away. “I've had too much already.”
“You know how I feel about self-deprivation,” Brett said. “You and your nonfat White Russians.” He shuddered a little just to make his point.
“Yeah?” she said. “Well, we’ll see who has clogged arteries when we’re sixty. Hint—it’s not going to be me.”
“God, Kelsey! It’s painful to make a White Russian without cream.”
“Overindulgence sucks. I’m always sorry the next day.”
“You could die tomorrow. Look what you would have missed.”
“That’s such a lousy argument. I’m supposed to do bad things today on the off chance I get hit by a bus tomorrow?”
He grabbed her glass and handed it to her. “Drink.”
“Oh, all right.” She took a single long draw on the straw and then set the empty glass on the table. The pinky‑blue liquid settled in her stomach like a golden ray of sunshine.
“See?” Brett said. “There's nothing like a little relaxation.”
His words should have irritated her. Instead they seemed to buzz softly inside her ears, like lazy honeybees wafting from flower to flower. If he'd been a radio announcer instead of a man who lived to annoy her, she could have listened to him all night.
“Tell me why you're so against marriage,” he said in that warm, mellow voice.
“Because I have issues, of course,” she said flippantly. “Isn't that the usual reason?”
“What issues?”
“Why are you asking?”
“Because somewhere along the line you got things a little messed up. Two people making a commitment to be together forever, for better or worse, in sickness and in health, forsaking all others…what could possibly be wrong with that?”
She looked at him with disbelief. “Are you for real?”
“So you don't believe in love?”
It wasn't that she didn't believe in love. It had just never happened for her. So…okay. It was a little hard to believe in. But to hear a man spouting this kind of nonsense? What was he doing? Quoting his Match dot com profile?
“Next you're going to tell me you like sipping wine by a fireplace and taking long walks in the woods,” she said.
He made a face. “No way.”
“Well, thank God.”
“I like beer by a fireplace and long walks on the beach.”

He gave her that trademark smile, and it was all she could do not to melt all over his dusty hardwood floors. She’d once told Angi she didn't think Brett was nearly as hot as every other woman on the planet thought he was. Angi told her she had to be blind. Or a lesbian. Or a blind lesbian. But the truth was that Brett was hot. He was a definite nine. If he ever learned to shut the hell up, she'd have to upgrade him to a perfect ten.
But even if she were to think seriously about marriage, would she even consider a man like him? One whose life consisted of slinging drinks and flirting with anything female, with no apparent desire to do anything else?
Just then Kelsey heard brakes squealing, a horn honking, and angry shouts. Even five stories up with the window open they could hear Cab Driver Wars raging on the street below. Brett cocked his head, listening for a moment. “No gunshots. That’s good.”
“New York sucks,” Kelsey said. “I live it all day and then listen to it all night.”
“I can fix that.”
Brett rose from the sofa and lowered the window, muffling the outside noise. Then he pulled an ancient 33 RPM record from its album case and put it on the stereo. She didn’t recognize the song, probably because she wasn’t a hundred and twelve years old. He tended bar in a place that played up-to-the-minute hits, so what was with the grandpa music? Still, she had to admit that after all her rushing around to get home from Jamaica, it felt kind of nice. Sweet. Soothing. Peaceful.
Brett returned to the sofa, but instead of sitting, he held out his hand. “Come on. Let’s dance.”
Kelsey’s heart smacked the inside of her chest. “Here?”
“Oh, hell no,” she said, holding up her palm. “I’m not dancing.”
“Why not?”
“It’s not my thing.”
And still he held out his hand.
“Will you just sit down?” she said.
“Nope. I always get what I want.”
“By annoying the crap out of people?”
“If I have to.”
She huffed with irritation. “Okay. Fine. If you must know, I don’t know how to dance. I’ve never done it in my life.”
“Nothing to it.”
He grabbed her hand, and before she knew it, he’d pulled her to her feet. The instant she stood, her lack of decent sleep over the past twenty-four hours made the pinky‑blue liquid go straight to her head. She teetered a little. Brett slipped his arm around her waist to steady her. She closed her eyes for a moment, but that only made her wobble more. When she opened them again, he was looking down at her and smiling. That made her really uncomfortable, so she shifted her gaze to stare at his chest instead. Brett placed her hand on his shoulder, taking her other hand in his at the same time. He eased her up next to him, coaxing her to move to the music.
“Did I tell you this dress is gorgeous?” he said.
