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Officer Next Door

Officer Next Door

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Officer Next Door

ratings:
5/5 (2 ratings)
Length:
271 pages
4 hours
Publisher:
Released:
Aug 4, 2014
ISBN:
9781311865373
Format:
Book

Description

How can anyone resist temptation when it’s right next door?

Riley County North Carolina has a lot to offer: coastal views as far as the eye can see, and men in uniform who are even more gorgeous. Home to the most notorious prison in the state, Alicia’s new hometown is crawling with men who carry their own handcuffs and know how to use them – like Officer Liam Alexander, her one and only neighbor. After catching him out of uniform, she can’t resist pausing to enjoy the show. When Liam’s Southern charm drives him across the property line, life gets hotter than the Carolina summer could possibly account for. Unfortunately, there’s a dark side to life in the coastal haven, even with an officer next door.

Coordinating special events at a historic – and supposedly haunted – plantation is enough to have Alicia questioning her senses and her sanity, but the spirits of the past take a backseat to a pair of escaped convicts who blaze a trail of mayhem across Riley County. Not even the most intense chemistry can survive the perils that make a sunny seaside town a dangerous place to be after dark ... can it?

Book 1 in the Lock and Key Series

Publisher:
Released:
Aug 4, 2014
ISBN:
9781311865373
Format:
Book

About the author

I write what I know and love: adult romance with blue-collar heroes and real-life flavor. Tattoos, handcuffs and men in uniform are a few of my favorite things, and it shows in my thirty+ published books. I live in the South with my family, and I love hearing from readers, so don’t be shy! If you’ve enjoyed something I’ve written, hearing from you would make my day.


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Officer Next Door - Ranae Rose

J.

CHAPTER 1

The rising sun burnt on the Carolina horizon like a jewel, causing the tidal mist to light up like it’d been set on fire. It was the most gorgeous thing Alicia had ever seen, besides her naked neighbor. The sight of him stripping down lit up the morning like nothing else could – not even the extra-bold, extra-large cup of coffee she clutched as she stared through her kitchen window.

Everything about him was extra-large, too. She, however, was anything but bold.

She’d die if he knew she’d been watching him like this for the past three weeks, ever since she’d moved in. Guilt surged through her system just like her daily caffeine infusion, but that didn’t keep her from enjoying the display, all that taut muscle and bare skin.

Not even close.

Good Lord, she sighed, to no one but herself. DC seemed faraway already; the big city had disappeared in her rearview mirror weeks ago to be replaced by real Southern heat and charm, two things her new neighbor radiated in spades.

Not that she’d spoken to him much yet.

There’d been the occasional hello when they glimpsed each other outside, usually coming to or from work. That was it, mostly because the sight of him in uniform had a way of leaving her tongue-tied, silenced by the guilty pleasure that struck her every time she looked in his direction. She couldn’t so much as glance at him without thinking about that uniform coming off in slow motion, revealing his perfect body.

Maybe it was his fault for not closing the bathroom blinds, the ones that hung over the window directly across from the shower.

Or maybe it was her fault for enjoying the striptease with her morning coffee day after day, saying nothing.

Either way, she wasn’t complaining. Close-cropped dark hair, sun-tanned skin stretched over a six foot frame of solid muscle and an ass that appeared to be sculpted from granite, not to mention the amazing view when his back wasn’t to her: the vision had been seared into her memory, and it stayed with her even after he slung a towel around his hips and strolled out of the bathroom, disappearing from her view.

That was her cue to gulp down the rest of her coffee and pull herself together before she rushed to the Wisteria Plantation House. She’d been hired there as the special events coordinator, had moved and reshaped her life around the new job, though as she drained her coffee mug, swallowing the bitter grit that swirled at the bottom of the cup, she was so dazzled by what she’d just seen that it was sure to be a challenge just to coordinate her hair and makeup for the day, let alone an outfit.

Despite the sexually-charged fog her neighbor had left her in, she managed to brush on some cosmetic staples, twist her chestnut hair into a simple chignon and shed her robe, pulling on khaki pants and a purple blouse. As she dressed, she pretended that the brush of her own fingertips against her skin didn’t inspire imaginings of what it’d be like to feel her neighbor’s hands on her body. Lastly, she slipped on sandals, a pair with modest kitten heels that’d allow her to navigate Wisteria’s grounds without breaking an ankle.

Or so she thought. When she finally walked out the door with her purse slung over her shoulder and a travel mug in one hand, she tripped over the threshold and was launched forward through the muggy Carolina air.

She windmilled, dropping her handbag but – miracle of miracles – managing to maintain her grip on her coffee.

