All I Want for Christmas Is Her Excerpt 2


That was fast, even for Mrs. Welby.

I glanced at the gray fur ball and pressed my finger to my lips as if he’d understand the gesture. I crept to the door and peered through the peephole. It wasn’t 5B after all. It was 6A, also known as Gage Halifax, six feet of wide-shouldered, lean-hipped male. With his sandy brown hair, golden brown eyes, and a spray of freckles across his nose—probably from all the time he spent outdoors playing sports and biking—he looked like a professional athlete. In actuality, he was a clean energy engineer, which I’d uncovered in my totally above-board use of online search engines. He was also a helpful neighbor and all-around do-gooder, according to building scuttlebutt and my own one-time encounter with him.

Unfortunately for both of us, I was not a fan of modern men behaving like white knights, no matter how much the grandmotherly types in the building fawned over him.

He knocked again.

“Remember, we’re blending in,” I whispered-shouted to Mr. Whiskerbottom Fuzzypants.

I cracked open the door and leaned through the opening, obscuring the view of my furry houseguest. “Six A,” I said flatly.

He smiled broadly with perfect white teeth, either oblivious to my cold reception or unaffected by it. “Six B. Is everything okay? We heard screams and thought—”

“We?” I wondered if he and the girlfriend who had stormed out of his apartment the Sunday after Thanksgiving had reconciled. Now that was a woman who was not trying to blend in.

“Hi,” another man said as he walked out of 6A. He was a bit shorter than my neighbor and had darker hair, but there was enough of a resemblance that I would have pegged them as brothers even if I hadn’t done my due diligence and researched everyone in my building. “Will Halifax, Gage’s brother.”

“Kat Hartmann,” I said, not because I was feeling neighborly, but because the best way to keep a low profile is to not stand out, and being curmudgeonly to perfectly nice people tended to stand out. “Thank you both for your concern, but I’m fine.”

“You look fine.” Will lifted a longneck beer bottle in my direction. “Doesn’t she look fine, Gage?” He nudged his brother with his shoulder. “And fun.”

“Stop.” Gage shot a hard look at his brother, then turned back to me. “Just making sure—”

“As we’ve established, I’m fine.” I glared at my neighbor, which might have seemed unnecessarily hostile, but we had history, albeit brief. “So, unless you’ve come to mansplain recycling to me again…”

He grinned, once more showing his perfect teeth. God, I bet that smile worked on 99.9 percent of the female hetero population. I was staunchly in the one-tenth of a percent not falling for his clean-cut charm, even though I felt a tingle in my spine and a few other places, and not for the first time in his presence.

I scowled back at him.

“Like I said at the time, I’m sorry about that. I knew you’d just moved back to the States, and there’s no signage in the recycling area…” He shook his head. “Anyway, sorry, and I’m glad you’re fine.”

He said the word the same way his brother had, but instead of being annoyed, as I should have been, my body tingled again. Goddamnit.

“You know how he could make it up to you?” Will said. “With an invitation to the wedding of the season,” he continued, without waiting for either of us to answer. “Gage here is a groomsman for Rex Buchanan, who’s getting married at The Plaza in two weeks. He needs a plus-one.”

Gage shook his head. “Will, knock it off. I don’t need a date.”

“You kind of do,” Will said so softly, I almost missed it. “See, there’s this bet between the groomsmen and the bridesmaids about bringing dates.”

Gage elbowed his brother in the ribs. “It’s a long, boring story.”

I was curious about the exchange, but not enough to ask follow-up questions. Besides, interrogating neighbors is not a good way to lie low. I glanced at the sexy do-gooder, then looked away because do-gooders are not my type, so I shouldn’t be noticing how sexy he was. “I’m sure 6A has no problem getting his own dates.” That made both brothers raise their eyebrows. “And we’re not exactly each other’s favorite people.”

I scowled harder and moved to close the door.

“Sounds like you two got off on the wrong foot,” Will said, stepping closer, “but in his defense, he’s an expert in a few different areas of environmental research and the vice president leading the Buchanan Group’s clean energy initiative.”

Wow, this guy was his brother’s personal PR rep. Or his wingman. I narrowed my eyes at my neighbor.

“Since mansplaining is when a guy explains things he doesn’t actually understand,” Will continued, “and Gage is an expert in the field, he wasn’t actually—”

I cut my gaze to Will and held up a hand to stop him. “Are you trying to mansplain mansplaining to me?”

Will dropped his jaw but didn’t speak. I suspected that was a rare occurrence for him.

“I think that’s your cue to leave.” Gage chuckled as he patted his brother’s shoulder. “Don’t you have somewhere to be, anyway?”

“No, I—” Will glanced at his watch. “Oh, shit. I forgot how long the soccer match went.” He glanced at me. “We play lots of sports to stay fit, by the way.” He jogged toward the fire door, to the stairwell at the end of the hall. “And now I have to get home so my wife and I can take our seventeen-month-old to meet Santa for the first time.” He stopped and turned back toward us. “Gage is great with my son, by the way. He loves kids.”

So that was the reason for his babbling. Still trying to set up his uber-hot, definitely did-not-need-his-help brother with a date.

“Loves sports, loves kids, loves the environment,” I summarized. I glanced at my neighbor, who was staring stone-faced at his brother. “Got it.”

“Ignore him,” Gage said.

Will was halfway through the fire door when he turned around again. “Oh, and animals. He also loves animals.” He waved and disappeared into the stairwell.

The thick metal door slammed shut behind him. Mr. Whiskerbottom Fuzzypants screamed bloody murder.

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