“Yeah. You mentioned that.”
“I like your hair down. You should wear it this way more often.”
“I’m a cop. It gets in the way.”
“So cut it shorter.”
“Too much maintenance. I hate curling irons and all that other stuff.”
“Fine. Leave it long.” He stroked his hand down its length. “But at least when you’re off the job, wear it down. I like it.”
“Stop with the compliments. It makes me think you’re up to something.”
“Yeah?” he said smoothly. “Like what?”
She wasn’t dumb enough to think he was that dumb. Oh, no. He was that smart. Smart enough to engage her ears with the music, her nose with the up-close scent of him, her eyes with the sight of his broad, beautiful chest, and her nerves with the feel of his thumb stroking a surprisingly tender spot at the small of her back. When he moved that hand up to tuck it beneath her hair, teasing his fingertips along the back of her neck, and she couldn’t deny it any longer.
He’s coming on to you.
The very thought made her throb in places that hadn’t throbbed in a very long time. Then a maddening little voice in the back of her mind interrupted her feel-good moment. Brett Hollister is a very bad man. Take a bite of that apple, and you’ll wish you hadn’t.
Then the alcohol started in. Will you stop listening to yourself? What has that ever done for your social life? Trust me on this. I’m Alcohol. I know all about feeling good. And you want to feel good. You know you do.
But she wasn’t Brett’s type. Not by a long shot. She wasn’t one of the hot-bodied women who flitted around his bar with mattresses strapped to their backs, waiting for opportunity to strike. She had way more self respect than that. But those women weren’t the only ones looking for opportunity. Brett had probably failed to get lucky after his shift, and now she was handy, she was female, and she was breathing. What more did a man like him need in order to go for it?
It was time to leave. Now, before this went any further. Until Edwin fixed her lock, she could sit at the corner Starbucks, have her usual tall nonfat sugar-free caramel macchiato, and congratulate herself for coming to her senses.
But just as she was about to pull away from Brett, she heard something oddly familiar. It had been almost hidden in the instrumental arrangement of the song playing on the stereo. But now it was just that instrument alone, and she could hear it clearly.
A guitar. An acoustic guitar, whose clear, sweet notes tripped a memory inside her, one hidden for so long it had almost slipped away. A memory that took her back twenty years to a time when a simple melody played on a guitar had been her only restful island in a churning sea of chaos and anger.
“The guitar,” she whispered.
“What about it?”
“It’s beautiful.”
For several seconds, she heard nothing but the gentle plucking of those guitar strings. It was as if all the cars and taxis and Mrs. Paxton’s Chihuahua and neighbors’ too-loud TVs faded away into nothingness.
“So you like guitar music?” he said softly.
“I love it,” she said, as the music carried her away. Other thoughts tried to edge their way in, memories she wished would disappear forever. But when she was with Brett like this, it was easy to push them aside and remember only the sound of that guitar.
“I could listen to it all night," she said on a sigh.
“All night is fine with me.”
As they moved in sync, he pulled her even closer, until her body pressed against his in all the right places. The world spun slower and slower, until every second seemed singular and special. I could do this forever. Quit my job, stop eating, stop drinking, stop everything on earth except this.
The song wound down, its last mournful notes lingering momentarily, then fading away. Brett stopped and stood motionless, his hands still on her. Then slowly he eased away to look down at her. She turned her gaze up to meet his, and her mouth went dry as dust. He had the most astonishing blue eyes. Her pulse picked up, her heart making every effort to beat its way right out of her chest. It felt good to be right up next to him like this. Really good. So damned good, in fact, that she made a decision.
Alcohol, I love you. Conscience, go to hell.
Then all at once she heard a crackling noise. She spun around to find Edwin standing at Brett's apartment door. He wore baggy gray sweat pants, sheepskin-lined house shoes, and a Yankees T‑shirt with his hairy belly peeking out from beneath the hem. He was holding a bag of Cheetos.

“Edwin!” Brett said. “How long have you been standing there?”
“Long enough.”
“What are you doing here? The Yankees are playing!”
“It was a blowout in the fifth inning.” He walked over to where they stood. “I pulled out the broken key,” he told Kelsey. “Here's another one. Had a spare for that apartment.”
“Go away,” Brett snapped.
“No way,” Edwin said, shoving another handful of Cheetos into his mouth, looking back and forth between them. “This is getting good.”