The mug was a fancy one that remained sealed until one pressed a button, freeing the flow of liquid within. As she bent to pick up her purse and then straightened, quickly smoothing her clothing, she realized that the anti-spill mug was the best twenty dollars she’d ever spent.

Heat flooded her cheeks as she said a silent prayer of gratitude for spill-proof technology. Her neighbor was standing on the front porch of his bungalow-style house, a cute place painted a shade of moss-green that blended right into the wooded backdrop. Judging by the way he stared, frowning in her direction, he’d seen everything.

Are you all right? His voice echoed across the few yards between them, sounding with a depth that sent a frisson racing down her spine.

Yes, she called back, forcing herself to move, to descend the little flight of stairs that led down from her house, also bungalow-styled, but painted a fresh shade of blue that would’ve been invisible against a clear afternoon sky, had the towering pines not blocked out that particular view.

You sure? You’re limping.

Limping or not, she couldn’t stop staring. No longer naked, he was now just the opposite: covered from neck to toe in meticulously-ironed dark blue and black, his uniform gleaming here and there with flashes of metal – the silver shine of handcuffs and the badge he wore at his hip.

There was just something about all that silver, giving her an excuse to let her gaze rove over his groin, sparking vivid memories and scorching heat.

Which brought up another thing: sometimes, during her little spying sessions, he was hard.

Whenever he got into the shower that way and stepped out minutes later cleaner and clearly softer, her mind went wild with visions of how he might’ve spent those ten minutes behind the shower curtain.

You’re limping, he repeated as he descended his own stairs, boots falling heavily against the boards, then crunching against gravel.

Twisted my ankle a little, she managed to say. No big deal.

As she took another step toward her car, a distinct unsteadiness in her gait warned her that the damage had gone beyond a twisted ankle: her shoe had been affected. In fact, it felt alarmingly as if one kitten heel was no longer there.

Maybe you should slow down. Instead of approaching his own vehicle, he came toward her. Put some ice on it.

Can’t. I’ll be late for work. She did her best to stand up straight, hiding the fact that her shoe was broken.

Guess I haven’t properly introduced myself. He was so close now she could see that his eyes were almost the same color as her house: a clear blue she was irresistibly attracted to. Liam Alexander. He held out a hand – a large hand she’d witnessed wrapping a towel around his naked body just half an hour ago.

Even his name was hot, and his baby blues weren’t his only stunning feature: his mouth was full and his jaw was strong, a curve of bone she could just imagine dusted with dark stubble, though he was clean-shaven for work. Up close, he didn’t look much older than her.

She was exactly thirty.

Alicia Dalton. Every fiber of her being lit up, consumed by the lust she’d been living with for the past three weeks, as her fingertips brushed his.

When he closed his hand firmly around hers, she forgot all about compensating for her broken heel and nearly toppled over.

You should get that ankle looked at, he said, dropping his gaze to her feet.

It’s my shoe, she confessed. I think the heel broke off when I tripped.

She had a pair of flats she kept in her car – flats she’d hoped to change into without him ever knowing. Being a klutz was never convenient, but as she stood with her hand swallowed up in his, it was downright embarrassing. Oh, how she would’ve loved for their first official introduction to have occurred under different circumstances.

He finally let go of her hand and then, without warning, dropped to his knees in front of her.

She barely stifled a gasp, one borne half of surprise and half of illicit delight. His head was just level with her hipbone, and from above she could see that his dark hair was thicker than she’d realized, though still too short to run fingers through, or really grab ahold of. She’d gladly deal with that minor disappointment though, if only he’d—

Here you go. He rose to tower over her again.

It took her several moments to realize he held something pinched between his thumb and forefinger.

Thanks, she breathed when she realized what it was.

She held out her hand, and he dropped her snapped-off kitten heel into her palm.

A couple moments ticked by in silence, and her gaze gravitated to the patch sewn onto the left sleeve of his uniform.

You must work at Riley, she said. That was what all the locals called the massive brick edifice some fifteen minutes away, officially the Riley Correctional Center. It was the largest prison in the state, or so Alicia had been told by one of her co-workers.

Liam nodded. And you?

Me?

Where do you work? he clarified.

The heat that’d been burning steadily in her cheeks intensified as it became painfully obvious that thinking clearly in the presence of a man she’d been watching shower wasn’t possible.

Wisteria Plantation House. I’m the new special events coordinator. I arrange things for weddings, corporate retreats and stuff like that.

He nodded, his crop of short hair shining in the early morning light that was chasing away the fog, growing brighter by the moment. I know the place.

Of course he did; he sounded like a local. He had a Southern accent that softened his words and lengthened his vowels, an accent Alicia hadn’t fully appreciated until she’d heard him speak.

