Page 15 of I Promise You

She pauses. “Fine, but my steps are narrow.”

“I can handle it,” I say as I head up the driveway, eyeing the myriad of rickety wooden stairs that lead to a blue door on the second floor of the garage. The steps are narrow, some missing, and I hear the telltale groan of the wood as I climb. Her footsteps pad behind me.

I reach the top landing, and the tall trees next to the garage hide the moon, making the night almost pitch black. I notice a blown bulb inside a rusted porch light that hangs off the wall. She needs to get that fixed. What if she trips and falls off this deck one night?

The area in front of her door is small, the landing barely wide enough for us to stand without touching, but somehow Serena manages, muttering about forgetting her car keys as she eases around me and leans down to pick up a little gnome, grab a key, and put it in the lock. She cracks her door, keeping it closed so I can’t see inside.

“You need a porch light, Serena,” I say, worried for her safety, even though I sense she’s the kind of girl who knows how to take care of herself. “You shouldn’t leave your key out for anybody to find.”

“Thanks for the tip, Douglas.”

I lean down until our faces are close and our breaths mingle in the night air. She smells like cherries. “You’re gonna run out of D names soon.”

“I’ll buy a baby name book, lacrosse player.” Her lips purse.

And my dick is a steel pipe.

I. Am. Insane.

“Open the door so I can set this beer down. Please.”

She frowns. “You’re sweating. What’s wrong with you?”

I am sweating. The ride here was a little surreal, me hanging on to every word she said, watching her face in the mirror. My shirt feels sticky, and my heartbeat is faster than normal. A clawing feeling is growing in my gut, the sense that I’m about to get my world rocked. I feel light-headed. I eye the distance to the concrete below. If I fall…

I lick my lips, about to tell her she’s what’s wrong with me—

“Babycakes, you coming? Don’t forget we’re playing darts tonight to see who gets a kiss, and my aim is feeling lucky—”

Frustration rushes at me. Can’t I have any alone time?! “Give me a minute!” I call back at Ashley, who’s obviously gotten out of the car.

Serena crosses her arms. “Ashley the redhead, Bambi the brunette, and Chantal the blonde. You’re toying with them. They’re nice women—well, the jury is still out on Ashley. She kept giving me the evil eye, but still, you are ridiculous!”

I’m part of a contest I wanted nothing to do with, but I refuse to defend myself.

She knocks open her door with her boot, making a loud clattering sound. “You want to come in? Help yourself, Casanova.”

I shoulder past her and she clicks a light on behind me, illuminating the small apartment. I take a steadying breath of the cool air inside and look around, willing my chest to slow down. It’s apparent she’s put work into the interior, the walls a pale blue color featuring graphic artwork from the Beatles and Pink Floyd. A retro orange velour sofa sits against the window with pops of bright pink pillows. A green puffy chair sits in the corner, a basket of knitting supplies beside it, and a sewing machine sits on a desk beneath a window that overlooks the backyard. The place has a funky vibe and is fastidiously clean, yet cluttered with books and papers and magazines stacked on the coffee table. I see a collection of old albums. A laptop gleams from an end table. Two closed doors head to the right; I imagine it’s her bedroom and a bathroom. Her kitchen is tiny, only a table with two modern looking chairs, a little stove, and a pink fridge that looks like it came from the fifties. Marching in, I set her groceries on the kitchen table and pivot around to face her, but she’s already brushing past me to grab two of the bags.

She thrusts them at me, the clink of glass echoing in the quiet. “Here, take your beer, please. I doubt I’ll drink it.” She pauses and says grudgingly, “It was petty of me to buy them all.”

I can’t move. I’m rooted to the black and white linoleum tile on her floor as I stare at her. My chest rises, inhaling gulps of air. She took off her hat at the door, or somewhere, and pulled her hair out of her ponytail. Gleaming brown, copper, and blonde strands spill around her shoulders. Three colors in anyone’s hair should be over the top, but on her it’s…

My eyes scan over her face, clearly lit by the fluorescent lights in the apartment.

Tags: Ilsa Madden-Mills Romance