“I'll give you twenty bucks tomorrow if you'll go away now.”
“Oh. Well, when you put it that way...” Edwin started toward the door, only to turn back. “Are you fucking with me about the twenty? If you're fucking with me--”
“Damn it, Edwin! I'm good for the twenty bucks! Will you go?”

Edwin left the apartment, and Brett turned to Kelsey with a warm, inviting smile. “Okay, now. Where were we?”
Reality poured over Kelsey like a cold rain. What had she been thinking?
She knew what this was all about. Brett just wanted to know every woman he came into contact with wanted him. Well, she had news for him. She didn’t want him. She had a lot going for her, but most of it was between her ears. Why would she spend one more minute with a man whose only goal in life was to get laid as often as possible?
She brushed past Brett. “I was following Edwin out the door.”
“You don't have to leave.”
“My apartment lock is fixed.”
“Which still doesn’t mean you have to leave.”
She kept walking. When she was almost to the door, he shouted at her. “Kelsey!”
She turned back, her lips pursed with irritation. “What?”
“Your luggage?”
Damn. She backtracked and grabbed her suitcase. When she was almost out the door again, he said, “Your shoes?”
She went back and grabbed her shoes, making every effort to avoid those stunning blue eyes again. She was smart enough to know her weaknesses, and those eyes were pure Kryptonite.
“See you Tuesday night at Gianelli’s,” Brett said.
Kelsey spun back around. “What?”
“You and Angi always come in on Tuesdays. Four-dollar cocktails and half price appetizers.”
“And you know Angi will want to be there. It’s Paul’s divorce day.”
Oh, God. He was right. Angi had recently acquired the hots for Paul Schanbaum, one of the waiters at Gianelli’s. He seemed to be interested in Angi, but he was so scared of his soon to be ex‑wife that until the ink was dry on his divorce papers, he wasn’t chancing any kind of encounter. If Angi had her way, that would change on Tuesday.
“Angi can fend for herself,” Kelsey said.
“Nope. You know she hates to sit at the bar alone. Says it makes her feel like a cheap hooker drumming up business.” That smile again. “So I guess I’ll see you there?”
Kelsey hated that he was right. Hated it. If she didn’t go with Angi tomorrow night, she’d probably get an elbow to her other eye.
Without another word to Brett, she hurried across the hall to her apartment, telling herself that what Angi wanted didn’t matter. The very fact that Brett asked her if she was coming meant she had no intention of going. What did he expect her to do? Join the ranks of women who surrounded him at the bar and got all giggly every time he looked their way?
Nope. Whether Angi liked it or not, she was staying home on Tuesday night, and that was that.
* * * 
No doubt about it. Edwin's timing sucked.
Brett tossed his beer bottle into the trash and Kelsey’s glass into the dishwasher, wondering once again if it was even possible to get past the roadblocks that woman shoved in front of him.
“Boomer?” he said. “What’s the deal with us and Kelsey? I thought we were irresistible.”
Boomer turned over in his bed and sat up, panting blissfully. If only Kelsey hung on his every word the way Boomer did, he might be able to get somewhere with her. Instead she treated him as if he had a communicable disease. So why couldn’t he get her out of his mind?
Brett remembered a time in high school when he’d brought home one of his girlfriends for dinner. She was tall and model‑thin, wearing tiny shorts that barely covered the little round globes of her ass. She’d spent most of dinner shoving her food around on her plate as if she was anorexic, talking about how it was her goal to enter the Miss White Plains pageant. She figured she’d be a shoo-in because she had naturally blond hair and could twirl her batons while they were on fire. The fourteen hours she’d spent playing with the puppies and kittens at the Westchester SPCA would only be icing on the cake—the judges loved that community service thing. And then, of course, it would be on to Miss New York.
After she left, Brett’s brain focused on only one thing: what it might take to talk that little blonde into the backseat of his car and out of those microscopic shorts. And the whole time, every nerve in his seventeen-year-old body shouted, I’m in love, I’m in love, I’m in LOVE! But then his father looked over the top of his bifocals and said the strangest thing.
“Son? Did you know your mother can tie a square knot?”
Brett came off cloud nine and resented every moment of it. But when Frank Hollister spoke, most people listened, and his sons certainly weren’t exempt. “Uh…no, Dad, I didn’t know that.”
“Administer CPR?”
“Didn’t know that, either.”