Within easy driving distance of Wilmington, Riley County was home to the Wisteria Plantation House, some gorgeous beaches, a massive prison and not much else. Though it was off the beaten path, Wisteria was the county’s biggest tourist attraction, and anyone who lived in the area had to be familiar with it.

How are you liking it here, so far? he asked.

Oh, I love it. The words tumbled out of her mouth as images from that morning whirled in front of her mind’s eye, the view of his beautiful body obstructed by nothing but the steam that rose off her coffee.

It’s gotta be a big change, after DC.

That snapped her back to the present. How’d you know I moved here from DC?

Had her landlord been talking to her neighbors about her? Of course, Liam was her only close neighbor; the next house was nearly half a mile down the road. If not for him, it would’ve been like living all alone in a pine forest – so peaceful, she hardly knew what to do with herself, sometimes.

Your tags, he said, nodding toward her car.

Oh. A minor wave of mortification washed over her as she eyed her brand new North Carolina license plate. It hadn’t been long since she’d swapped out her old DC tags. Right.

A lone cicada began to sing, a normally pleasant sound that now seemed designed to intensify uncomfortable silences.

I don’t really miss the city, she eventually said, and it was true. She’d moved because she’d craved a change of pace, and that was exactly what she’d gotten. Despite the mega-prison, Riley County was steeped in charm, from its beaches to its wisteria-swathed forests. And if she ever got the urge to be surrounded by people, she could always drive to Wilmington or down and across the South Carolina border, to Myrtle Beach.

Don’t blame you, he said. Life’s pretty good here, if you ask me. Did you buy this place, or are you renting?

I’m renting.

You might wanna talk to your landlord about that window, then. He nodded toward the nearest one, which afforded a view into her kitchen. There’s a crack in the casing. He should fix that for you.

At the mention of windows, Alicia nearly suffered a heart attack. Did Liam know what she’d been enjoying along with her coffee, most mornings – was he some sort of exhibitionist?

His expression was serious, his blue eyes sober as he apparently studied her damaged window.

Thanks for the tip, she said, barely glimpsing the crack before she turned her gaze back to Liam. I’ll mention it to him.

I’ve gotta go, or I’ll be late for my shift, he said. Let me know if your landlord gives you any trouble about that window. Air leaks caused by cracks like that’ll run up your energy bills like you would’ve believe, but they’re not hard to fix. If you want, I could come over with a tube of caulking and fill it in for you.

She swallowed a knot that’d formed in her throat and was threatening to cut off her breathing. Thanks a lot. I’ve got to go too – I’m supposed to show Wisteria to a bride-to-be in forty-five minutes.

She leapt into her car, careless of her broken heel, and sped away before Liam could say anything else about windows or caulking or filling things in. Between his words and the heat that was rising along with the sun, she was in serious danger of spontaneously combusting.

CHAPTER 2

There was something magical about Wisteria. The pathway that wound through the looming house’s grounds was lined with trees steeped in the stuff that had given the place its name, and Alicia took any excuse to walk down it. Sheltered from the May sun by the trees’ foliage and the vines blossoming with purple flowers, she made her way away from the main plantation house and toward the restaurant that’d been built in a converted carriage house.

Inside, she found Sasha in the kitchen, busy with prep work. The restaurant wouldn’t open for another two hours, at noon.

Hey, Sasha said, her blonde ponytail bobbing as she looked up from the cutting board where she’d been busy slicing cucumbers.

Morning, Alicia said. That bride getting married here next month e-mailed me her menu selections last night – thought you’d want a heads-up as soon as possible. She held up a couple printed pages detailing what would be served at the reception.

Thanks, the curvy blonde said without so much as glancing at the type. Now more importantly, how did it go this morning?

How’d what go? Alicia asked, doing her best to sound nonchalant as a creeping sense of certainty made her wish she’d held onto the papers so she could’ve used them as a fan. She’d only known Sasha for a couple weeks, but even before the other woman replied, she knew exactly what she was talking about.

Your daily adventures in voyeurism, of course. Sasha’s light brown eyes sparkled as she raised her eyebrows. I want to hear every little – or not so little – detail.

Alicia barely suppressed a groan. The week before, the fact that she’d seen her neighbor naked had just sort of slipped out during a conversation with Sasha. Since then, she’d grown to regret ever having mentioned it. I’ve already told you he’s gorgeous – I don’t know what else there is to say.

Oh, I bet there’s plenty. Sasha grinned and seized a fresh cucumber, waving it to punctuate her claim. Come on… If you can’t bring yourself to say it, at least point.

