FIVE THINGS I LOVE ABOUT YOU (Chase Brothers #1)
Five things to love about NYC. But she only needs one...
California landscape artist Estelle Donovan hates big cities. Between the grime, the smell, all the drab concrete, and the suffocating summer heat, how can anyone breathe? Housesitting her brother’s New York apartment, complete with broken elevator and smoking air conditioner, is her kind of hell. It’s only for two weeks, though. What could possibly go wrong?
Dumping a jar of pickles on the hot girl at the grocery store wasn’t Crosby Chase’s finest hour, nor was getting bitten in the butt by the demonic cat on her fire escape. But he is going to change her mind about his beloved city, damn it. In fact, if they could just make it five minutes without falling into bed, he bets Estelle he can find five things she’ll love about New York.
Falling in love wasn’t part of his plan. And with an entire country between them, Crosby realizes he doesn't need five reasons to make Estelle love New York.
He needs one big reason to make her stay...
EXCERPT - Chapter One
Grocery store road rage.
It was a definite thing.
Estelle Donovan bit back a rather indelicate bout of profanity and made a silent vow not to earn a spot on the evening news before she made it out of the produce section. Unfortunately, that was in the hands of the very angry man who, after causing a collision with her shopping cart, had just dropped what had to be ten pounds of loose pistachios on the shiny, waxed floor. The nuts had hit the ground running, and she briefly wondered if she should follow suit. But despite the general discontent of pretty much everyone she’d encountered in this urban hell, she couldn’t bear to be that…impolite.
She stared at the red-faced elderly gent and wondered if he had an ounce of agility left. If so, she was screwed. “I’m sorry about your…nuts,” she sputtered. “Really sorry.”
“Beat it, lady.”
No need to tell her twice. Her survival instincts took over, and she put it in reverse to make her escape, wincing as shells crunched underfoot. Once clear of the ransacked display of loose nuts, she spun her cart to face the opposite direction, only to nearly take out a towering stack of Spaghetti-Os. What were they doing in the freaking produce section? Blowout Sale, the sign read. Mmkay. Putting them on sale did not make them produce. They belonged down one of those teeny, narrow aisles, crammed together like pretty much everything else in the land of asphalt and concrete.
She. Hated. Cities.
Her brother was off at some tech writer conference, and Estelle was spending her vacation at his place in New York City, thousands of miles from her west coast home. While her responsibilities withered in the California warmth without her, she was stuck babysitting a dreary apartment the size of a shoe box. One not stocked with the groceries Grady had promised. Not unless a half-full Chinese takeout container and half-empty bottle of ketchup qualified as “stocked” in these parts. And even if they did…they didn’t.
Estelle pulled up the list she’d made on her cell phone. She could have saved a lot of time and just written “everything,” but then she’d forget something essential. Something like jalapeños. Those were non-negotiable. She used pickled jalapeños like most people used salt or ketchup. Determined not to forget them, she made a beeline for the condiment aisle…which was blocked. While she waited for a woman with two screaming toddlers to maneuver out of the way, she consulted her list. It was a mile long.
One of the kids had a death grip on a now-misshapen box of sugar packaged as cereal. The kid’s reaction to his mother’s attempts to part him from it redefined “bloody murder,” and not one passerby raised a brow over the screams, which really had Estelle re-thinking her promise to live here, even temporarily.
She found an aisle that wasn’t completely clogged with shoppers and took it, grabbing stuff from the shelves as she went. She no longer cared if she spent a fortune or if her ingredients would even come together into something palatable. She just wanted to get out of there with food, and enough of it that she wouldn’t have to come back any time soon. A bargain bin of toothpaste near some canned goods had her thinking there needed to be a federal law that all grocery stores employ the same layout. This place made no sense.
She paused at the end of the detour aisle, wondering if the store sold wine. And if so, if she could drink it while waiting to check out. When Grady had asked her to apartment-sit for him, two weeks hadn’t sounded so bad. But that was before she’d found herself in a world of godawful concrete slabs bathed in the stench of sewage. All around her, skyscrapers closed in like giant, menacing walls. She had no idea how her brother could live in such an impersonal place. Not only was the city ugly and devoid of living greenery, but no one, absolutely no one, smiled. If anyone was happy to be there, they hid it well.
She found the pickle aisle but not the jalapeños. After an interminable search, serenaded by the screaming cereal kid parked one aisle over, she spied them on the bottom shelf. Perhaps the day could be saved after all. She knelt down in front of her shopping cart and touched heaven.
Then something exploded overhead.
She ducked, for what good it did, because explosions had a way of triggering that instinct in a person. Then she realized the source of the noise. The corner of her shopping cart had inexplicably rammed the upper shelf of pickle jars, sending several crashing to the floor in a smattering of broken glass and mutated cucumbers. And as she crouched there, clutching her hard-won jalapeños, she realized to her dismay that the front of her white T-shirt was soaked in pickle juice. Cold pickle juice.
