Home > Fall (VIP #3)(15)

Fall (VIP #3)(15)
Author: Kristen Callihan

“Brenna and I will handle it,” he says in a low voice. “Let us do our jobs.”

What a job. I don’t answer, and Scottie wanders off to call Brenna.

Wincing, I pace over to the back window. The snow is basically gone now, only little clumps left in the corners. I have a terrace garden I could sit in if I wanted to. But I don’t think I ever have.

Rye comes to stand next to me and then Whip appears on my other side. We’re silent, staring out at the city as Scottie’s voices rises and falls with annoyance.

“I can’t have sex anymore,” I mutter.

Whip shoves his hands into his jeans pockets. “Well, not until your treatment is done.”

“What’s that, like, a week?” Rye adds.

I rub the back of my neck. “That’s not the point. I’m not risking this again.”

Rye glances over at me. “You’re just done? With sex?”

“I don’t know. Whip has it right; I can’t do casual. But I’m not looking for serious either.” The last thing I want is a girlfriend. I’m a fucking mess, and there is no way I’m giving someone that much power over me.

Whip nods. “Like I said, you either become really well acquainted with your hand or you hire someone.”

“Make a mental note not to touch Whip’s hand,” Rye says to me.

Whip gives him the finger as I sigh.

“None of those options appeal.” Double fuck.

Rye’s heavy hand lands on my shoulder. “I guess you’re screwed, J.” He snorts. “Or not screwed, if you want to get technical.”

Don’t I know it.

Chapter Six

Stella

* * *

Despite having a new neighbor who refuses to get out of my damn head no matter what I do, living in Killian James’s house is a dream. I have a bad feeling it is going to be hard to give it up. How do I go back to those tiny, lightless closets that people in this city call apartments? I’m already getting attached to sweet Stevens, who follows me around the house like a fuzzy bodyguard.

He watches as I set up my yoga mat on the terrace. An actual terrace. In New York City. I’m almost giddy. The sun shines bright on the flagstones. The wide space is modern with low-slung loungers and couches set up in groupings around a square-shaped, stone-and-steel fire pit/water fountain. Right now, the water is on and dances merrily of the din of the city below.

As I start my sun salutation, I can’t help looking at the wall that divides my terrace from John’s. It’s lower than I expected it to be, about chest high. Lush potted trees and flowering vines are visible, and I have the overwhelming urge to peek at John’s terrace, because it looks like a verdant garden in comparison to Killian’s austere space. Not what I expected of my neighbor.

But I don’t really know him at all. I haven’t seen him for a week. Not like I’m trying to see him. But it is odd that we never run into each other. I wonder if he’s avoiding me.

“Ridiculous,” I mutter, moving into a plank pose.

I hate plank poses. My body quivers, fire racing along my chest. I’m pretty sure my boobs are warning me that they’re about to jump ship and run away. I hold the pose for a scant five seconds before falling down with a loud “oof.” But I’m getting better. At least now I can do a plank. Before, my hips never left the ground, no matter how hard I tried to lift myself. Progress is good.

Except now I’m supposed to straighten my arms and gracefully move up into a downward dog. I huff out a laugh, and get myself in alignment for a second before my upper body says, “Nope. Nope. NOPE.” I bobble the move and probably look like a drunken turtle doing it.

Upward facing dog pose is a sweet relief, stretching out my poor arms. But my thighs and calves burn in protest. I breathe in and out, holding the position, soaking in the warm sunshine.

The gentle tinkling of water soothes and a soft breeze rustles the treetops on John’s terrace. In the distance is the ever-present melody of New York: horns and sirens and random rattles. It comforts me as much as anything else, and I find myself sinking into that nice, chill headspace, only to be yanked out of it by the harsh riff of a guitar. The pavers beneath me vibrate.

Damn rock star. Has he no respect for anyone else? He’s not even trying to keep it down. It just gets louder, angrier. It’s like I’ve landed in the middle of a concert, for fuck’s sake.

Grumbling, I get to my feet and march over to the wall that separates our spaces. There’s a low stone bench on Killian’s side, and I stand on it to peer over the wall. The sliding glass doors on John’s side are wide open, but I don’t see him anywhere.

The song plays on, aggressive and hard. It isn’t one of Kill John’s songs, which surprises me. I would have thought that he’d only play his stuff. But he’s playing and singing Pearl Jam’s “Alive.” His version doesn’t sound exactly like Eddie Vedder’s. There are subtle differences. The tone of his voice is slightly cleaner, the guitar playing tinged with melancholy beneath all the anger. I have no idea how this happens, but it makes it clear that, while musical notes may stay the same, each artist paints a different canvas.

And there is no doubt about it; Jax Blackwood is an artist.

Ordinarily, I might be dancing, but my chill has been decimated and has little chance of returning with this going on. I want my Zen back.

“Oy!” I shout at the top of my lungs. “John! Blackwood!”

Nothing. Not even a pause.

He plays with effortless flow, his guitar singing.

I cup my hands around my mouth and shout again. “Hellooo!”

It’s useless. There is no way he’ll hear me. I take one of the pillows off a nearby lounger and chuck it in the direction of his sliding doors. It lands pitifully short of target. With a growl, I consider tossing my water bottle but he’s clearly not looking in the direction of his doors or he would have seen the pillow.

Either that or he’s ignoring it. I could call Mr. Scott. After all, he told me to let him know if John was being a pain in the ass. But it feels like tattling. Besides, I’ve already met John. Why bother with a middleman when I can go to the source?

This is what I tell myself. What I actually do, however, is dither and stare at John’s side of the terrace.

As suspected, John’s garden is a lush paradise in the middle of the city. It’s very English, with colorful flowerbeds and orderly paths. He has a fountain too, but it features a sculpture of Pan playing his flute. I have no idea if John bought the condo with the terrace this way or if he had it created, but its beauty surprises me.

John hits the reverb on his guitar and the defiant screech takes me right out of my fantasy of having tea and cakes under the pretty loggia. Okay, enough is enough. I can do this. I can confront him. It’s just a small matter of breaking and entering. Well, I’m not technically “breaking” anything if I jump over his wall. Just a little illegal entering, then.

John won’t mind. I’m sure he’d let me in if he could hear me. A cold sweat breaks out over my lip as I contemplate my crime.

“Oh, buck up, buttercup,” I mutter to myself.

Wiping my sweaty palms on my yoga pants, I then press them to the warm top of the wall and haul myself over. I’d pictured doing it with more grace, but after a few fumbles, I manage to get over and hop down on the mirroring bench running along John’s wall. Not giving myself time to chicken out, I stride straight inside.

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