“She can do the New York Times crossword puzzle. Every last bit of it. In pen. Are you catching my drift?”
“Not really.”
His father leaned forward. “If the apocalypse came, your mother would hike to the Alaska wilderness if that was what was necessary to save her family. And she wouldn’t be dragging a blow dryer with her, looking for an electrical outlet. Do you hear me?”
He heard. He just didn’t get it. “Uh…Dad? Is there a reason you’re telling me all this?”
“No way would your mother have ever been Miss New York. But she makes a damned fine Mrs. Hollister.” He skewered Brett with a no‑nonsense look. “There are girls you have fun with, and there are girls you marry. For God’s sake, son, when the time comes, don’t confuse the two.”
Brett spent the next several years ignoring his father’s advice, right up to the time he dated a woman who thought there were fifty cards in a deck and fifty two states in the union. After that, no matter how hot the woman or how good the sex, he thought back to what his father said and realized the man had a point.
Then he’d met Kelsey.
She came to Gianelli's at least once a week with her best friend and partner, Angi Clarkson. Angi was a woman Brett would never have taken for a cop if she hadn’t dropped by once in uniform. She looked like Law Enforcement Barbie, complete with bleach blond hair, cherry‑red nails, and bronzed skin that came from a “thirty days for thirty dollars” promo at Blazing Bodies Tanning Salon.
Kelsey, on the other hand, wore practical, non‑girly clothes. She had beautiful golden‑brown hair, but she always wore it shoved back in a low ponytail, and she was a stranger to all but the slightest bit of makeup. But there was a glow about her that was unmistakable, and even though she didn’t dress to thrill, he could still tell there was a body beneath her utilitarian clothes he wanted to see more of.

The dress she’d worn tonight had proven that.
Because she was the kind of woman who could disappear in a crowd of two, at first he’d barely noticed her. Then one evening she ordered a White Russian, telling him she wanted him to make it with nonfat milk. He gave her an indulgent smile and told her she needed to stop depriving herself. He only made White Russians with cream, so if she wanted nonfat milk in a drink, she needed to go to Starbucks. She matched his smile and told him it was his job to make his customers happy, and if he insisted on doing crap like making her a White Russian with cream, he’d eventually end up in the unemployment line.

Under normal circumstances, he could hand a woman a glass of motor oil and she’d drink it. Not Kelsey. In the end, she’d gotten her nonfat White Russian, and he’d felt a tiny surge of interest he hadn’t expected.
In the ensuing weeks, they argued over politics, religion, the possibility of life on Mars, iPhone versus Android, immigration, the virtues of various laundry stain removers, Bigfoot, and whatever YouTube video went viral that day. But even when she disagreed with nearly every word he said, her intelligence and quick wit shone through. Against all odds, the more she snubbed him, the more he wanted to be around her. Then he moved into her building and found out there was more to her than he ever imagined.
He saw her knocking on her elderly neighbors’ doors with groceries in hand. Overheard her having tough-love words with teenagers who were skirting the law. He listened to other tenants’ stories about how she’d confronted the management when the security in their building wasn’t sufficient. She did things quietly, under the radar, the way people did when it was just part of who they were, and before long his infatuation had become a full‑fledged obsession.
A few weeks ago, he tried to ask her out. Naturally, he used the same charming, gotta‑love‑me approach he’d been using to get girls since he was fourteen years old. He literally didn’t get the words out of his mouth before she gave him a dirty look and told him to stop messing with her. It shocked him so much that he clamped his mouth shut and retreated down the bar to find another woman to flirt with, just to make sure he hadn’t lost his touch. As it turned out, he still had it, but Kelsey wasn’t buying it. For the first time in his life, a woman intimidated him, and he just didn’t know what to do about it. He told himself he needed to move on to another woman who was easier to get, but a little voice inside his head kept whispering, She’s different. Don’t give up. She might be the one.
Tonight he’d been handed an opportunity on a silver platter, and he’d done everything he could to make the most of it. Then Edwin had screwed it all up. Brett had managed to slip inside Kelsey’s space and shake her up a little, but once the spell was broken, her cynicism had kicked in again and the walls came up. He just didn’t understand it. How could a woman who gave so much to others be so wary of taking anything for herself?
But Brett wasn't backing down, and he wasn't giving up. Kelsey was the real deal, the kind of woman he'd been looking for his whole life. She didn't know it yet, but before it was all over, she was going to want him every bit as much as he wanted her.