She really should have worn a bra.
“Are you okay?”
She looked toward the sound of the voice, and, to her horror, found it belonged to absolute hotness. The man was utter devastation in well-worn jeans and a shirt that looked like it would have to be clawed off. Not that it was tight, but rather it fell against him just so to make no secret of the fact that dude was ripped. His biceps made a joke of his shirt-sleeves, and despite the way he leaned over her, his abs remained resolutely flat against what she could see of his waistband beneath the fabric. His jaw, requisitely square, hosted just enough stubble to promise delirium-inducing friction, which was beyond okay because sensual lips promised to soothe every ache.
He also had the greenest eyes she’d ever seen. Positively electric in their intensity, they focused on her.
Her and her pickle-juiced nipples.
Old man nutsack would just love this.
Tall-blond-and-tousled reached for her. When he touched her hand, he set off an explosion that she could practically see reflecting in his green eyes. “I’m sorry,” he said. “I didn’t see you down there…um, under your shopping cart.”
She let him help her to her feet, still struck mute by his ridiculously good looks. He seemed vaguely familiar, although considering how recently she’d arrived in the city, and her general avoidance of eye contact with strangers, she couldn’t imagine from where.
“So…you’re okay?” His expression suggested he’d already formed an opinion on that particular topic, but if he had, he let it go. Probably safer that way.
“Fine. Just…chilly.” Brilliant. The response just screamed look at my nipples. And of course he did. Long enough to heat her up, but not long enough for her nips to get the memo.
“If you’re sure,” he said, perhaps a bit cautiously. “I didn’t see you,” he repeated. “Not sure how I missed the shopping cart.”
“Um, I think the evidence indicates you absolutely did not miss my shopping cart.”
He grinned. It was beautiful. “Good point. Let me get someone to clean up this mess. Can you wait here so no one steps in it?”
“Sure thing. I’m due a little community service anyway after the thing with the guy and his nuts in the produce section.” Oh God, she was babbling. Stupidly perfect man. No one should be that flawless—it wasn’t right.
He scrubbed a hand across the faint stubble on his chin. “There was a thing with a guy and his nuts? In the produce section?”
“Yeah. But there’s just a thing in the pickle aisle now and…” She pointed to her shirt. Her shirt pointed back. “So, maybe hurry?”
“Done. Just…don’t touch the glass, okay?”
“Got it.” More greatness. Not only had she been relegated to serve as the wet floor sign, but she was so much of a disaster that Green Eyes could see it from a mile away. Too bad he hadn’t seen her so readily. And not just because she might have avoided the pickle juice debacle. Being noticed by a guy like him was every woman’s wet dream. She watched appreciatively as he walked off, all drool-worthy six-foot-something of him. Broad shoulders, narrow waist. V lines for days, she’d bet. A live stream of sweat traversing that man’s chest and abdominals would put Netflix out of business.
But that’s all she could do—watch appreciatively. She had a life to get back to. Important responsibilities she couldn’t let go of. Not to mention she loathed New York City, so falling for one of its inhabitants was just asking for trouble.
Look at her. One minute with Mr. Ridiculously Good-Looking, and she was acting like he’d just proposed marriage. She should know better. Anyone who looked air-brushed in real life had to have a serious flaw somewhere—chronically unemployed, a con artist, or living in his mother’s basement. Or gay, which wasn’t a flaw, per se—just a disappointment for straight women everywhere.
While she waited for the inevitable “cleanup on aisle four” to hit the PA, she studied the contents of her shopping cart. She needed wine. Lots and lots of wine. And laundry detergent. She had no idea if the machines in the apartment laundry were high efficiency, but the hope seemed a bit ambitious. The spacious apartment her brother promised her had turned out to be a one-room studio with an excellent view of a rusty fire escape. It had nothing on home, with its rolling mountain views and, most importantly, her parents’ memorial garden. Started by her mother as a community green space, the plot, which burst with seasonal blooms and butterflies, had been one of Estelle’s favorite spots as a child. When her parents passed away six years ago, her mother’s vision lived on through that garden, which bore her name and Estelle’s father’s. Estelle treasured every moment she spent among the thriving perennials and trees, most of which her mother had placed there herself.
The city made a miserable comparison, no matter how attractive some of its inhabitants.
Thanks to the heat-tinged blood cartwheeling through her veins, she knew Green Eyes was near her orbit before she saw him. She glanced up, barely registering the teenager with the mop and bucket who accompanied the gorgeous stranger.
Forget wine. She needed the hard stuff.
Once she was sure the kid had the scene secured and the green-eyed Boy Scout was preoccupied gathering shards of glass, she made a U-turn in the middle of the aisle and headed off in search of the remaining necessities, only a little disappointed her departure had gone unnoticed but mostly relieved to get out of his line of vision. It was just her luck to meet the god of all sex gods while smelling of pickle juice and sporting a see-through T-shirt.
