He bed was unmade with charcoal gray sheets and a fluffy white down comforter. It looked very inviting.

Cohen studied me for a second. “Do you…need anything to wear?” He looked down at my jeans.

“Oh. No thanks.” I remembered I had on my sleeping shorts underneath the jeans, and began removing them.

Cohen dropped his eyes, seemingly uncomfortable with watching me undress. I folded my jeans neatly and laid them on the floor beside the bed. I started to crawl into the bed when Cohen’s hand on my elbow stopped me.

“The other side, sweetheart.”

Oh. I scooted over to the other side of the bed, nearest the wall.

He yanked his T-shirt off over his head and stripped down to his black boxer briefs. I caught a glimpse of his smooth, tanned skin, just before he crawled in next to me and covered himself with the sheet.

I sensed something had changed between us; the air felt thick and heavy. “Sorry, I didn’t know I was taking your side,” I whispered in the darkness.

“It’s okay. I’d prefer to sleep closest to the door. That way if anyone breaks in they have to get through me first.”

Aw. It was a strange notion, but I liked his protective instincts. He was a sweet guy. I didn’t usually hang out with many of those. Maybe it had to do with him being a firefighter.

I rolled over on my side and pulled the comforter securely around me, settling in for the night.

Chapter 3

The next morning Cohen stood guard while I dashed inside my apartment to grab a change of clothes and my laptop. We didn’t see the bat, but I was glad to have him with me just the same.

He didn’t have class until later, so I thanked him for the previous night, and he headed back upstairs to make coffee, while I began the twenty-minute walk to campus.

Despite only getting a few hours of sleep and overindulging on wine, I felt more well-rested than I usually did. Cohen’s bed was ridiculously comfortable. And I felt safe with him there. I was used to living alone, but that didn’t mean that occasionally I wasn’t woken in the night by an unknown noise and was unable to get back to sleep. And was he an absolute gentleman—staying on his own side and pretty much ignoring me completely. I’d slept like a baby in Cohen’s bed. Which was strange, since I made it a point not to stay over with guys I slept with. I might fall asleep after sex, but I’d always wake in the middle of the night and slip out of bed unnoticed. Maybe that was why I’d been comfortable staying with Cohen, because we hadn’t been intimate. I shrugged the thought away.

I spent the entire day working in the library on my research paper, only stopping for coffee refills and to grab a sandwich from a deli across the street. By six o’clock I was hungry again and in need of a long, hot soak in my jetted tub.

I secured my laptop bag across my chest and set off for the walk home. I checked my phone for messages again, hoping to have an update from my landlord about the bat situation. I was scrolling through text messages when I collided against something solid. I let out a groan and quickly looked up to see who—or what—I’d run into.

It was Cohen. He was out for a run with that damn dog. Bob. It was panting loudly and wagging its tail.

“Hey, Eliza.” Cohen reached out and steadied my shoulders.

“Liz,” I huffed, righting myself.

“Sorry, Bob got excited when he saw you.” Cohen pulled back on the leash, tightening it to hold the dog back from me.

“No—my fault. I was trying to see if I had any messages from our landlord.”

“Oh, he stopped by today. We couldn’t find the bat, but we sealed up your chimney flue.”

“We?”

“I didn’t have class at the time, so I helped him. You have a really nice place, by the way.”

“Oh, thanks.”

We stared at each other for a few seconds. He looked adorably sexy in his loose-fitting gym shorts and vintage band tee.

“So the bat could still be in there?” I dodged Bob’s overeager advance toward me.

Cohen tugged his leash to keep him in line. Bob sat on the ground at our feet. “Could be. But he probably got out the same way he got in.”

“Okay. Well, thanks. I guess I get to sleep in my own bed tonight.”

“Guess so,” he said. I couldn’t help but notice his voice was laced with the slightest bit of disappointment.

When I got home, I did a room-by-room check for the bat, then fed Sugar and Honey Bear who were circling my ankles and meowing eagerly for their dinner. I needed to make myself dinner, but figured a nice hot bath would relax me first. I grabbed a handful of almonds to tide me over and made my way upstairs, munching as I went. I filled the porcelain tub and added my oatmeal lavender bath salts and sank down into the water.

