He was in pique form and, as a result, impossible to look away from. I had to wonder if I was really awake. Maybe I was dreaming and none of this was real. Everything about this very much felt like the beginning of a bad porno. Did I fall asleep watching PornHub again and now thoughts of frisky maintenance men were seeping into my subconscious? I sincerely hoped not. And if that was the case, why was I dreaming of Joe?
He cleared his throat. “I wanted to know how you were doing. You settling in okay? Need anything?”
“Everything’s great,” I lied easily.
“Oh, okay. That’s… That’s good. Well, bye.”
A breath caught in my lungs as I took a step forward, quickly placing a hand on his rock-hard bicep. “Wait!” I called after him.
Joe stopped immediately, looking as surprised as I felt. “Yeah?”
“You don’t happen to know how to… I don’t know. Fix things, do you?”
“I’m a mechanic,” he stated like the most obvious thing in the world. “I can fix anything.”
The corners of my lips twisted up into a smile. “Do you think you can take a look at a few things?” I gestured toward the window. “It doesn’t open up very wide. And the radiator’s super noisy.”
“That’s all?” Joe shrugged a shoulder. “Easy.”
“And the kitchen sink takes forever to drain. I let the landlord know, but he hasn’t gotten back to me yet.”
“I can stop by later with my toolbox, if you’d like.”
“Yeah?” I giggled, entranced by the sly grin he wore. Who gave him the right to look so distressingly handsome?
“Yeah,” he confirmed.
“Thanks, Joe. I’d really appreciate that.”
“Not a problem, Terri. I’ll be back in a few minutes.”
When I returned with my toolbox, the door had been propped open for me. It was a thoughtful thing to do, so I don’t know why I took such issue with Terri leaving her door unlocked. This was a relatively safe part of town, but it was still very much a possibility for a random stranger to force his way in. I didn’t like the idea of Terri being so open and welcoming, but I thought better of telling her off. She was a grown woman now, but I silently wished she’d be more careful. I couldn’t stand the thought of someone take advantage of someone so beautiful and sweet.
There were actually several things wrong with the apartment. In addition to the issues Terri pointed out, there were several of the lightbulbs in the hallway needed changing, the hood fan over the stove needed new filters, the hinges on bathroom door needed greasing, and the double-light switch in the living room was wired wrong, so the switches stood opposite to one another. The last thing wasn’t really that big of a deal, it was just something that bothered me to no end.
I was knelt down in front of the radiator, testing to see the responsiveness of the valves. It creaked and groaned in protest. The faint rattling of something metallic inside the pipes caught my attention. Considering how old the building was, I wouldn’t be surprised if the sound was the result of a loose screw or dirt build up. Still, it was a little disappointing that Terri had moved into an apartment in such poor condition. I felt a little guilty for suggesting the place to begin with, but Max had made it very clear that it was important that she find a place to live as soon as possible. I didn’t ask for details, had no need for questions. I’d grown up with the Catos, so we were practically family. And if there was one thing I held in highest priority; it was family.
So it was understandably weird for me when I could feel her eyes on me, heated gaze raking over my body as I moved to work on the window. Terri tried to appear busy, unpacking the few remaining boxes that she’d stacked on her rickety dining table. Every time I happened to look up, I managed to catch Terri glancing away, cheeks adorably red. I told myself it was because the apartment felt like a million degrees, no thanks to the window that refused to open. Deep down, though, I could recognize something electric in the air. I found myself wanting to know more, drawn to her like a moth to a flame. Where had she been? How’d she been doing? What was she doing back?
“Do you want to grab drinks?” I asked instead of the other burning questions plaguing my thoughts. “Tonight. With me.”
“I can’t, I’m sorry,” she answered immediately.
“Oh,” I mumbled. “That’s cool. No big deal.”
I dug a can of WD-40 out of my toolbox and applied some of the substance on the rusted lock. It had sealed itself shut after years of negligence which was why the window refused to open. With the edge of a utility knife, I diligently scraped at the loosened chunks of rust.