She found the laundry detergent—high efficiency, just in case—and despite a craving for something a little stronger, she hit the wine aisle pretty hard. She’d need it to keep cool in that sweltering apartment.
She’d need it to forget about that sweltering man.
Five minutes later, she was in the checkout line with a cartload of nothing that would make a meal. Stupendous. There was always takeout, she supposed. She paid and the bag boy, who hadn’t quite stared at her pickled boobs the entire time he’d bagged her groceries, offered to help her to her car.
“No thanks,” she said. “I’ve got…” Oh, hell. She had a problem. A big one.
She didn’t have her car. It was on the other side of the country, parked on a concrete driveway in an oasis of lovely single-family homes with large grassy yards, where Spaghetti-Os weren’t considered produce.
The bag boy stared expectantly at her.
Behind her, in the line she should by now have vacated, the woman with the toddlers glared, oblivious to the fact that her two little darlings were tearing into bags of Skittles. The candies pinged all over the floor.
“I’ve got the bags.”
The response wasn’t hers. She looked up in surprise as Green Eyes swooped in and grabbed everything but the wine. Was he a stupidly handsome serial killer trying to follow her home? She was torn between whacking him with her purse and swooning when he began to walk away from the check stand. “Hey, wait.”
He didn’t look back, and it was a good thing. Her attention was involuntarily pegged on his ass, and she didn’t want to be caught staring. She’d had enough embarrassing moments for one day.
She picked up the wine and jogged five strides to catch up to him just outside the door.
“Um, hi there.”
He flashed a grin. “Hey.”
She started seeing spots, like she’d just stared at the sun. “Those are my groceries.” Please give them to me and go away before I make an idiot of myself.
“I know. I feel like a jerk for what happened earlier. Let me take them to your car. It’s the least I can do.”
“Well, my car is a few thousand miles from here.” She gestured wistfully toward the west and California. “I don’t think the ice cream will make it.”
He shifted the bags in his arms, causing his biceps to ripple. Perfectly. “Okay, so that’s probably not the least I can do. How are you getting these home?”
“I don’t know. Maybe I can leave some on the sidewalk and come back for them.” As if. Even she knew better than that.
He laughed. It was beautiful. Straight white teeth and a smile that made heavenly choirs sing.
“You can’t leave anything on the sidewalk,” he said. “It’ll be gone in a minute.”
“Well, that’s just a ringing endorsement for this neighborhood, isn’t it?”
He cocked his head. “Let me walk you home. Carry some groceries.”
Tempting. Soo tempting. His was the only smile she’d seen since her plane touched down, but rather than soothe her rattled, city-hating nerves, it spiked her suspicions. “Wait a minute. You don’t even have any groceries. What were you doing in the store?”
“I heard there was a thing with a guy and his nuts in produce.”
She blinked. “And that interested you?”
He laughed again. She waited expectantly for one of those beams of light to break through a cloud and spotlight him—he was just that amazing to look at—but there were no clouds. Just a hundred-and-thirteen degrees of sun radiating off a dirty, smelly city sidewalk.
“Scratch that,” he said. “I was trying to be charming, and that came out wrong. Truth is, I didn’t get your name, so I ditched my grocery list and stalked the exit until I saw you.”
“Stalked is not the best word choice here, especially considering you’re talking to someone who absolutely hates the city and everything in it.”
He tilted his blond head toward her, leading with his ear. “Come again?”
“I hate New York. There, I said it.” She braced herself. New Yorkers as a whole didn’t seem to get the fact that their city sucked.
He straightened, shooting her a look that clearly conveyed his disbelief. “No one hates New York. That’s not possible.”
“But…great theater. World-class museums. Indie bookstores in every neighborhood. The best pizza this side of the Atlantic. What’s not to love?”
“Smog, lack of sunshine, perpetually angry people with a sarcasm problem, and all the bloody traffic.” She ticked off all the reasons on the knuckles of the hand holding the wine. “Chewed-up gum covering every conceivable surface. No ocean. And notice I didn’t even mention the Yankees yet. Oh, and Donald Trump’s hair.”
He staggered in an exaggerated fashion, as if she’d hit him. “I should drop your groceries and run, since you just ripped my heart out and stomped on it, but I accept your challenge to prove that our fair city isn’t that terrible. Just to show that not all of us are—how did you put it?—angry people with a sarcasm problem, I’ll carry these home for you. I assume you came from an apartment?” When she nodded warily, he continued. “Don’t worry—I’ll wait outside until you make the last trip upstairs. I won’t be any different than the dozen other people who see you walk into the building, and you won’t have to choose between your ice cream and your wine.”
“That’s very nice of you, but your charm is wasted. I’m stuck here for two weeks and am literally counting the minutes until my flight home.”
“All the more reason to have some guilty pleasures on hand, then, isn’t it?” He flashed another stupidly perfect grin. “Lead the way, country girl, and I’ll follow.”