I rested my head against the edge of the tub and breathed in the lavender scent. As the warm water caressed my curves, I couldn’t help my mind from wandering to the apartment above mine and a certain off-limits hottie who resided there, seemingly just out of reach.

My few interactions with him had left me curious and wanting more. I wondered about the girlfriend he spoke of, and about his job as a firefighter. Picturing his buff body dressed in a firemen’s uniform sent a tingle across my skin, and I closed my eyes, sinking further into the water to enjoy my naughty daydream.

After my bath I felt refreshed, busied myself in the kitchen. I loved to cook, but rarely made anything elaborate for myself.

I gathered armfuls of ingredients from the fridge and cabinets while my mind wandered upstairs to Cohen and wondered if he’d eaten. I could cook for him as a thank you for dealing with the bat and sealing up my chimney flue. But I didn’t want to seem too overeager, and I was sure he had better things to do then spend time with me.

I set a pot of water to boil on the stovetop and set the flickering flame to high before dumping in a palmful of sea salt to season the water. I wrestled my seldom-used food processor out from a lower cabinet and added in handfuls of basil leaves and pine nuts, before topping it off with a splash of olive oil and setting it to purée. Once the water was boiling, I dropped in the linguine and set the timer, then popped a frozen loaf of my favorite French bread in the oven to bake.

I’d been unconsciously making enough for two. This was silly; I’d just go up and invite him for dinner.

Halfway up the stairs, I hesitated and stopped. What if his girlfriend was over? Or maybe he already had dinner plans. I didn’t want to sound like I was desperate for company. Maybe I could just ask if he had any plans before bringing up the elaborate dinner waiting for us downstairs.

I shook my head, reminding myself that the first step was seeing if he was even home. I continued up the stairs and when I reached his door, I could hear music playing, and knocked loud enough to be sure he could hear me. A second later, the door swung open.

Cohen stood before me in dark fitted jeans and a baby-blue cotton Henley that made his eyes look amazing. “Easy E!” He pulled me inside. He was holding an acoustic guitar in one hand, and I realized that was where the music had been coming from. “Want a beer?” He took a sip from a bottle of Red Stripe and before I could respond, Bob came charging down the hall and launched himself through the air with enough force to knock me to the ground. He landed squarely on my chest.

Ompf. A gust of air escaped my lungs at the contact.

“Oh, shit. Bob, get off,” Cohen pulled the dog back from me, but not before he got in a few slobbery kisses.

I wiped my face with my sleeve and took Cohen’s outstretched hand.

“Sorry about that. He’s bigger than you and he just gets excited.”

I released a sigh and rubbed my aching tailbone. “It’s okay.”

Cohen brushed off my backside and helped to straighten my tank top. His fingers brushed against my waist, and the heat of his hands through my top caused my heart to thump in my chest. Bob’s indiscretion was forgiven and the only thing I could concentrate on now was Cohen and how amazing his deep-blue eyes looked, highlighted by his baby-blue shirt.

As if realizing his hands were still against my waist, Cohen dropped them and stepped back. “How about that beer?”

“Actually I was wondering if you had plans tonight.”

He took another swig. “Not unless you count drinking alone and messing around on my guitar.”

I smiled. “Well I was cooking dinner downstairs and made enough for two. I thought I’d invite you over as a thank you for all that bat business.”

“Sounds great.”

He returned his guitar to its stand in the corner, ducking from the pitched ceiling as he did so. He patted Bob’s head then followed me downstairs with the bottle of beer still dangling from his hand.

As soon as we entered my apartment, the vibe felt all wrong, like I was trying too hard. There were candles burning on my fireplace mantle, and soft jazz music playing in the background. God, was I old or what? I needed to remember that he was a college kid, more likely to listen to the latest indie band or hip hop sensation. I contemplated blowing out the candles and changing the music, but instead decided to shrug it off. I didn’t want to call more attention to it, and Cohen didn’t seem to mind in the least, wandering ahead of me through the apartment.

I crossed the living room, following Cohen through the rooms I’d meticulously decorated with light earth tones in creams and browns to coordinate with the dark wood floors.

