Smitten, Chapter One

It all started with a tweet...

A couple of weeks ago, someone posted an incident on Twitter about a sweet encounter between her plumber and her cat. I replied that it sounded like a great plot device for a romance. It was an off-hand comment and certainly not the first time I've made such a comment. It drew well over a hundred likes.

In the thread, we chatted back and forth about what they'd like to see in the romance... if I were to write it. I'd been considering writing a YA or NA, but most commenters wanted an older heroine. I also considered making it a paranormal (magical cat), but though there was a lot of interest in that, my understanding is that the market for paranormals isn't hot right now.

The back and forth got me so jazzed that I stayed up until 3AM sketching out the story. Two days later, I started writing and at 1000+ words a day (I still have to pay the bills), I'm already on chapter seven.

Since the Writing Community on Twitter has been so instrumental in providing inspiration for this story, I thought I'd share chapter one. I will share additional chapters after I have a chance to run them through my critique partners and editor.

Keep in mind that this is an early draft. Story elements can - and probably will - change as the characters start to develop themselves. But I hope you enjoy reading the story as much as I'm enjoying writing it.

MJ 


Chapter One

Humans are strange creatures. They make life immeasurably harder than it has to be. Always in a hurry to be somewhere, to do something. They never take the time to appreciate the sheer pleasure of lying in the sun with nothing to do but enjoy being alive.