She set the cucumber down on the cutting board, then placed a sweet pepper about the size of her thumb beside it. Which one does he most resemble?

Alicia laughed. Please. You’re embarrassing me, and there’s not even anyone else here to overhear.

Sasha waggled her eyebrows. The answer is ‘cucumber’ then.

The answer was definitely ‘cucumber’, though Alicia still couldn’t bring herself to say it out loud. Not at work, anyway.

And her silence confirms it, Sasha said, apparently to herself. So… You ready for tonight? She flashed Alicia a big grin.

You mean this evening?

Evening. Night. Whatever. You know, if you wanted you could always invite me to stay overnight. Then I could see the show your neighbor puts on for myself.

I bet you’d love that, Alicia said, which is exactly why I’d rather spend the night alone with my ghost.

Still receiving visitors from the Great Beyond, huh? Sasha brought her knife down on the cucumber she’d compared to Liam just moments ago.

Just one visitor, I think. And frankly, I’m probably imagining that. Alicia laughed, mostly so Sasha wouldn’t think she was crazy.

I don’t see why you think that, unless you have a history of serious delusions you didn’t tell me about. She tapped the side of her head. "I have a very vivid imagination, and the only time I’ve ever imagined someone standing over my bed was the time I woke up from a dream about Johnny Depp. Sadly, I knew it was too good to be true, even at the time."

A little shiver raced down Alicia’s spine as she recalled the night – early morning, really – she’d woken up to the sensation of being watched.

When she’d first opened her eyes, she’d glimpsed the glowing outline of a person standing at the foot of her bed, a pale silhouette against the pre-dawn light, the shape of a person that almost appeared to be made out of cold, white light itself. It had only lasted for a split second though, and by the time she’d finished blinking sleep from her eyes, there’d been no sign of anyone.

"Well, I’d like to think I imagined it."

Sasha nodded and donned a sly grin. Not so fun being watched when you think you’re alone, huh?

Very funny. For your information, that incident would’ve been a lot less scary if the person – or whatever it was – had been on the other side of a window instead of in my bedroom.

Maybe you should get a dog, Sasha suggested. Adopt one from the county shelter or something.

"You know, I might just do that. It’d be nice to have a companion … someone to alert me if anyone ever actually does sneak into my house. And don’t they say that animals can sense spirits?"

Hell if I know. Sasha shrugged. "I was thinking that if you had a dog, you could ‘accidentally’ let him loose in your neighbor’s yard. Then you’d have an excuse to go over there, and next thing you know you’d be talking and … bam! She snapped her fingers, sending a fleck of chopped pepper flying. You’re in cucumber country before you know it."

Alicia sighed. You’re always scheming, aren’t you?

I know the menu here like the back of my own hand – I could make it all in my sleep. I have to occupy my mind somehow while I’m cooking.

Okay, just promise me that if you come up with anything too crazy, you won’t try it tonight when you come over. I’ve got to get back to the main house – I’m supposed to be meeting a bride-to-be any minute now.

Sasha flashed a suspiciously quiet smile, and as Alicia left the restaurant, she thought she heard her mutter something that sounded a lot like ‘I make no promises’.

Much like the incident when she’d woken to see a figure at the end of her bed, Alicia hoped she’d only imagined it.

Back outside, she strolled down the pathway, walking at a leisurely pace despite her appointment. The canopy of wisteria-swathed branches was so beautiful it demanded that she slow down a little, imagining that she existed in a different time. That was the real Southern charm she’d quickly become addicted to: natural beauty, and taking the time to savor it.

She rounded the front of the plantation house – a stately structure if there ever was one, complete with crisp white siding and tall columns that supported two porches, one on the first and second story each. She was about to climb the set of stairs that led up to the first-story porch when something caught her eye.

To the right, around the corner of the house, stood a woman. Alicia’s attention was snared by the sight of her ivory-colored skirt – one of the long, maxi-styled ones she’d always loved for their comfort-factor – flapping in the breeze.

She veered to the right, heading for the stretch of perfectly-manicured lawn beside the house. Tours didn’t start for another half hour, so chances were the woman was the bride Alicia was supposed to be meeting with.

The light breeze rolled over the plantation yard, carrying the earthy, slightly damp scent of Spanish moss. She closed her eyes and inhaled, sighing a moment later. There was no question about it: she loved her new job. It beat working in the city as a hotel event coordinator hands down. The atmosphere was simply without comparison.

Sure, she missed the convenience of the city – there, anything and everything had been available 24/7, while in Riley, most things were closed by 9 or 10

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  • (5/5)
    Enjoyed reading this book. Liked that both were watching each other and wanting to meet. Can't wait to read the others in this series.