When I turned for the kitchen, Cohen followed dutifully. The kitchen was small but was remodeled before I moved in, and boasted state-of-the-art fixtures and appliances. I cringed when I remembered I’d also lit a few candles on the center granite slab island.

“Smells awesome. What’d you make?”

Of course his mind was on the free meal, not the ambience. God, get a grip, Liz.

“Basil pesto pasta with grilled chicken.” I opened the double door fridge and pulled out a bottle of white wine. “Would you like some?” I held the bottle up for Cohen to inspect.

He drained his bottle of beer and set the empty next to the sink. “Sure. Where do you keep the glasses?”

“Behind you.” I nodded to the mahogany wine cabinet on the far side of the kitchen that held numerous bottles of wine and had racking where the wine glasses were stored.

He retrieved two of the glasses, while I concentrated on uncorking the wine.

Cohen’s hands met mine on the bottle of wine and corkscrew. “Let me.”

I stepped back and allowed him to open the wine, taking the opportunity to watch him uninterrupted. His hands were large, tapering to long, slender fingers with neatly trimmed nails. The backs of his hands were lightly covered in fine blonde hairs I could see when they caught the light. Everything about this man was attractive. From his clean cut features, to his broad shoulders to his flat stomach. Something about the idea of being with him excited me. But I had never felt so unsure before in the presence of a man. He was friendly and polite, but he didn’t seem overly interested.

While Cohen poured us each a healthy glass of wine, I pulled the serving dish of pasta from inside the oven, where I’d set it to keep warm. I removed the hot loaf of French bread next, and placed it on the stone block to slice. Cohen helped me move everything over the barstool seating area at the end of the long island. I grabbed the butter and a green salad from the fridge and joined him on a stool.

He removed his pager and set it beside him. “Hopefully I don’t get a call tonight.” It was strange to think that at any moment he could be summoned away, his evening interrupted. “Cheers.” He clinked his wine glass with mine and we both took a sip. It was my favorite white wine, Santa Margherita Pinot Grigio. It was crisp and refreshing and paired perfectly with the light pasta meal.

I watched Cohen take a bite and chew. He closed his eyes just briefly, savoring the bite of crisp basil pesto and pine nuts, balanced by the heavy cream. “You’re a great cook,” he offered after several more bites.

“Thanks.” I relaxed a little more in my seat and began eating.

We kept up an easy conversation during dinner, pausing to tease each other, or smile and sip our wine. It was nice. Though I enjoyed cooking, I rarely did so for myself. It just seemed like too much of a hassle for one person. I usually ate a bag of microwave popcorn or a bowl of cereal for dinner instead, but it was nice having someone to cook for.

Cohen’s pager rattled nosily against the granite island. He picked it up and frowned as he read the message.

“What is it?”

He shook his head. “I can’t go on a call if I’ve had more than two drinks.”

Oh. “Is it okay if you miss one?”

He nodded. “I don’t like to, and I have to make it to at least fifty-percent of all calls to stay active, but it should be fine.”

He turned off the pager and went back to eating.

Cohen suddenly dropped his fork against the side of his plate, the clinking sound startling me. “Are there nuts in this?”

I looked from the pasta to the panicked expression on his face. “Um, yes, there are pine nuts in the sauce. Why, what’s wrong?”

He leapt from his seat, his napkin fluttering to the floor. “I’m allergic. Where’s the bathroom?”

I was too stunned to answer and instead pointed down the hall. Cohen took off jogging in the direction I’d indicated. The first door he opened was a broom closet. I quickly followed behind him to steer him into the guest bathroom farther down the hall. He fell to his knees over the toilet bowl and threw up nosily.

Eek. I cringed away from the sound of him coughing and vomiting. I felt terrible. How was I supposed to know he was allergic to pine nuts?

Once he was finished, he wiped his mouth with a wad of toilet paper and sank to the floor and sat with his back against the wall. I reached over and flushed the toilet. Cohen’s eyes met mine and he groaned. I don’t think he’d realized I was still in the room with him. His skin was pale and he was covered in a thin sheen of sweat.

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