Liv circled the block for the third time. “This is pointless.”
The ginger cat sunbathing at the edge of a sidewalk planter rose to its haunches. He watched Liv pull as close as she could to the cars parked in the spaces in front of the apartment building.
            “I know. I know. This is illegal,” she said as though the cat could hear her through windows closed against the summer heat and grime of the city. “It’ll be okay if it’s just for a few minutes, right?”
After checking for traffic, Liv opened the door of her rented Taurus and slid out onto the street. No sense in making an extra trip. She opened the back door and pulled a box from the seat.
She hadn’t brought much with her today. Just a few odds and ends. Mostly books. They had made hotel living bearable while she hunted for a new job to support her new life. If she was lucky, the movers would have already been here with the sparse furnishings she had chosen to take with her to the city.
The box, stuffed to overflowing, was heavy, and she adjusted it to a more comfortable position before shutting the door with her hip. Balancing precariously, she stuck a hand into the front pocket of her jeans and hit the lock button on the key fob.
Stepping onto the curb, she took a moment to survey her new home. The building was a multi-storied structure that looked to have been built several decades ago. It had the square, sterile look of the 60s or 70s, but the trees along the sidewalk had grown tall enough to provide some shade. The owners had also put in a few planters along the edges of the building. Cheery red geraniums muted the cold sterility of the granite block walls. A few of the windows sported tiny gardens filled with an assortment of flowers, and a tomato planter hung from the bottom of one balcony.
“Well, this is it,” she said to the cat whose yellow-green gaze followed her every move. “Don’t suppose you can tell me anything about the neighborhood, can you?”
The cat yawned widely, showing off a pale, raspy tongue and sharp yellow fangs. Circling once, it curled into a crescent and went back to sleep.
“No, I suppose not.” Hopefully, she’d have more than a lazy ginger tabby to talk to once work started on Monday. Until then, unpacking and doing a little grocery shopping should keep her from dwelling too deeply on the events of the last few months.
She had dwelled plenty enough already. It was time to move forward.
Liv readjusted the box so she could open the lobby door. She breathed a sigh of relief as the cool air hit her skin. Even with the air-conditioning on high, several hours in the car and the hair-raising experience of I80 across Northern Indiana left her feeling more than a little sticky.
“Can I help you?” a doorman asked from behind a desk at the back of the tiled foyer.
“Maybe.” Liv adjusted the weight of the box evenly. “I’m Olivia Sanders. I’m supposed to move into apartment 7B today.”
The doorman looked her up and down and then consulted his tablet. He couldn’t be much over twenty, Liv thought as he swiped through whatever he was looking at. His pale skin still bore the signs of a recent outbreak of acne.
“I don’t see you in here. I’ll have to call the building manager.” He picked up the handset of an ancient telephone sitting next to him on the desk.
“Mind if I set this down?”
The phone to his ear, the doorman shrugged his indifference, and Liv set the heavy box on the desk.
The doorman held a hand over the mouthpiece as he waited. “You know you can’t have cats in your apartment, right?”
Cats? What made him bring that up?
“That’s fine. I don’t have any pets.”
“Oh yeah? Then who’s that?” He nodded his head toward the front of the lobby.
Liv spun around. The ginger cat sat like a statue in the middle of a nubby black carpet set before the glass double doors.
Liv turned back to the doorman. “He’s not mine. He was hanging around outside when I pulled up. He must have snuck in behind me or something.”
The doorman narrowed his eyes but didn’t say anything.
“The building manager isn’t picking up.” He set the receiver back in its hook and glared at Liv as though it were her fault. “I can’t let you in until he says it’s okay.”
“Do you have any idea how soon he’ll be back?”
The doorman shrugged.
“Well, is it OK if I bring a few things in and leave them in the lobby while I go find a place to park?”
“Can’t let you do that.”
“Why not?” Liv wiped a trickle of sweat from her temple with the back of her hand.
“It’s a security risk. Haven’t you heard of 9/11?” He gave her a look that suggested she must have been living under a rock.
“But I’m double parked!” Liv argued.
“Then I suggest you move your car. The cops in this neighborhood are pretty hard-assed about that kind of thing. I should know.” The last part was said more to himself than to Liv. “We have a garage. Why didn’t you park there?”
This guy was going to be no help whatsoever. The noise from the street increased momentarily as the lobby doors opened behind her. Hopefully, whoever it was would just pass them by.
“I don’t have a car.”
“Then what’s that?” He looked over her shoulder at the Taurus parked in front of the building.
 “It’s a rental, for pity’s sake. Look, if you seriously think I have anything dangerous in this box, you’re welcome to take a look for yourself.” Liv’s voice rose. She was starting to sound hysterical, but she really needed to sit down and put her feet up for a while. “They’re just books. Books never hurt anyone!”
“They could if they had sharp corners.”
Liv opened her mouth though she wasn’t sure what she could possibly say to that argument.
“But it doesn’t matter anyway. I can’t let you leave packages unattended in the lobby.” He pointed to a sign that said much the same thing.
“Is there a problem, Gerald?”
Liv squeezed her eyes shut and took a deep, calming breath through her nose. It was either that or tell someone who might very well be her neighbor to mind his own business. She never lost her cool. Ever. But the first day of her new life wasn’t getting off to a very good start.
“Oh hey, Malcom. No problem. This lady claims she’s the new tenant for 7B, and I don’t have her on the list.
“I’ll vouch for her.”
In any other circumstance, she might have found his deep voice appealing, but she was still too angry at the doorman and embarrassed by her outburst to look her rescuer in the eye.
“Whatever you say, Mal.” Apparently, the doorman and this stranger were on a first-name basis.
“This yours?” the man asked.
Liv peeked up. Hazel eyes regarded her with interest from a rugged, tanned face.
“It’s just books,” she answered lamely.
The man smiled, showing even white teeth. “Gerald accuse you of smuggling in contraband or something? He takes his job pretty seriously. It’s part of his charm. You’ll see that once you get to know him.”
He picked up the box like it was empty.
Confronted by this man’s breezy attitude, Liv felt like an ogre. Maybe she could start apartment hunting again this weekend and avoid the humiliation of having to face him.
“Toss the keys on top of the box and buzz us in, would ya, buddy?”
Gerald did as he was told, and the door leading to the living area clicked. Liv reached forward to open it. Her rescuer stepped through, and she followed him down the carpeted hallway. Must be nice to be that muscled. After just a few minutes of carrying that box, her biceps ached.
“7B, right?” he asked.
“Yeah,” Her voice came out raspy.
“Best we take the elevator then.” He walked past the stairs leading to the floors above until they reached a set of elevator doors at the back. “Do you mind?”
“Oh yeah.” She reached around him to hit the button, embarrassed to be caught studying him when his arms were filled with her things.
The elevator arrived a moment later, and she stepped in after him. This time, she hit button number seven without needing to be reminded.
The faded red numbers above the doors rose as they passed each floor. Somewhere around level three or four, it occurred to Liv that she knew nothing more than this man’s first name. Malcolm. What’s more, by allowing him to carry her box, she had virtually ensured a strange man would follow her to her apartment. Even in Bloomington, she would normally have been more careful.
Could she trust him? He was a friend of the doorman’s, but perhaps that wasn’t saying much. Did he even live in the building? Maybe he and Gerald were in cahoots, setting up unsuspecting women. Could they tell this was her first time in the city? Maybe they had pegged her for an easy mark.
Liv snorted. Get a grip, girl. This is Chicago, not post-apocalyptic New York. David really had soured her outlook on humanity with all those ‘80s movies.
“Bless you,” Malcolm said, mistaking Liv’s sound of self-derision for a sneeze. “You have to take care of your health this time of year. Going in and out of the air conditioning is a great way to catch a summer cold. The Japanese even have a word for it. Natsubate, I think.”
Was he rambling? Liv’s shoulders relaxed. Knife-wielding psychopaths didn’t ramble, did they?
The elevator dinged, and the doors slid open.
“I can take it from here,” Liv said as the doors shut behind them.
She reached up to take the box from him.
Malcolm twisted away from her. “That’s okay. I’ve got this. You just lead the way.”
No harm in that, she supposed. It wasn’t like she would be inviting him in.
When they reached her door, she snatched the key from the top of the box and stuck it in the lock. The door swung open about an inch. Before she could take the box from him, Malcolm nudged the door open with his foot.
“After you.”
With the music from one of David’s horror movies playing in the back of her mind, Liv led the way into the front room.
Once inside, she surveyed her apartment for the first time. The marketing agency that offered her a job had rented the apartment for her as well. Along with a significant increase in salary over her previous position, they paid three month’s rent as a signing bonus. She had jumped at the offer. At least it saved her the trouble of apartment hunting in an unfamiliar city.
Looking around now, she was glad she took the offer. The apartment was far nicer than she expected. The movers had even taken the time to arrange her sparse furnishings and pile her few boxes neatly against the wall.
“You can set the box down on the counter.” She waved toward the granite island that doubled as a work area and eating space.
Malcolm did as she asked and looked around. “This all you have?”
She bristled and then realized he was just asking if she needed help with anything else and not referring to her lack of possessions.
“Just about.”
She had a couple of suitcases in the trunk of the car still, but they had wheels so she could easily manage them. Besides, she didn’t want to take advantage of his kindness. And handsome as he was in the late afternoon light shining through her curtainless windows, she still had no idea who he was. Best not to encourage him, especially when she didn’t consider herself “emotionally available.”
“Thank you.” She said, hoping he would take the hint and leave.
She needed to move the rental car before it got towed. Wouldn’t that just be the perfect end to a less-than-perfect day.
He stood, arms crossed, in the middle of her living room. After a nod of satisfaction, he uncrossed his arms and headed for the door.
“Well, call me if you need anything.” He shut the door behind himself on the way out.
Liv wrinkled her nose. Call you if I need anything? What a nice neighborly thing to say. Too bad she had no idea who the man was let alone how to reach him. Come to think of it, she hadn’t given him her name either.
She grabbed her keys and ran back out the door, hoping that her rented Taurus would still be where she left it.



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