| You know how an elevator tugs on your belly when the car begins to rise? Today the tug is followed by a wave of full-on panic. My palms start to sweat, and the plastic bag from Whole Foods grows slick in my hand. |
I’m about to come face-to-face with Matt Eriksson, the man I’ve secretly crushed on since I watched his first NHL game in college.
The ding of the elevator arriving on his floor sends a spark of nerves shooting throughout my body. I step out and walk a few paces to his door. I hear voices inside—the high pitch of a little girl’s giggle, and then Rufus’s friendly woof.
Okay, Hailey. Just play it cool.
I raise my hand to knock, but the door jerks open and I miss. My arm falls clumsily down to my side as a little girl throws the door wide open. “Hi! Did you bring waffles? Daddy always orders stuff.”
“That is not true!” a male voice argues, and the rough timbre of it sends tingles down my spine. “Who makes the best sausage in the world?”
“Mommy says sausage has too much sodium,” another little voice says from inside. “What’s sodium?”
“It’s… Libby? Did you open the door?”
I’m just standing there like a mannequin, trying to make sense of the chaos. And then the doorway is filled by another body.
A big body. Specifically a broad, bare chest with rippling muscles all over it. I mean, they are actively rippling. It’s fascinating. I didn’t know anyone had pecs that well defined in real life. And abs like my great-grandma’s antique washboard. Holy shit.
Now the abs are shaking a little bit.
“Hottie?” someone says with a chuckle.
“Mmm?” I finally wrest my gaze away from that glorious tummy and look up. But then I’m blindsided by those cool, searching eyes. Mr. Freeze gets me again, and I’m solidified into a statue of a delivery girl.
“Did I get it right? Does HTE stand for hottie?”
The weird question penetrates my stupor, but only halfway. “N-no,” I stammer. “Hailey Taylor Emery,” I rattle off like an automaton.
“Nice to meet you, Hailey Taylor Emery.” He thrusts out a hand to shake, and I manage to grasp it. But the dry warmth of his hand against mine is kind of mind blowing. Matt Eriksson is holding my hand. He made thirty-two goals last year with this hand. And it’s attached to the body that stars in all my dirtiest fantasies.
And now I realize I’m clutching his hand awkwardly. So I drop it they way you’d let go of an electric fence you’d accidentally grabbed—suddenly and with great force.
That’s when Rufus spots me. First there’s a great woof of joy, then the scrambling of toenails on polished wood. He takes out the four-year-old in his way like an eager bowling ball knocking aside a pin. He pushes into the hallway, his whole body shaking with excitement.
My brain is still sludgy with lust, so I don’t immediately give Rufus the love he demands. The dog is forced to take matters into his own paws. He rears up, setting his paws on my hips. His considerable bulk catches me off balance. Or maybe I’m still reeling from the proximity to Matt Eriksson. But I lose my balance and go down in a heap on the plush carpeting of the hallway.
“Oof,” I manage before Rufus licks my face.
“Jesus,” Matt breathes. “Off, Ruf. Let the poor girl alone.” He shoves the dog aside. “Are you okay?”
I make a garbled noise of assent. Something like “yrrm,” because now he’s looming over me, godlike, and that fine chest is all I can see. He has a dusting of dark hair that thickens to a happy trail as it enters his low-slung sweatpants.
And I’m staring again.
I slam my eyes shut and roll to the side, scrambling to my feet while my cheeks burn with discomfort. Rufus has run off again, most likely in search of his leash.
“Daddy?” says the little girl who’d opened the door. “Are we having waffles now? I’m hungry.” She tugs on his hand.
“Here,” I say, grabbing the bag with the waffle mix off the floor where it’s fallen, thrusting it toward him. I’ve got to get out of here and regroup for a minute or maybe a year. And after that I’ll probably look for another job somewhere else. A good distance from Matt Eriksson, probably. Like, Tahiti would almost be far enough away.
He slips the bag over his wrist. Then he leans down and scoops his preschool-aged daughter onto his hip. She slides her arms around his neck and lays one soft cheek on his bare shoulder.
Pop, pop! That sound you’re hearing is both my ovaries exploding.
“Thank you,” he rumbles. “Sorry it’s such chaos here.” Then he smiles and my IQ drops another five points. “What did you think of the game last night?”
“It was awesome,” I say truthfully. It’s my first successful sentence since I stepped onto his floor. “Great offensive communication during the second period. Really generated some nice chances.”
When his eyes widen with amusement, I realize that my inner hockey wonk has found a brand-new way to embarrass me. “Anyway. I’ll run along unless there’s anything you need.” Like my naked body in your bed, for example. Something about standing near this man makes me think very un-Hailey-like thoughts.
“There’s another overnighter coming up,” he says, his big hand patting his daughter’s back. “I’ll send Rufus to the doggy ranch for the long road trips. But if you could walk him Sunday evening and Monday late morning, that would be great.”
“Okay.” I’d do anything he asked of me. Sad but true. “Sunday I should be available…” I try to gather a couple of brain cells together, but his scruffy jaw makes it difficult. My hand itches to reach out and touch those bristly hairs and test their texture under my fingers. “…around sex thirty or seven.”
His eyes crinkle at the corners, so, in my brain, I rewind what I’ve just said.
“Six thirty or seven,” I correct. Abort, abort! I need to get the hell out of here. This man has hungry children to feed, and I’m practically drooling on his doormat. I’m worse than Rufus. “Gotta go. Nice chat,” I stammer, backing away.
“Later, Hailey,” he calls as I turn to leap for the elevator button.