Mandy is a homebody, much like myself in that she'd rather stay home and cuddle with her dog than try to find a new boyfriend. Her dog, though, has other ideas, and when Chloe keeps digging under the fence and ending up on the next door neighbor's back porch, Mandy has no choice but to meet the neighbor. The hunky neighbor. Who seems to like her...
Standing on the porch, Mandy wondered if she should have brought a housewarming gift. A bottle of wine, maybe, or a houseplant. But the only wine she had in her house was in a half empty bottle in the fridge, and all her houseplants were dead. The neighbors would have to settle for, “Hi, how are you? May I have my stupid dog back, please?”
Gathering her courage, Mandy rang the doorbell.
For a few minutes, everything was silent behind the door. Maybe nobody was home? But the porch light was on, as was the light in the garage, and she could see a car through the high garage windows. Not that she was snooping or anything.
She was about to ring the bell again when something stirred inside the house. A minute later, the door opened.
Mandy forgot to breathe for a minute. The man on the other side of the glass-and-screen door was about six foot three, with black hair, blue eyes, and shoulders that nearly filled the doorframe. She also noticed, with a reflex she’d developed over the last five years for no really good reason, that there was no ring on his left hand. He was wearing suit pants and a collared shirt, unbuttoned at the throat as if he’d recently removed a tie.
“Good evening?” He had an accent. She couldn’t quite peg it because her ears were ringing, but good God, just when she thought he couldn’t get any hotter.
“Um…hi?” Mandy managed. “I’m your next-door neighbor and—”
“Oh!” His face lit up and he held out a hand. “It’s so nice to meet you. I’ve been meaning to come over and introduce myself.”
“Um…” She couldn’t come up with any additional words, so she shook his hand. It was big and warm. The accent, she decided, was Eastern European. Not Russian, but close. Russian-ish. “Mandy,” she managed as he clasped her hand then let go. It was a good handshake.
“Tómas,” he said. “Won’t you come in?”
Come in? That wasn’t where she’d expected this to go. “I don’t want to impose. It’s just…my dog—”
“Oh, no imposition. Please. Come in and tell me all about your dog.”
It seemed she didn’t have much choice. He wanted her to come in and so she was going to come in, dragged bodily over the threshold by the sheer power of his amazingly blue eyes.
She figured she’d just tell him what was up with Cleo and get the socializing over with, and then run back to her comfortable living room where she could watch television and eat a pint of double-chocolate, mint chip ice cream, and pretend this Tómas thing of gorgeousness didn’t exist. It would be a much easier life than acknowledging he was here and wondering if he could see past the weird little flip on her bedroom curtains when she was undressing.
“Can I offer you tea? Coffee? A soft drink?” Good God, but he was friendly.
“Yes. The dog. I’ll bring you tea, and then we can talk about the dog.”
Friendly and bossy. And decisive. She thought about telling him she didn’t like tea, but that was a lie. And it wasn’t like she was any real hurry. Cleo was probably still lying stubbornly on his back porch with her feathery tail over her nose.
“Have a seat,” said Tómas.
Mandy had a seat. The living room was nicely furnished, with chairs that looked strangely modern and antique at the same time. She ran a hand over the red and gold upholstery on the arm of the chair she’d chosen.
“My dog…her name’s Cleo…” Mandy began, raising her voice so Tómas could hopefully hear her in the kitchen. It was around the corner from where she sat, and she could hear him puttering, the clink of porcelain and the soft glug of water pouring out of a kettle. “She’s normally really well behaved, but the last three nights she’s gotten out of the yard and—”
Tómas reappeared, carrying two cups of steaming tea. He handed one to her, kept the other for himself and settled into the chair across from hers.
“She’s gotten out?” he said. “Do you need help to find her? I’m sorry, I should have let you tell me earlier—”
“No, no.” Mandy waved off his impending apology. “I don’t need help finding her. The thing is, she’s on your back porch.”
Tómas’s black brows rose and he regarded her almost comically. “She is? She’s on my back porch?”
“Yeah. She dug a hole under the fence, and when I went to look, she was back there just…hanging out. She wouldn’t come when I called.”
“Goodness.” Tómas set his teacup carefully on the side table. “I wonder why she would do that? Let’s go let her in, shall we?”
He stood and Mandy followed suit, rubbing her tea-warmed hands down the fronts of her thighs. “You don’t have to let her in the house. I mean, she sheds and she’s been digging, so she might be muddy—”
“Oh, psssh.” It was an odd sound, accompanied by a flip of his hand that made it clear he wasn’t concerned about either muddy paws or the horrors of Labrador hair. “Is she friendly? She sounds like she must be.”
He was on his way to the back door already, leading Mandy through his kitchen. It looked as if he’d just been finishing up dinner when she’d arrived—there was an empty plate and a half-empty glass of wine on the table, the bottle sitting next to it.
“Yeah. She’s friendly.”
Tómas opened the back door. “Oh, my goodness! Look what it is. A dog on my back porch. Come in, Cleo, and say hello to your mama.”
I hope you'll check out Unleashed Hearts, with "Accidental Evenings" as well as "Dog Day Afternoons" by Darlene Henderson and "Snow White and the Seven Dogs" by Denise Moncreif.